Hormiguero

The Maya name for Hormiguero is unknown. The ruin "...was reported to the Second Campeche Expedition by the workmen's cook, who several years before, had camped at the aguada of Hormiguero.

The chicleros told her fantastic tales of some ruins which were very near the water hole: that some of the houses were standing; that the doors closed, each with a single stone slab; and that strange noises were heard within the buildings. The city was visited by the expedition April 9–14, 1933.

Ruppert, Karl & John H. Denison, Jr. Archaeological Reconnaissance in Campeche, Quintana Roo, & Peten. Publication 543. Washington D.C. Carnegie Institution of Washington. 1943, p. 37


Map of Hormiguero Ruins: click arrows to jump to photos or scroll down

Archaeological Map of Hormiguero Ruins, Campeche, Mexico

Map by J. P. O'Neill, cartographer with the Second Campeche Expedition of April 1933


Let us begin with Structure II, the principal temple at Hormiguero:


One enters Structure II through the menacing jaws of the serpent god Itzamná

Hormiguero, Str. II

Photo by Jeff Purcell, January 5, 2003

"Upon gazing at these gigantic menacing jaws we can recall one of the invocations of Itzamná as Hapaycán: "the serpent that imbibes or swallows."

And if, to our Western eyes, this recalls some Dantean vision of hell, it must have been for the Mayas of the time a poetic and stimulating sign of life and hope. George Kubler speaks of the possible "descent of the celestial monster into the interior of the temple, bringing with it benefits from the beyond...

Covering the whole width of the upper frieze, the immense frontal mask of Itzamná unfolds its complicated figures that twist in helices, and there are remnants (above the eyebrows) of what seem to have been two undulating serpent bodies...

Finally, the composition is complemented in its lower extremities by a vertical line of plain profile masks, apparently assoicated with the worship of Chac, the god of rain, a cult widely diffused in peninsular iconography as we shall see later.

Thus, under this monstrous appearance, which goes far beyond the merely three-dimensional -- the earthly -- to reach a sphere of mythical surrealism, the multiple facets of the creator deity unfold simultaneously before our eyes, with its powerful collection of symbols both celestial and terrestrial -- stars, rain, new vegetation, life and death -- which fuse here in an especially subduing apparition."

Paul Gendrop. Rio Bec, Chenes, & Puuc Styles in Maya Architecture. Labyrinthos Press. Lancaster, California 1998, p. 72



A celestial bat god perches atop the brow of Itzamná

Hormiguero, Str. II

"As a center finial an unusual statue also stands out, with crossed legs and face covered by a voluminous mask with round eyes and a cross-shaped nose ornament, wearing a kind of cape on its back.

Divided into two parts that turn downward like wings, the cape (together with the crossed St. Andrew's bands) suggests some celestial deity related perhaps to the bat god, a mythological being pictured with greater frequency in the art of Copan, to the southeast of the central Maya area."

Gendrop, Paul. Rio Bec, Chenes, & Puuc Styles in Maya Architecture. Labyrinthos Press. Lancaster, California 1998, p. 72



Profile serpent heads bracket the entrance beneath the central Itzamná figure

Hormiguero, Str. II

"Within the strict norms that the monumental representation of these mythological elements takes on in these regions, the artist here has made use of multiple formal resources to give his own creation a greater three-dimensional appearance.

The fangs not only stand out over the smooth surface of the door jambs, following the usual norm, but they also emerge obliquely from their respective gums; and toward one side of the large spiral eyes, which appear in the fold of the jaws, something similar occurs with the thin eyelids and the intricate ornaments that make up the large supra-orbital plates (in the middle of which an "X"-form motif stands out, the crossed bands of St. Andrew, which gives it a celestial character).

In addition, the stucco finish, miraculously preserved in some parts, allows us to appreciate an infinity of subtle details that constitute other symbolic connotations, such as the oval designs that decorate the jaws and represent the scales of a serpent, or, bordering the spiral edge of the enormous convex eye, the delicate edges embellished -- here and there like other elements of the composition -- by groups of small spheres that perhaps symbolize kernels of tender corn; or the series of zig-zag lines along the edge of the eyelid and well as some borders of the brow and the nostrils, seemingly suggesting eyelashes or hair; or those flamboyant motifs emerging from the diminutive ear-plug and bending up and down, representing flames and curls of smoke, or perhaps are poetic representations of new corn whose leaves, upon opening, symbolize the budding of vegetation, le renouveau; while the bone ornaments that emerge from the nostrils, or in "T" form hang from the earplugs, are related, in that dualism so typically Mesoamerican, with the concepts of underworld and death."



