Yucatan Peninsula
Quintana Roo, Mexico



  On a short bluff overlooking an idyllic lagoon of turquoise sea, sits the main temple of the Mayans at Tulum. The Mayans occupied this area from 500 A.D. till around 1500 A.D. when the Spanish came in. Seems to me, I recall Tulum was about a little less than two hours drive south of Playa del Carmen. We took the ferry over from Cozumel on Christmas Day to dive in an underwater cave system called a cenote (See know' tay). That was way cool. I will never forget that color of blue as you looked from a distance to the water below the sinkhole opening with the sunlight shining through it. It was hypnotic. The clearest water you can imagine. So pure you can see through it for 200-300 feet, maybe more. When there was light coming from above, illuminating the area below it, if you had a line of site from anywhere, you'd see it. I felt like I was seeing an opening to heaven, the imagery was so breathtaking. But I digress...

Though no longer active, this is the oldest example of a lighthouse that I have in my collection. Built between 500 A.D. and 1000 A.D., this stone structure served as the main temple for the  priests. This whole area of ruins at Tulum was the area that only the priests and their families lived in. It also had another use and that of course was as a lighthouse. You see, the lagoon was enclosed by a semi-circle reef that had an opening through it that allowed someone in a boat, or dugout canoe at the time, to pass safely through the jagged clutches of the reef to land at one of the white sand beaches. Now as we use range lights in the U.S. and other  countries to act as a guide for the safe passage, the Mayans used the face of their temple as a similar structure. Their technique only requires one lighthouse and not two. You can see the two small openings in the top room which faces directly out to sea. I'd say they are about 25-30 feet apart.

So when their own people were out fishing and needed to come back safely, the priests would build a fire in the back of that room and there would be the guide. One had to see the fire in both windows to be lined up correctly for the opening in the reef. When their enemies tried to come from the sea, out went the fires, thus protecting the Mayans from coastal attack. I wonder where they learned that.


Here's how I saw it:

T1  T2  T3 





John B Caddell

Copyright 2001