Comalcalco Archaeological Zone: A Monumental Site in Tabasco

Located 55 kilometers from the city of Villahermosa, capital of the State of Tabasco, the Comalcalco archaeological site, once inhabited by the Mayan people, is of great importance for those seeking the mystery of the historical past.

Comalcalco Archaeological Zone: A Monumental Site in Tabasco
The Archaeological Zone of Comalcalco in Tabasco, Mexico. Photo: INAH

The Comalcalco Archaeological Zone is located 55 kilometers from the city of Villahermosa, in the State of Tabasco. Its name in Nahuatl means: "In the house of the comales" or "In the house of the bricks" and it is known that this settlement was contemporary to Palenque, with which it flourished simultaneously and maintained important links.

The most outstanding characteristic of its monumental buildings is the use of baked bricks, whose pieces were joined with a mixture of sand, mud, and calcined and ground oyster shells. The lime obtained from the shells was also used to coat walls and floors and was also used to make the stucco for the sculptures. In the Museum of Site interesting pieces discovered during the excavations are exhibited. It is open to the public every day.

Historical Wealth

Comalcalco was inhabited since Preclassic times and its flourishing took place during the Classic period, more or less between 200 and 300 AD. The construction of brick buildings began in the 7th century AD when contact was established with the towns of Xochicalco, Uxmal, and Tikal. According to studies, it is known that the site was gradually abandoned during the Postclassic period, in the XIV century.

The objects found during the excavations, the constructive style, and the materials, demonstrate the influence that other towns exerted on the inhabitants of this zone. For example, some figures found are very similar to those of Isla de Jaina, in Campeche, and Jonuta in the State of Tabasco.

Regarding the type of construction and the use of stucco in the ornamentation, they are comparable to those of Palenque. These similarities have allowed archaeologists to suppose that Comalcalco depended on Palenque in pre-Hispanic times. And at the same time, it is supposed that it constituted the important point of connection between the coastal settlements and those of the mainland, in what today is denominated Mayan World.

The characteristic of the brickwork in the construction has allowed Comalcalco to be catalogued as an exceptional case in the architectural aspect, comparing it with other cities of the pre-Hispanic era. Another significant characteristic of the bricks is that each one was molded or inscribed on one of its sides, to form a complete design for the facades of the buildings. The designs, which range from simple lines to representations of rulers and other figures such as symbols, buildings, animals, etc., were made before the bricks were baked.

The Masks

The masks were of great importance in Mayan constructions and represented celestial, human or animal images in different forms. In the basement of Temple VII of the zone, there is a large mask almost two meters high that represents the Solar God. Some theories indicate that it is the God Kinich Ahau, Lord of the Solar Eye; or Kinich Kakmo, Macaw of Solar Fire, since the figures of the headdress represented the extended wings of a quetzal, a mythical bird for the Mayas.

Exploring the Archaeological Zone of Comalcalco

North Plaza Complex: A group of structures surrounding a rectangular plaza with three temples in the center, located east-west.

Temple I: Located on the west side of the plaza, this construction has a central stairway that is forbidden to ascend, to avoid more excessive deterioration. In the southeast corner of the construction, some stucco figures that were part of the ancient decoration can be observed. In the upper part, there are the remains of what was a temple made up of two rectangular rooms. The first must have had three entrances based on pilasters and the second, in the back, has an altar.

Temple II: It is a large platform that closes the square in the northern part, in which two mounds (Temple IIA and Temple IIB, still unexplored) and the main building, located in the western part (adjacent to Temple I), in the center of which there are remains of a staircase leading to the top, where there are reconstructed remains of a temple.

Temple III: Of pyramidal design, it faces Temple II in the southern part of the plaza. Nearby there are two other buildings (Temple IIIA and Temple IIIB). At the top of the main building the ruins of two rooms, designed like those of Temple I, are distinguished. Closing the plaza on the east side there is a large platform with two mounds (probably buildings).

Great Acropolis: This complex of buildings includes a large platform running east-west. At the northeast and southeast corners are two structures that border the main plaza of the group.

Temple of the Mask (VI): Its name derives from the stucco mask located on the façade, which is supposed to represent the God Kinich Ahu. The deity shows a prominent forehead, large narrowed eyes, whimsical ornaments in the ears, and a lavish headdress.

Temple VII: Building is profusely decorated with elaborate stucco motifs. In the first row there are three seated figures, seen in profile, but only from the shoulders down. The first of them, an obese figure, recalls the figurines found on the Island of Jaina, Campeche.

There is a second row with two seated figures, richly attired, carrying weapons. Around them are varied Maya glyphs. Another part of the decoration seems to represent a stylized two-headed serpent. It was one of the last to be discovered and at the top, there are vestiges of a shrine.

The Palace: It stands out in the eastern part of the Great Acropolis. In the building, there are two rows of rooms separated by corridors. One of them has entrances marked by pilasters that allow access to a vestibule. The other corridor shows traces of windows and wall attachments that may have been altars. In the building, there are still vestiges of the original Mayan vaults. At the back of the building, there is a sunken park bordered by mounds (probably temples), which has an altar in the center.

Temple IV: Towards the southern part of the Palace is located this construction, with ruins of two rooms and an altar on top. A tomb was discovered here.

Temple V: It is located in front of the Palace, in the southern part. A tomb was also discovered here.

Tomb of the Nine Lords of the Night: It is located on the same platform as Temple V, but further to the west and at a lower level. The name of the construction was inspired by nine stucco figures that adorn the walls of the chamber, each character is richly adorned. Inside the tomb were found human bones, shell beads, and remains of wood that could be plates that covered the remains of the characters buried there.

For your information

The Comalcalco Archaeological Zone is located 55 kilometers from the city of Villahermosa and 3 kilometers from the municipal capital. It is reached by the state highway that crosses the region of La Chontalpa, to Chichicapa, from where it is continued by highway No. 187. In the archaeological zone operates the Site Museum where the pieces found in the place are exhibited. The days of visitation are Tuesday to Sunday, from 8 am to 5 pm. There is a guide service, parking, and a restaurant.