Paul Gendrop gives a helpful diagram of the abstract serpent design:

Gendrop Figure 49

Gendrop, Paul. Rio Bec, Chenes, & Puuc Styles in Maya Architecture. Labyrinthos Press. Lancaster, California 1998, p. 72-73



The central Itzamná image merges with profile serpents & stacked rain god masks

Hormiguero, Str. II

The complexity and fluidity of the design present a powerful image. The frontal mask of Itzamná over the door merges seamlessly with the open-mouthed profile serpents bracketing the door. Stacked rain god masks define the corners of the panel and accent the Rio Bec style twin towers on either side.

Photo by Jeff Purcell, January 5, 2003



Structure II as it appeared to the Second Campeche Expedition in April of 1933

Hormiguero, Str. II

Ruppert & Dennison wrote: "Structure II, lying along the north edge of this group, is the largest and, no doubt, was one of the principal buildings in the city.

As seen in the plan, it is a complex structure containing eight chambers. It rests on a platform 4-5 m. high. The greater portion of the elaborately decorated south façade and much of the north façade are in position, and one chamber has its vault intact.

The most outstanding features of the south façade are its two towers, each supplied with a purely ornamental stairway. The central doorway is 2.38 m. wide and, though the three wooden beams forming the lintel are in situ, its height is not known as the sill is covered with debris.

The motif of the façade decoration above the doorway is a mask with the teeth projecting down over the lintel, and to either side is an elaborated serpent face in profile."

Ruppert, Karl & John H. Denison, Jr. Archaeological Reconnaissance in Campeche, Quintana Roo,& Peten. Publication 543. Washington D.C. Carnegie Institution of Washington. 1943, plate 11a



Ricardo Cosio's reconstruction of how Structure II might have once looked

Hormiguero, Str. II

"The two towers, whose essential formal features fit perfectly within the regional style, nevertheless present a series of uncommon traits.

On the one hand, a narrow vaulted passageway passes under the stairways (a feature very common at Edzná and in the northwest of the peninsula in general, but in this region up to now we have seen it only in the case of this and other buildings at Hormiguero).

On the other hand, its steps, less steep than usual, lead to a platform containing the remains of four thick piers that once supported a vaulted roof, crowned, perhaps, by a comb.

All of this contributes toward giving these simulated temples a greater exterior appearance of reality, and seems to indicate that in this particular case they might have occasionally been used for more concrete ritual purposes. Each of the wings of the building still has, on the sides of the now-ruined doorways, one of its door jambs that, cut out from the thick wall, looks like a large embedded column topped by a quadrangular capital."

Gendrop, Paul. Rio Bec, Chenes, & Puuc Styles in Maya Architecture. Labyrinthos Press. Lancaster, California 1998, p. 57-59



Gorgeous feline frontal mask stacks decorate the wings of Structure II

Hormiguero, Str. II

Photo courtesy of Jeff Purcell, January 5, 2003

On each side of the monster mouth doorway are towers with banded columns and a row of ornamental masks. This photo is to the left of the central doorway.

Paul Gendrop writes: "In the wall of the façade, is a vertical panel that displays two large frontal superimposed masks representing deities which, with their striking jaws and prominent nose and brows, constitute one of the most impressive sights of the art of this region."



A passageway with vaulted rooms runs underneath the Rio Bec style towers

Hormiguero, Str. II

Photo courtesy of Jeff Purcell, January 5, 2003

This photo shows the mask panel in relation to the front of Structure II. Note the remains of vaulted rooms in the substructure and to the left of the mask panel, as well as the passageways through the Rio Bec style towers which frame the main monster-mouth façade.



The stacked side panels divide into three regions: a simple pediment, the feline masks, and a decorative panel projecting above the masks.

Hormiguero, Str. II

"Joining the plain zone of the west is a panel 1.51 m. wide by 3.02 m. high, with stone and plaster decoration. Traces of a second decorated panel rise above the first, separated from it by a 16 cm. band."

Ruppert, Karl & John H. Denison, Jr. Archaeological Reconnaissance in Campeche, Quintana Roo, & Peten. Publication 543. Washington D.C. Carnegie Institution of Washington. 1943, p.38



Closeup of one of the stunning feline masks

Hormiguero, Str. II

We find a certain similarity between the conventional manner of representing exaggeratedly open jaws, both on the Palenque friezes as well as on the beautiful frontal masks of a marked feline character that adorn the pseudo-stairway on the towers of the main building at Xpuhil, those of a more human appearance that are found on the wings of Structure II at Hormiguero [shown here], the rear side of Stela B at Copan, and -- as much as its preservation allows judgment -- these strange Copan versions of zoomorphic entrances, of possible central Yucatecan inspiration."

Ruppert, Karl & John H. Denison, Jr. Archaeological Reconnaissance in Campeche, Quintana Roo, & Peten. Publication 543. Washington D.C. Carnegie Institution of Washington. 1943, p.38


Structure V Structure II, the principle temple Feline Mask Stacks on wings of Structure II Looking up at Structure V from below