Road across Becan moat
Site Map of Ancient Becan

David F. Potter's reconstructive drawing of Becán: Click on red labels to view photos of buildings, or continue scrolling to view East Acropolis

Becán means "ravine or canyon formed by water" in Maya, and refers to the defensive moat that surrounds the city.

The map portrayed on this sign at the site is based on a drawing by David F. Potter which attempts to reconstruct Becan as it appeared at the peak of its development around A.D. 800, shortly after the cessation of major construction. Most of the buildings shown were then in use, but the dry moat, built centuries earlier, was probably no longer maintained for its original defensive purposes:

Becán is arranged around three major plazas. The most important of these is the great southeastern plaza with its massive platform supporting Strustures I, II, III, and IV.

The central plaza group occupies the midground of the map and is defined on the east by structure VIII and on the west by Structure X.

The west plaza at the top left of the map includes the ballcourt and the back of Structure X on the east, by long low masonry structures north and south of the ballcourt, and by a series of poorly preserved structures on the west side collectively known as Structure XIII. Potter remarks that this group is scarcely better known today than it was at the time of Ruppert's report in 1943.

The intricate Structure IV is honeycombed with passage ways and interior rooms

Becan Structure IV

Typical Becan checkboard architectural motifs decorate the annex to Structure IV, seen on the right in the photograph. A different type of decorative wall treatment resembling profile serpent masks adorns the terrace at level 2 of Structure IV.

"The north facade is completely different from the others with many doorways opening into numerous rooms. Even without the doorways at Level 3, which are conjectural, the north side of Str. IV must have been much less austere and formidable than the others. By far the most important rooms here are those at Level 2, essentially at the same level as the plaza to the south of the structure."

(Potter, p. 16-25)

Becan Structure IV

Level 1: Grand staircase to Lvl 2; Low room to right of stairway; Cross motif in decorated panel
Level 2: Many rooms open onto terrace; Terrace on level with S.E. plaza floor; Rooms have    benches, platforms, cordholders
Level 3: Accessible only from courtyard on south side of building; Evidence of drains &
    primitive toilet complete with grafitti
Level 4: Open residential courtyard; Rooms on three sides; Entrance from grand staircase on S.E. Plaza

On this side of the building (north side), a wide stair leads to the second level of structure IV, where the most important rooms are located. Doorways here open onto a wide terrace decorated with elaborate stucco work.

It appears that the two upper levels were only accessible from the other side of the building, either via the monumental staircase on the south or by a narrow interior winding staircase. There is no apparent stairway from Level 3 down to the lower north-side rooms.

The upper group of rooms at Levels 3 and 4 is therefore a truly self-contained unit, the function of which is unknown but hinted at by the arrangement of rooms at Level 4 around the residentially scaled courtyard. The seeming emphasis on good security and on restricted access to this unit suggests its use for elite residential purposes.

(Potter 1977:25-26)

A grand stair on the south side of Str. IV leads to a residential courtyard on top

Becan Structure IV from Eastern Plaza

A grand staircase on the south side of Structure IV rises from the plaza directly to a residential courtyard atop the building. A circular platform in seen in the right foreground of the photo.

The charming courtyard atop structure IV. Click on red arrows or scroll down

David Potter Diagram of Structure IV 4th level at Becan

David F. Potter. Maya Architecture of the Central Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Middle American Research Institute Publication 44. Tulane University, New Orleans 1977, Fig. 6, p. 21

The residential complex which occupied the upper two levels of this building was only accessible from the southeastern plaza, either via the monumental stairway on the south side facing the plaza or by a small interior stairway which presumably emerged somewhere on the west side of the building (the private stair is represented in the lower left of the diagram marked "stairway down").

Both stairways terminated on the top floor, where access to the third level was accomplished by narrow steep stairways in the northeast and northwest corners of the courtyard.

The Mexican Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia's (INAH) website, called Lugares INAH, has a section of spectacular drone video footage of flyovers of archaeological sites, including Becán. This is a 3D "must see."

Courtyard atop Structure IV

Becan: Courtyard on top of Str. IV

Photo courtesy of Jeff Purcell

Northwest corner of courtyard with stairway leading to apartments on the third level.

Rupert & Denison 1943: Plate 21c & Plate 21d

Becan: 1943 Carnegie Expedition photo

Plate c shows the east end of room 8 on level 3, with the lower portion of the stairway up to the courtyard and the doorway to room 9. Plate d shows the entrance to the stairway leading down to the room from the court as it appeared to Ruppert in 1934.

