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Archaeological map of Edzna

palace: seven photographs of the beautiful Puuc style Palace of Five Stories

masks: five photographs of the famous Edzna early classic stucco masks

"Southernmost of the Puuc sites is Etzna (or Edzna), best known for its five-storied structure which combines features of pyramids and palaces.

Aerial reconnaissance has disclosed that Etzna is surrounded by a complex system of canals and reservoirs, and that a square, fortress-like structure is encompassed by a moat.

Such a water-control system could have had multiple functions, such as communication, fishing, and provision of drinking water, and Ray Matheny suggests that the canals might have been connected with a raised-field system.

While most of what one sees at Etzna is Late Classic in date, it is noteworthy that at least some of the canals go back to the Late Preclassic."

(Michael D. Coe, The Maya: 1987)

The beautiful Temple of Five Stories, the centerpiece of the site of Edzna

Edzna: The Great Acropolis

From the Main Plaza, a grand staircase ascends to the Great Acropolis, a group of ten structures sharing a raised platform. Medium sized pyramids, topped by temples, flank the stairs to the left and right. Beyond a central square altar stands the beautiful Temple of Five Stories, crowned by the impressive ruins of a roof comb. It is the tallest structure on the site, with a height of 100 feet.

The temple faces west and alignes with solar zeniths related to agricultural cycles

Edzna: Temple of Five Stories

Also known as The Palace, the Temple of Five Stories "faces west and is aligned so that on May 1st and August 13 -- when the sun reaches its zenith at this location -- the setting sun blazes directly into its rooms. This alignment is probably related to planting times."

Coe, Andrew, "Archaeological Mexico", p. 302

A central stairway, which has been restored only on the left side, ascends the west face to the fifth level temple below the tall, partly ruined roof comb. The small temple at the top contains three rooms; the back wall of the central room contained a stela, now removed, which was illuminated by the rays of the setting sun at its zenith.

That is our friend Jeff standing 3/4 of the way up the staircase. Jeff was the only one of us who managed to climb to the top to inspect the temple there. Five story buildings with external stairs lacking handrails are terrifying.

The temple exhibits many interesting architectural innovations

Edzna: Temple of the Five Stories

The five story building of Edzna exhibits various innovations in the development of Maya architecture in Yucatán.

For one thing, the high stepped pyramid seems to be girded in all its exterior perimeter by rows of chambers that rest upon the filling of the lower level, their roofs serving as a terrace for the following level.

For another, an element extremely rare in the architecture of other Maya areas makes its appearance here on the façade: a short column with a square capital.

And finally, we note how the broad stairway spans some sections of the façade with variants of the corbeled vault that perform like flying buttresses.

Paul Gendrop, A Guide to Architecture in Ancient Mexico, p.72

Maya still perform Chaa Chaac ceremonies at the altar in front of Palace

Edzna: Temple of the Five Stories

Photo courtesy of Marion Canavan

Andrew Coe claims that the campesinos (peasant farmers) of this region of Campeche are probably direct descendants of Edzna's builders, keeping up many ancient traditions, including shamanic practices.

Here on a sunny day in the dry season, a Mayan H'men is performing a Chaa Chaac ceremony, imploring the rain god with offerings of food, flowers, music, and prayer. The central altar is covered with food and flowers, his sons play flutes, and later jump down the stairs of the Temple making frog-like sounds. Meanwhile, the clear sunny day turns cloudy, and the passionate supplications are answered with life giving rain.

NOTE: Marion had the priviledge of photographing another h'men performing a quite different ceremony at Kinich Kak Mo in Izamal in 1993 (use your browser's BACK button to return to this page).

The Temple of Five Stories was built over an earlier Petén style pyramid

Edzna:  Temple of the Five Stories

A vertical profile view of all five stories. The Temple of Five Stories was built over an earlier Petén style pyramid, the fill of which is visible in the upper right side of the photo.

A broad stairway of four steps leads up to the ground floor rooms

Edzna: Temple of the Five Stories

The risers on the steps leading to the first floor rooms are carved with handsome glyphs, some of which are shown in the next photo.

Glyphs which refer to a 652 A.D. date are carved on the risers

Edzna: Stairway glyphs

Edzna: Stairway glyphs

Hieroglyphic staircases are common throughout the Maya area and usually refer to historical events. The longest and most famous is the hieroglyphic staircase at Copan, which recounts the dynastic history of the city.

The glyphs at Edzna refer to a date equivalent to 652 A.D. and may refer to the dedication date of the building or some other historical event that the ruler wanted to commemorate.

The Temple of the Masks dates to the Early Classic period

Edzna, Temple of the Masks

The Temple of the Masks (Structure 414) dates from the Early Classic, a period stretching from about 250 AD to 600 AD. The stucco masks flank the central stairway, and are protected by a thatched shelter which obscures the front of the temple.

The mask to the right of central stair may represent aspects of the solar deity

Edzna: Temple of the Masks

"With their enlarged eyes, these masks probably represent aspects of the solar deity, perhaps the rising and setting suns. They may also be rulers in the guise of the sun god."

Coe, Andrew, "Archaeological Mexico", p. 303

The huge eyes and T-shaped tooth are diagnostic of a sun god

Edzna: Stucco Mask

Although smaller, these very dynamic masks are similar to the masks at Kohunlich and are roughly of the same Early Classic date. Remnants of the original rich paint are still visible on this mask.

These masks have extensive remains of red, ochre, and black paint

Edzna: Temple of the Masks

The original painting scheme can still be discerned today. These masks must have been extraordinarily colorful when they were new.

The mask on the left side of the central stair is even more elaborate

Edzna: Temple of the Masks

The stucco mask to the left of the central stair, Temple of the Masks. Notice the crossed eyes, which were considered a mark of beauty by the ancient Maya.

This mask wears an elaborate bird headdress and matching bird earflares. Birds heads are placed below the earflare proper, and stylized beaks project outward from behind the earflare. This bird headdress motif is also present in the kohunlich masks.

Looking west across the Grand Plaza toward the Nahoch Na

 View Nahoch Na and Ballcourt

The Nohoch Na, which means "Great House" in Maya, occupies the west side of the Great Plaza opposite the Palace of Five Stories. It is a is a long single-story range type building set atop an immense staircase, and is thought to have possibly housed administrative functions.

A portion of the ballcourt is visible in the left foreground.

Looking southwest across the grand plaza from the Palace of Five stories

panoramic view of Edzna

The Sourthern Temple appears on the left of the photo

The Palace of Five Stories Maya performing Chaa Chaac ceremony in front of Palace Palace of the Masks Nahoch Na