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A leaf-strewn nature trail winds slowly toward the ancient heart of Edzná. Although only 55 km (34 mi)—less than an hour's drive—southeast of Campeche City, the site sees few tour groups. The scarcity of camera-carrying humans intensifies the feeling of communion with nature, and with the Maya who built this once-flourishing commercial and ceremonial city.
Despite being refreshingly underappreciated by 21st-century travelers, Edzná is considered by archaeologists to be one of the peninsula's most important ruins. A major metropolis in its day, it was situated at a crossroads of sorts between cities in modern-day Guatemala, and Chiapas and Yucatán states, and this "out-of-state" influence can be appreciated in its mélange of architectural elements. Roof combs and corbeled arches are reminiscent of those at Yaxchilán and Palenque, in Chiapas; giant stone masks are characteristic of the Petén-style architecture of southern Campeche and northern Guatemala.
Edzná began as a humble agricultural settlement around 300 BC, reaching its pinnacle in the late classic period, between AD 600 and 900, and gradually waning in importance until being all but abandoned in the early 15th century. Today soft breezes blow through groves of slender trees where brilliant orange and black birds spring from branch to branch, gathering seeds. Clouds scuttle across a blue backdrop, perfectly framing the mossy, multistepped remains of once-great structures.
A guide can point out features often missed by the untrained eye, like the remains of arrow-straight sacbés. These raised roads in their day connected one important ceremonial building within the city to the next, and also connected Edzná to trading partners throughout the peninsula.
Edzná is one of the area's most important ruins. Here you'll see a smorgasbord of Mayan architectural styles. Roof combs and corbeled arches remind one of the early classical period and the giant stone masks are taken straight out of textbooks from the pre-classical period.
The best place to survey the site is from 102-foot tall Pirámide de los Cinco Pisos, built on the raised platform of the Gran Acrópolis (Great Acropolis). This five-story pyramid consists of five levels, terminating in a tiny temple crowned by a roof comb. Hieroglyphs were carved into the vertical faces of the 15 steps between each level, and some were re-cemented in place by archaeologists, although not necessarily in the correct order. On these stones, as well as on stelae throughout the site, you can see faint depictions of the opulent attire once worn by the Maya ruling class—quetzal feathers, jade pectorals, and jaguar-skin skirts.
In 1992 Campeche archaeologist Florentino García Cruz discovered that the Pirámide de los Cinco Pisos was constructed so that on certain dates the setting sun would illuminate the mask of the creator-god, Itzámná, inside one of the pyramid's rooms. This happens annually on May 1, 2, and 3, the beginning of the planting season for the Maya—then and now. It also occurs on August 7, 8, and 9, the days of harvesting and giving thanks. On the pyramid's fifth level, the last to be built, are the ruins of three temples and a ritual steam bath.
West of the Great Acropolis, the Puuc-style Plataforma de los Cuchillos (Platform of the Knives) was so named by a 1970 archaeological exploration that found a number of flint knives inside. To the south, four buildings surround a smaller structure called the Pequeña Acrópolis. Twin sun-god masks with huge protruding eyes, sharply filed teeth, and oversize tongues flank the Templo de los Mascarones (Temple of the Masks, or Building 414), adjacent to the Small Acropolis. The mask at bottom left (east) represents the rising sun, whereas the one on the right represents the setting sun.
If you're not driving, consider taking one of the inexpensive day trips offered by tour operators in Campeche. This is far easier than trying to get to Edzná by municipal buses.
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