Level 3 diagram

Becan: Str. IV floorplan

Rupert & Denison 1943:fig.72

Courtyard atop Structure IV

Becan: Residential Courtyard

Photo courtesy of Jeff Purcell [February 20, 1997]

Northwest corner of courtyard atop Str. IV. Narrow stairways on the northwest and northeast corners of the courtyard lead down to rooms on level 3. Potter states: "Whatever its purpose, its planners seemed to have intended a differentiation of activity between the upper levels (three and four) accessible only by way of the monumental south and smaller west stairways, and the two lower levels on the north side.

The top level consists of spacious quarters arranged around a well- proportioned open courtyard; the second level has rooms that are scarcely less impressive opening out onto a magnificantly decorated terrace. The monumental stairway on the south side would have provided a fitting approach to the quarters above and isolated them effectively from the presumed turmoil of the plaza below.

(Potter, p. 45)

Courtyard atop Structure IV

Becan: Str. IV residential courtyard

Photo courtesy of Jeff Purcell [February 20, 1997]

View to the north with the twin towers of Structure VIII rising in the background:

Becan: Residential courtyard

Photo courtesy of Jeff Purcell [February 20, 1997]

Looking through a northern doorway of the courtyard, the twin Río Bec towers of the Central Plaza's Structure VIII arise in the distance.

Courtyard atop Structure IV

Becan: Residential courtyard

Photo courtesy of Jeff Purcell [February 20, 1997]

Remains of walls which once composed a ring of rooms surrounding the open air courtyard.

Doorway to rooms surrounding enclosed courtyard atop structure IV

Becan: Residential courtyard

Photo courtesy of Jeff Purcell [February 20, 1997]

"What is important generally is that the courtyard is rather small in scale with indications of both simple and elaborate wall decoration, covered with or moulded of plaster which was painted mostly red but also blue, green, and other bright colors. This, combined with the presumedly colored fabrics, perhaps awnings, at the doorways, adds up to a riotously colorful scene."

(Potter, p. 28)

Looking down from courtyard overlooking the western façade of Structure IV

Becan: Courtyard atop Structure IV

About the massive substructure of Sturucture IV, Paul Gendrop writes: "We should also note the quantity of passageways, tunnels, and chambers that often perforate the solid mass of some foundations...

In Structure IV at Becán, the intricate though regular chain of chambers and inner passages, as well as those strange passageways that begin in the back of the south façade and go mysteriously down to a chamber that must have had a disguised opening among the barroque decorations of the western façade.

A true architecture of moles, one might say, on seeing the results of a design so deliberately convoluted (which implies a no less costly labor of intricate containing walls and fill)!"

Paul Gendrop. Rio Bec, Chenes, and Puuc Styles in Maya Architecture. Translated from the Spanish by Robert D. Wood, S.M. Labyrinthos, Lancaster, California, p. 63

The ends of the building, which form transitions between the two important façades, seem to have been rather plain continuations of the banded tiers, except for the relief sculpture on the upper west façade.

Our friend Jeff is a fearless and skilled climber, and is responsible for all the high-altitude photos in this section. Thanks, Jeff!

Looking to the north from Structure IV toward the Annex

Becan: View of Annex from Structure IV

Looking down from the 2nd story terrace on the north side of structure IV toward the small annex. The great Southeastern Plaza is behind us to the south.

Benches, niches and platforms of the Annex are clearly visible

Becan: Annex to Structure IV

Photo by Jeff Purcell [February 20, 1997]

Looking north from the ruined courtyard atop Structure IV.

Looking down from Structure IV at the Annex below

Becan, Photo of Courtyard atop Structure IV

Photo by Jeff Purcell [February 20, 1997]

Benches, niches and platforms are clearly visible in the upper stories of the Annex.

NW Corner of Structure IV with stairway leading to third level NW Corner of Structure IV Courtyard of Structure IV Courtyard on top of Structure IV with view of Structure VIII in background Doorway leading to rooms surrounding enclosed courtyard  of Structure IV Remains of walls atop Structure IV Becan Structure IV NW corner of Courtyard with stairs to 3rd level Becan Str. IV NW Corner Becan Str. IV SW Corner Becan Str. IV looking toward south Becan Str. IV Room 4-3 Becan Str. IV Room 4-4 Becan Structure IV Becan Structure III Becan Structure I Becan Structure II Becan Ballcourt Becan Structure X Becan Structure VIII Becan Moat