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IZAMAL                                                                                                                                            Printer friendly version


Called the City of Hills and located right in the middle of the Yucatán Peninsula, Izamal is considered the oldest city of the Peninsula. Founded by groups of Itzaes, the city owes its name to Itzamna, or Zamna, a person of singular wisdom and mythical origin. "Heaven Dew," its name in English, is considered both a tribal leader and a teacher of the Mayan people, a legendary founding father later deified. Izamal was conquered by the Spaniards, and the monks in their eagerness to convert the Indians to Catholicism gave the city its religious distinction. To this day, Izamal's people are very devoted to the Immaculate Virgin.

According to tradition, as well as archeological findings, five pyramids flanked the ceremonial center of the city. One of them is consecrated to "Heaven Dew." A second one is called PapacholChaac, the "House of the Heads" or "House of Lightning"; it presently holds the sanctuary of the Virgin of Izamal. Yet another pyramid is dedicated to Kinich-Kakmò, or "Solar Face."

The pyramid Kabul, the "House of the Miraculous Hand," deserves special mentioning. It is home of a giant two meter face, modeled in stucco. This face is similar to the ones at Kohunlich in
Quintana Roo, which are known only thanks to an 1862 drawing by archeologist Catherwood.

For more than a thousand years, Izamal was an important ceremonial center. The indigenous people considered the site, along with
Chichén-Itzá, a center of pilgrimage. Called the City of the Hills, or the City of Three Cultures for combining in its center the pre-Hispanic past with the colonial and the present-day periods, the city preserves a strong religious tradition. Today, one of Izamal’s main attractions is the majestic Franciscan Convent. Its atrium, the largest in Latin America with an area of 200 square meters, was built over the base of a Mayan pyramid. The Convent of San Antonio of Padua is dedicated to the service of the Immaculate Virgin.

The Franciscan convent that was built over one of the Mayan pyramids. This convent is also famous for the monk Fray Diego de Landa, its founder, who burned all the Indian scripts, and then, feeling remorse for what he had done, tried to rewrite all he could remember of the ways of the Mayans. It is here where Pope John Paul visited in 1993. This visit has been one of Izamal's claims to fame ever since, and is commemorated by a statue of the Pope in the convent courtyard.

Inside the church itself, you will see the beautifully restored altarpiece, the stained glass window of Saint Francis of Assisi, and many statues along the walls. The second floor is where the statue of Our Lady of Izamal, Queen and Patron Saint of
Yucatán, is housed. Note all the gold leaf paint, crystal chandeliers, flowers and elegantly painted walls. A small church store with postcards and religious souvenirs is on the first floor.

Izamal is a jewel of a colonial city, with almost all the buildings painted an egg-yolk yellow. Cobble stoned streets and colonial lamp posts complete the scenery. Clean, peaceful and quaint, this is a great town to stroll through. There are Mayan pyramids, colonial style buildings, parks and plazas, horses and buggies, and lots of people watching.

Upon arrival, head to the Government Palace to see the large town model in the outdoor corridor. It shows the entire town and the tremendous number of Mayan pyramids that are scattered about. To the north are the Mayan ruins of Kinich Kakmo, the most important. This is a largely unrestored pyramid that looks like a very symmetrical hill. A climb to the top will reward you with a beautiful view. You will also want to visit Kabul, Itzamatul and the Conejo.

Next, visit the Museum of the Community, located under the convent in front of Cinco de Mayo Park. All the information is in Spanish, but the exhibits are interesting.

Finally, there are workshops in Izamal which preserve unique arts and crafts traditions. The carriage drivers will take you to the house of the artists so you can discover the heart of one of the most authentic Yucatecan cities. Specifically, we recommend the cocoyol workshop which uses the seeds of cocoyol (a small kind of coconut) for the making of necklaces and collars.

For prices, reservations, availability and bookings, please contact us at: visit@luxuriousmexico.com


Yucatan, Izamal, Franciscan Convent, Esplanade - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405

Esplanade at The Franciscan Convent in Izamal

Yucatan, Izamal, Pyramid Kinich Kalmo - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405
The Pyramid Kinich Kakmo at Izamal
Yucatan, Izamal, Carriages - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405
Carriages at Izamal