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The ruins at Ek Balam are best known for the amazingly well-preserved stucco panels on 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 lowland region of Chenes, is superimposed upon earlier ones. The temple was a mausoleum for ruler Ukin Kan Lek Tok, who was buried with priceless funerary objects, including perforated seashells, jade, mother-of-pearl pendants, and small bone masks with movable jaws. At the bases at either end of the temple, the leader’s name is inscribed on the forked tongue of a carved serpent. (Mayan culture ascribed no negative connotation to the snake.) 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.
site is also notable for its two concentric walls—a rare configuration in the Mayan world—that surround the 45 structures in the main sector. They may have provided defense or, perhaps, symbolized the ruling elite that lived within. In addition, Ek Balam has a ball court and many freestanding stelae (stone pillars carved with commemorative glyphs or images). New Age groups occasionally converge here for prayers and seminars, but the site is usually quite sparsely visited, which adds to the mystery and allure.
This is one of the few Mayan sites where visitors are permitted to climb the structures. Be aware, though, that the trend in the Yucatán is to prohibit such activity, so the situation could change at any time. Some visitors report a dizzying sensation on descent here; for safety's sake, climbing is not recommended.
30 km (18 miles) north of Valladolid, off Carretera 295, Yucatán, Mexico
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