Tonina – Ancient Mayan Tower of Babel in Mexico

Tonina Mexico

The mountain village of Tonina Mexico is another ancient representative in the state of Chiapas. Most recently closed for research, it welcomes visitors again. The place where the stone structures or legacy of the Mayan world near Ocosingo rise up. In classical texts the village is found as Popo, and based on history the settlers rebelled in 1558, during the colonial period.

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The pre-Hispanic Tonina is a complex erected on an artificial mountain. Seven platforms adorn it. Thanks to recent refinements, it has been connected to the metropolitan municipalities of Bonampak and Yaxchilan. Also the irreconcilable wars characteristic of Classicism can be traced here.

The chief ruler of the city of Tonin was Tsots Choi. A bat-tiger ruled the village and quite successfully. The tribe was a terror not only to the territorial wealth of the piedmont municipalities, but also to the Yucatan Peninsula.

Tonin’s location seemed to shelter the town from natural influences. The hurricanes of the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean do not strike the area. On the other hand it is reminiscent of the sacred uplands close to the deities. Veneration of the Sun, Moon, Venus and Earth can be seen in the religious aspects of the population.

It is known that the Maya city of Tonina in the Late Classic was headed by 9 rulers. Each tried to demonstrate territorial power and left a bold mark on the chronology. The rulers lacked the skills of political arrangement and often acted as aggressors, attacking recalcitrant neighbors.

At certain points, overlords positioned themselves as creators of the third sun. And the first was the Olmec sanctuary, the second the Teotihuacan. Tonina lasted until the invasion of the Toltecs. The city did not submit to the fourth star, which led to significant destruction in the elite component.

Tonina City Maya

In the current article we will talk about the unpopular, young in the sense of a monument and the oldest representative of the Mayan civilization, the city of Tonina. Back in 2018, the architectural ensemble, closed to the public, delights the eyes of today’s sightseers.

Where is the mountain village of Tonina and how to get there

Tonina on google map

The ancient mountain village of Tonina huddles in a monotonous cauldron surrounded by natural mountain coverings. Modern Okosingo hides it. It is possible to reach the village both from Palenque and from Tustla Gutierrez. Buses run here from the bus stations of popular grads.

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The journey will take about 3 hours, so be patient. From Okosingo to Tonin, use a local cab. The architecture accepts visitors from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are sold at the ticket office until 4pm.

By car, take Route 199 and leave at Okosingo on Route 218 leading to Comitan. It is noteworthy that the ruins are located near the mountain village of New Egypt. When you arrive at the territory, park your car and welcome to the ticket office.

When using an auto, do not stop in miniature villages. Lakandons often pull the rope to sell their goods. Don’t be fooled, they will pull the rope down anyway, and you won’t be able to buy all the sweets or drinks. Driving on 199 requires driving skills on serpentines. Traveling through them with an empty tank is not a good idea. There are no gas stations from San Cristobal and from Palenque all the way to Ocosingo.

History of the city: the mountain village of Tonina Mexico

Pyramids in Tonina - mountain village

The dawn of Tonina dates back to the phases of the Classic Mayan period from the 7th to the 9th century. But a thorough survey reveals that the area was territorially settled in the Preclassic. It is argued that prior to the Mayans, the establishment of the village was made by the Olmecs, after abandoned in the era of global migration.

Two clear lines of development are traced. The first asserts the majesty and subordination of Tonin to the rulers of Tikal and Teotihuacan, the rulers of the land. The secondary one demonstrates a connection with Ushmal and Caba, the municipalities of the Yucatan Peninsula.

Concepts of Mayan culture of different time intervals are seen in the Tonin structures. The masks of the god Chaca and typical features of architectural cities, hieroglyphic staircases confirm the existence of an organized society.

Chenes temples, Puuk architecture is traced on pyramidal structures, which allows to separate essential features of diverse growth.

The superstructures of later dates, submerged earlier remains. There is virtually no data until the 8th century from the founding. Between 300 and 500 a representative came into being. Competition and struggle with the cultural world. The cities of Palenque, Yaxchilan, Calakmul, Chichen Itza, Peten and Tikal provided the writings presented.

