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Fodor's See It Mexico, 3rd Edition
Ek Balam Review
What's most stunning about the large Ek Balam ("black jaguar") site are the elaborately carved and amazingly well-preserved stucco panels of one of the temples, the Templo de los Frisos. A giant mask crowns its summit, and its friezes contain wonderful carvings of figures often referred to as "angels" (because they have wings)—but which more likely represented nobles in ceremonial dress.
As is common with ancient Mayan structures, this temple, styled like those in the region of Chenes in the northwest, is superimposed upon earlier ones. The temple was a mausoleum for ruler Ukit Kan Lek Tok, who was buried with priceless funerary objects, including pearls, perforated seashells, jade, mother-of-pearl pendants, and small bone masks with movable jaws. At the bases at either end of the temple, the name of the leader is inscribed on the forked tongue of a carved serpent, which obviously didn't have the negative biblical connotation ascribed to the snake in Western culture today. A contemporary of Uxmal and Cobá, the city may have been a satellite city to Chichén Itzá, which rose to power as Ek Balam waned.
Another unusual feature of Ek Balam are the two concentric walls—a rare configuration in Mayan sites—that surround the 45 structures in the main part of the site. They may have provided defense, or perhaps they symbolized (more than provided safety for) the ruling elite that lived within.
Ek Balam also has a ball court and quite a few freestanding stelae (stone pillars carved with glyphs or images for commemorative purposes). New Age groups sometimes converge on the site for prayers and seminars, but it's usually quite sparsely visited, which adds to the mystery and allure. Ek Balam is one of the few Mayan sites where visitors are permitted to climb the structures.
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