Photo and text by Miguel Omaña.
Once the Maya golden age crumbled, Tulum rose as the main port city of the Protectorate of Cobá.
Once a Maya port and trading city which rose after the fall of the great superpowers of the South, Tikal (today Guatemala) and Calakmul. As the golden age crumbled, Maya nations sprinkled the land with tiny nations. This continued until a nation emerged in the Yucatan Peninsula as the heir of the superpowers of old by means of conquest and trade. So the Protectorate of Cobá was born, encompassing much territory. From the vast lands it had, it heavily relied on a port city for trading, Tulum.
Through Tulum, goods were imported and exported in the region.
As this protectorate was enlarged, Cobá achieved great power through trade. Through ports like Tulum goods were imported and exported with other small Maya nations, as well as the rest of Central America and the Caribbean. Tulum must have functioned like an independent Free Zone (a place with few or no taxation), but its importance relied more on it utilitarian purpose.
Location, location… and a reef in the Caribbean.
Tulum’s geographic position was important, so much that a beacon was built to signal trading and traveling vessels. The reef constituted a physical obstacle in front of Mayan coasts. Yet, in front of Tulum’s shores there was (and still is) a safe passage through the reef. The beacon from the high point of Tulum would directly point to the safe route in the sea.
As cities like Chichen Itza grew prominent, Cobá and its port Tulum diminished.
Commercial routes that existed prior to the fall of the superpowers were reestablished. Even trading routes of Maya powers such as Palenque, Yaxchilan, Caracol, Naranjo and Copan were used again, only this time new political players in the Maya world used them. That is how Uxmal, the Mayapan League, and ultimately the now famous city of Chichen Itza (home of one of the seven wonders of the modern world) grew their prestige and political role. The Protectorate of Cobá dwindled, its government collapsed, and ideas and writing from the Maya golden age was silenced.
Then the new era catched up to a changing world.
The realm of trade and navigation yielded to a new era, to a highly militarized changing world. The Maya world would never be the same.
Photograph I shot at Tulum in December 23, 1998 with an analog Cosina CT-3 analog camera using 35 mm film.
Tulum, Mexico. Copyright 1998 Miguel Omaña.