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At about 440 Tonina was subdued by the union of the three dominions, but the divine city quickly regained its independence. The fall of Teotihuacan was the cause of the event. The first mentions of the village are found in Guatemala, at the excavation of Chinikich. The fresco is engraved with a throne and the captivity of the inhabitant of May representative.

In the Late Classic, hieroglyphic writing records the formation of the ruling dynasty. The stone statues of Tonin tell of their births, marriage ceremonies, military victories, and the last steps of the rulers. Nine governors presided over the throne. Some of them are mentioned on the stones of Tobasco, Yucatán, and Calakmul. The man-winged kings are entrenched in history by their iconic victories and power.

The impregnable Tonina managed to survive even after the collapse of the Mayan civilizational inheritance. But since 909 it has fallen into decline. The crisis and destruction of the city, which began then, could not be stopped. Decapitated masters as well as sculptures by the hands of the Toltecs and the innovations of their presence had a significant impact on the buildings as well. Many years were spent searching for historical materials after the Aztec and Toltec rule.

Majestic Remarks – Tonina Mountain Village Mexico

Stelae in Tonina

Among the architecture in Tonina, the Acropolis stands out. The central staircase leads to it. From above, 13 temples and 40 altars can be seen. Point location and remains of the Maya, Toltecs and Aztecs are found in it. There is access to a dungeon, a ritual playground, a huge palace built in the style of Teotihuacan. Stone throne decorated with stucco and a room with a picture of feathered snakes.

There are not many monuments in the city. Most of the stelae are no more than 2 meters in height. Hieroglyphic text or sculpture of the overlord dominating the images of defeated enemies.

Stela Zotz Choj Muang – the ruler of duality and the four directions. The headdress sends in the era of the power of bats over territorial wealth. In his hands he holds a scepter in the form of a two-headed serpent. Display of irreconcilable power and creative-destructive direction of his reign. It is like drawing the scales in the constellation of the scorpion and Venus passing through them. The governor’s cosmopolitan worldview.

The statue with the number 172 sheds light on the ball game. A reflection of the ritualistic action is painted on the plaque. A record of the triumph of the fourth ruler of Tonin. The symbols tell of the ritual of the underworld that took place between the previous ruler and the newly created ruler. It is like a war of life between the dead and the living.

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To describe in text, not to see for yourself. Many of the remains are now preserved in the Museum of Anthropology and History, but not a few are on view in Tonin. There is nothing more interesting than the ancient scripts and the way they convey information to future generations. A huge number of tablets will help decipher the accompanying guide. But among the unique ones you will notice the frieze of the four epochs listed above.

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Tonina – Tower of Babylon of the ancient Maya

The majestic ruins of the ancient Mayan city are off the tourist trails and surrounded by beautiful mountains and meadows in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Here you will find a huge acropolis with dozens of temples, friezes, stelae, statues, and even a maze!

The famous pyramid of Kukulcana in Chichen Itza is 24 meters high. The main pyramid of the Misty Mirror in Tonin rises 71 meters above the level of the Main Plaza. It is even higher than the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. Impressive, isn’t it?

Tonina is even farther from Palenque, so only a few tourists get here. And for good reason! The main structure of Tonina impresses by its grandiosity is a huge acropolis, on the seven tiers of which are built a number of temples and other structures. Personally, it all reminds me of the famous painting “The Tower of Babel” by Peter Bruegel.

A view of the acropolis of Tonina. The scale of the structure is easy to assess: look at the top of the pyramid and find the red and white dots – these are people. The upper levels of the acropolis.

It’s curious and unusual that all this beauty is surrounded by mountains and meadows, where horses and cows graze peacefully.

Landscape with a horse. A view of the Chiapas Mountains. In the meadow grazing who? View of the surrounding area from the acropolis.

