Tulum (meaning “wall”) is the site of a Mayan walled city situated on tall cliffs along the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula on the Caribbean Sea in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. It was one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Maya. Old World diseases brought by Spanish settlers appear to have resulted in very high fatalities, disrupting the society and eventually causing the city to be abandoned.
The well-fortified walls that surrounded the site allowed the Tulum fort to be defended against invasions. Constructing the wall would have taken an enormous amount of energy and time, perhaps indicating how important defense was to the Maya when they chose the site. Tulum had access to both land and sea trade routes, making it an important port.
There are three major (and most famous) structures of interest at the Tulum site – El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God. The Temple of the Frescoes included a lower gallery and a smaller second story gallery and was used as an observatory for tracking the movements of the sun. Figurines of the Maya “diving god”, or Venus deity, decorate the facade of the temple.
One of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites, and the only Mayan city built on the coast, Tulum remains popular because of its elegant setting on the sheer limestone cliffs above the crashing, turquoise Caribbean.