Out in front

Seen in the ancient Maya ruins of Calakmul, Mexico — five stelae at the foot of Structure II:

Out in front

Calakmul has no shortage of the vertical monuments called stelae, 117 at last count (the most of any site in the region).  Sadly, the local limestone is fairly soft, so most of them are eroded to the point where much of the once-rich detail has been lost to weathering.  But they can still make strong elements of a photographic composition if you’re careful with the lighting you’re working with.

Structure II, Calakmul

The largest (by volume) structure at Calakmul, Campeche, Mexico:

Structure II

From this spot, the pyramid actually looks much smaller than it really is. The part you see from the base here is actually a later addition (more accurately, collection of three additions) to the original pyramid, which then rises even further behind this bit in the front. In all, Structure II has a base covering 120 x 120 meters (394 x 394 feet), and stands 45 meters (148 feet) tall.

Calakmul Structure III

Structure III isn’t the largest building at Calakmul, and it was likely never the fanciest, but it’s by far the most interesting one there:

Calakmul Structure III

It was typical in the Maya Classic era to periodically rebuild structures — tearing down old superstructures, covering their platforms with another layer of masonry, building anew on top of them. In some cases, this happened every 20 or 50 years for centuries — that’s why a number of them took on elephantine proportions.

Structure III was different, though. It seems to have been inhabited for the duration of Calakmul’s existence (about 1,500 years), but was never buried and rebuilt. Fairly early in its history, a very well-appointed tomb was built into one of its rear rooms — other than that, it appears that nothing was done to alter its original architecture.

For 1,500 years.

The inhabitants did such a good job of maintenance that when Calakmul was rediscovered 1,000 years after it was abandoned, this was the only structure at the site that wasn’t just a rubble mound. It’s thought that the tomb held one of the original kings of the site, and that Structure III was a palace inhabited by his descendants.

Time to climb back down

Two women start their descent of Structure I (as seen from Structure II) at the ancient Maya (no, not Mayan) ruins of Calakmul, México:

Time to climb back down

Structure I (a.k.a. Pyramid I) is the highest at Calakmul (by virtue of its being built on a small hill), but not the tallest. Its neighbor Structure II (a.k.a. Pyramid II) is the tallest at the site, and the largest (in bulk) too — standing about 50 meters / 160 feet tall (these numbers vary depending on the source you’re looking at). Structure I is just a few meters shorter than Structure II, meanwhile Structure II’s base is some 120 meters (390 feet) square.

Translation: they’re both really big