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The original name of Tonina was Popo . The city was the capital of a kingdom of the same name. It was an aggressive state that often fought wars with its powerful neighbor Palenque, and in the end even defeated the latter more than once. Little is known of Tonina’s early history; it is believed that those early structures are buried under newer ones. The earliest date found on the structures of Tonina is 217 AD. The most recent is 909 AD.

Presumably, this old photo captures the discoverer of Tonina. And here we see his charming companion climbing to the top of the pyramid and the entire acropolis. We tried to explore every nook and cranny of Tonina.

On the lower levels there is the Underworld Palace, inside of which you can walk the dark corridors of the labyrinth.

Entrance to the labyrinth. Guardian of the labyrinth.

On several levels of the settlement there are well-preserved beautiful steles and statues.

Activate explorer mode! Stelae. In Tonina you can see several statues and steles of the rulers of this city-state. Even after a thousand and a half years, the rulers continue to stand guard over the city and look over their domain with authority.

Here and there underfoot are beautiful carved stone disks with images and writings of the Maya.

A stone disc with a portrait and writing. Either this is a female priestess sacrificing a man, or a wife literally sawing her husband. Either way, I don’t envy the poor guy! The guide tells the tourist something interesting about the stone discs.

We also saw sarcophagi and poorly preserved frescoes .

Tonina, Mayan ruins in Mexico

I have no idea what was depicted on this fresco, but I’m sure it was beautiful. It’s a shame it didn’t survive to this day.

Very impressive is the frieze of the Sleeping Lords (“Frieze of the Four Era”), 4 meters high and 16 meters long. It depicts the god of death, Ah-Puchuch, holding the head of the ruler of Palenque in his hands. The inhabitants of Tonina glorified their military victories over their enemies on almost all of their friezes and sculptures. The overturned heads on the friezes are severed heads after an act of sacrifice. The frieze was once brightly colored in red, blue, and yellow. This frieze has clear stylistic parallels with the murals of the great city of Teotihuacan, but it is a different civilization and a thousand kilometers away.

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A general view of the frieze of the Sleeping Nobles. God of death Ah-Puchuch holds a human head in his hands (only the hair is visible). The severed head of the victim.

And in Tonina there are two fields for the game of ball, widespread not only among the Maya, but also among other indigenous peoples of the Americas. The winners of the tournaments of this extremely difficult game were sacrificed to the gods. Yes, yes, winners – the gods do not need losers, they are supposed to give the best. The larger field was built in 699 to commemorate the conquest of Palenque. The walls of the field are decorated with statues of prisoners – vassals of the ruler of Palenque.

Explore the ball field. A sculpture of a captive. Another sculpture of a captive.

There is also a museum in Tonina with interesting Mayan artifacts.

Exhibits at the Tonina Museum. Exhibits at the Tonina Museum.

I really enjoyed wandering through the tiers of Tonina’s main structure, discovering more and more nooks, buildings, and stelae. It is a fascinating place to spend many hours.

Wandering through the nooks and crannies of the Tonina Acropolis It’s easy to feel like Indiana Jones here. Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” comes to mind.

Important: How to get to Tonina

Tonina is located in the state of Chiapas in the mountains at 800-900 meters above sea level.

To get here from Palenque alone, you have to overcome more than 100 km of mountain serpentine, but the road is generally okay, except for the “roadblocks” that Indian women with children set up on the roads to earn money by selling bananas, boiled corn and other products to passers-by. They pull a rope across the roadway, forcing drivers to stop. Be careful.

The road to Tonina from San Cristobal de las Casas is much more difficult: it is of poor quality and very busy. We had to drive there late at night, in complete darkness – this road was one of the most difficult and exhausting in my life. I highly recommend driving there only in daylight.

Distance to Tonina:

    – 966 km,
  • Tulum: 830 km,
  • Playa del Carmen, 894 kilometers,
  • Merida, 667 km,
  • Campeche – 490 km,
  • Palenque 132 km,
  • San Cristóbal de las Casas 107 km.

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Tonina, Mayan ruins in Mexico

And one last look at this beauty one more time.

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