Cozumel – Mayan Ruins

In the island’s center are the ancient Mayan ruins of San Gervasio. This community started around 200 AD and thrived until the Spaniards arrived in the early 16th century. You’ll walk along the “white roads” to see and learn the history of this archaeological site’s major structures.

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1 Little Hands Elite Residence at San Gervasio near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

San Gervasio is one of several spectacular Mayan archeological sites on the Yucatán Peninsula but the largest and best preserved on Cozumel. Dating back to the Early Classic period (250 – 500 AD), this community flourished through the Post Classic period (1200 – 1539 AD). The park covers 1.25 miles yet only District 1 of four is open to the public. This thatched building is the first you will see on your walking tour. Called the Little Hands Elite Residence, it was the home of the halach uinic (supreme ruler) including Ah Huneb Itza. The small, red handprints on the inside walls gave the building its name. They are still visible.

Archaeological Zone of San Gervasio, Km 7.5, Carretera Transversal, Centro, 77600 Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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2 The Tomb Structure at San Gervasio near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

This elevated platform was designed as a vaulted tomb when it was constructed during the Early Post Classic era (950 – 1200 AD) and then expanded during the Late Post Classic period (1200 – 1539 AD). Surrounding it are benches and the remnants of an altar. Mayan priests (akinoob) conducted religious ceremonies on this pulpit.

Archaeological Zone of San Gervasio, Km 7.5, Carretera Transversal, Centro, 77600 Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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3 Chichan Nah at San Gervasio near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

Chichan Nah is well named. It translates into Small House and is the littlest of the excavated ruins at San Gervasio. Archeologists believe it was built during the Post Classic period as the Mayan king’s private chapel called an oratorio. Rituals were probably conducted on the altar inside.

Archaeological Zone of San Gervasio, Km 7.5, Carretera Transversal, Centro, 77600 Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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4 Oratorio de la Elite at San Gervasio near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

These columns are all that remain of a private chapel for an elite family. They held up a flat, mortar roof and a thatched one above an open porch. Behind the property is Pequeño Cenote. A cenote is a hole in the limestone for access to groundwater. There are enormous cenotes on the mainland of Rivera Maya. This one is very small, probably for private use.

Archaeological Zone of San Gervasio, Km 7.5, Carretera Transversal, Centro, 77600 Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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5 Elite Residence at San Gervasio near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

This large footprint was the foundation for an elaborate residence for a member of the elite class. It probably was the home of the Mayan ruler during the Post Classic period. Only religious, governmental and elite houses were constructed with stones. The homes of other Mayan citizens were wood and are therefore lost forever. The middle class people were typically merchants and the lowest tier were laborers called ah chembal uinikoob or yalba uinikoob. Below them were slaves named p’entacoob.

Archaeological Zone of San Gervasio, Km 7.5, Carretera Transversal, Centro, 77600 Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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6 The Columns Building at San Gervasio near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

Las Columnas shapes part of the outer perimeter of the Central Plaza, the hub of governmental activities from 1200 AD until San Gervasio was abandoned. The columns supported a mortar roof when it was built in the Early Post Classic period (950 – 1200 AD). Inside the stone structure archeologists found several skeletal remains encased in ceramic jars. Most were pre-Columbian. Other crypts contained Spanish beads suggesting they dated from the 16th century. Juan de Grijalva was the first Spaniard to visit here in 1518.

Archaeological Zone of San Gervasio, Km 7.5, Carretera Transversal, Centro, 77600 Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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7 Plaza Central Altar at San Gervasio near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

In the middle of the nine buildings surrounding Plaza Central is The Altar. This was used for making public announcements and major ceremonial events. The platform was constructed during the Terminal Classic (830 – 950 AD) and Late Post Classic (1,200 to 1539) periods. El Altar’s four sides align with the points on a compass. In the background are the ruins of The Palace (left) and The Murals (right).

Archaeological Zone of San Gervasio, Km 7.5, Carretera Transversal, Centro, 77600 Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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8 The Palace at San Gervasio near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

These 19 columns are the remnants of The Palace in the southwest corner of the Plaza Central. The colonnade originally supported wooden beams and a flat roof. It served as a popolona, a short-term residence for visitors to major religious and governmental events plus single men shortly before their marriage. This open-air, Post Classic building was originally covered by white plaster.

Archaeological Zone of San Gervasio, Km 7.5, Carretera Transversal, Centro, 77600 Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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9 The Murals Building at San Gervasio near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

This Post Classic (1200 – 1539 AD) building is nicknamed The Murals because of the brightly colored paintings discovered inside. The designs featured geometric motifs and stepped lines. This two-room structure was a community temple. Los Murales was also used by Mayan rulers to conduct court and important meetings. The thatched roof is not meant to duplicate the original. They are often erected at Mayan ruins to protect important contents and artifacts. Las Murales once had a stone, vaulted ceiling.

Archaeological Zone of San Gervasio, Km 7.5, Carretera Transversal, Centro, 77600 Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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10 Archway over Sacbé at San Gervasio near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

This archway from the Terminal Classic era had collapsed when discovered by archeologists probably because of the corbeled arch. The Mayans did not use keystones to support their stone spans. Arco Sobre el Sacbé was reconstructed during the 1980s by the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History. It spans a path called a sacbé. These “white roads” were constructed with slabs of limestone. They linked the major sections of the ancient city.

Archaeological Zone of San Gervasio, Km 7.5, Carretera Transversal, Centro, 77600 Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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11 Templo Nohoch Nah at San Gervasio near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

These steps at the end of Sacbé 1lead up to Nohoch Nah. This temple on top of a platform was originally plastered and brightly painted blue, yellow and red. Construction of The Big House dates back to 830 – 950 AD (Terminal Classic period) and then it was enlarged during the next several hundreds of years. Inside was a small altar used for offerings. The Mayans sacrificed animals and sometimes humans to appease their gods.

Archaeological Zone of San Gervasio, Km 7.5, Carretera Transversal, Centro, 77600 Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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12 Templo Murciélagos at San Gervasio near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

An iguana is on a stone wall surrounding Templo Murciélagos. For hundreds of years, this Temple of the Bats was the royal residence of the halach uinic. Later it housed other members of the almehenoob, the highest ranking members of the Mayan society. Unlike other Mayan communities, the buildings at San Gervasio were constructed from rough-cut stones. They were then plastered over with a limestone mortar before being painted with vivid colors.

Archaeological Zone of San Gervasio, Km 7.5, Carretera Transversal, Centro, 77600 Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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13 Pet Nah Altar at San Gervasio near San Miguel, Cozumel, Mexico

Adjacent to Murciélagos is the Pet Nah Altar. This is where Mayan women were required to make at least one pilgrimage during their lifetime to honor and bear gifts to Ix Chel. She was the goddess of sex, childbirth, the moon and medicine. Also spelled Ixchel, the “White Lady” was the patron deity of San Gervasio. According to Mayan religion, she was the wife of the sun god, Itzamná Kinich Ahau. Two of their 13 sons created the world.

Archaeological Zone of San Gervasio, Km 7.5, Carretera Transversal, Centro, 77600 Cozumel, Q.R., Mexico
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