The state of Campeche was a part of the Yucatán state before it broke away in 1857 to become a separate Mexican state. The state capital, San Francisco de Campeche or Campeche City, was built in 1541 by the Spanish conquistadores (conquerors) on the remains of the existing Maya city of Äh Kin Pech.
The city soon became the primary trading port of the Yucatán Peninsula from where local timber, silver and gold were exported to Europe. Because of its location, wealth and importance, Campeche faced constant attacks by buccaneers and pirates including Francis Drake, John Hawkins and Henry Morgan.
In 1663, a particularly gruesome massacre took place when rival pirate groups made a coordinated attack on the city. Following this, the Spanish colonists secured the city by building huge ‘baluartes’ (bastions), each one over 10 feet thick. By 1668, the fortress-like structures were in place. The French engineer, Louis Bouchard de Becour was commissioned to unify the defensive works surrounding the city with a large stone wall. On its completion, the massive wall surrounding the city of Campeche was 2,560 meters in length, forming an irregular hexagon around the main part of the city, with eight defensive bastions on the corners.
Today, seven of the original eight bastions are still standing although the walls between them have either decayed or been demolished. These bastions have now been converted into historical monuments, museums, gardens and other cultural attractions. There were four gates to allow access to the city. In addition to the surrounding wall, Campeche was also protected by an outer defence system, making it one of the best-defended cities at the end of the 18th century. One of these outer forts is San Miguel which is now a museum and houses a collection of Pre-Hispanic items. The other fort, San José, houses a collection of ships and weapons of that period. These two forts were located on each side of the city on nearby hills and protected the city by serving as look-outs and providing long-range artillery coverage.
According to historical facts, Campeche was the only walled city in Mexico and the city most attacked in the Peninsula. The grid pattern of beautiful cobblestone streets lined with elegant colonial houses have elevated the city to the status of a World Heritage Site.
The Centro Histórico of Campeche is designed in the Renaissance style of a chess board. It is surrounded by beautiful historical buildings dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries and beautiful houses painted in shades of yellow, gold, pastel greens and blues, turquoise, pink and hacienda red. Though it was built for the people of the community, this square was mostly used by the town elite, Spanish royalty and political authority for their parties and ceremonies. The pastel façades, hanging lanterns and cobblestone streets offers a picturesque colonial scene.
The city is famed for its grand colonial mansions with high ceilings, iron balconies and majestic interior arches. Till now, hundreds of beautiful houses have been carefully restored to their former glory. Like many colonial cities in Mexico, Campeche has strict building regulations to ensure that the original look and feel of the city is well-preserved. No wonder, then, that evening walks are a popular pastime with locals and visitors alike Buses are not allowed to enter Centro Histórico, which is not surprising considering the heritage status accorded to the zone. To enjoy a wonderful walking experience around the narrow colonial streets, it’s best to wait till the sun goes down. As the temperature cools, the lights come on and illuminate the pastel coloured houses, streets and courtyards.
The Malecón, a 3.5 km-long beautiful promenade along the Gulf Coast is lined with palm trees, gardens and monuments. This seafront is a lovely place for people to spend time together, to watch the sunset and enjoy the tranquility of the Gulf of Mexico. And also, to enjoy a seafood cocktail at one of the several thatched-roof seafood restaurants neatly lining the water front. Campeche is famous for its exceptional seafood cuisine, a blend of Maya and Spanish influences.
The Archaeological Zone of Edzná
The ruins of Edzná cover an area of three kilometres east to west and two kilometres south to north. It is said that this city had been influenced by the Itzá long before they founded Chichén Itzá. This is how the name Edzná or Itzná was derived. The city was occupied around 600 to 300 BC and reached its most important era as a grand regional capital between 600 and 900 AD. Slowly, it fell into wrack and ruin, and was completely abandoned by 1450 AD.
Edzná is one of the most interesting Maya cities due to its advanced technological developments which included the construction of a sophisticated system of reservoirs and canals to store rainwater, and a magnificent drainage system through which rainwater was carried to chultunes (cisterns). One of these canals runs eight miles across in the southern direction.
The site was discovered in 1906, but excavation did not begin until around 1927. The entire region was heavily forested, so not much attention was paid to its restoration. In the early 1980s, the genocide in Guatemala brought thousands of refugees into Mexico. They played a major role in the reconstruction of Edzná by contributing their labour.
The main attraction of this site is the famous and monumental masterpiece El Edificio de Cinco Pisos (Building of the Five Stories) and the imposing La Gran Acrópolis (Grand Acropolis) upon which it is set.
The 35 metre high El Edificio de Cinco Pisos (The Building of Five Stories) dates to 652 AD and is also known as El Palacio (The Palace). Facing west, it is so aligned that, on 1st May and 13th August, when the sun is at its zenith, its rays illuminate the rooms. A central stairway, which has been restored only on the left side, ascends the west face to the fifth level temple below the tall, partly ruined ‘roof comb’ (structure that tops a pyramid in monumental Mesoamerican architecture). The risers of the first four steps at the base are carved with hieroglyphics. On each level, on either side of the staircase, there are doorways that enter into rows of vaulted rooms.
Like modern hotel rooms, the rooms on the higher level were built more spaciously compared to those on the lower levels. The rooms on the top levels were reserved for people in higher positions and were equipped with special comfort needs like air-conditioning and room heating. The system of ventilation and the interior arrangement ensured that the rooms were kept cool during hot summers, and warm in cold winters.
The dark ceilings are now home to innumerable bats. On the fourth level, a column partitions the doorways. The fifth-level temple on top has three rooms. The rays of the setting sun at its zenith would illuminate the stele (it’s no longer there now!) on the wall of the central room. A grand vista of the whole ceremonial centre can be obtained from this level.
The sight of the fabulous, white-stoned structures covered with carved quadrangular, rectangular and cylindrical stone blocks standing amidst lush green lawns is simply mind-blowing!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this post. You can read more on Campeche and the archaeological zone of Edzná, my travel experiences there and at many other beautiful destinations in Mexico in my ebook Discovering Mexico
Click here to read the book synopsis and sample chapters and to know how you can buy a copy of my ebook.
I leave you with this beautiful track by Reflekt : Need to feel loved Enjoy 🙂
Take care…hasta luego 🙂