Toniná a Mayan wonder not to be missed
By Dorothy Bell
We had travelled only 120 kms or so that day toward Oscinco, but we were already beat tired. We had climbed some amazing pyramids in the last few days and our legs were sore from the endless staircases to the heavens. “Just one more, “said Bill. “This one is supposed to be very interesting.” It doesn’t take much to get either of us interested in another ancient site so we made a left turn off the highway and headed towards the pyramid sign.
Ocosingo is in the heart of Maya country; a city of 35,000 inhabitants. It lies in the mountainous region of Chiapas between the Tabasco lowlands on the Gulf of Mexico and San Cristobel de las Casas, the colonial gem high in the State of Chiapas Mountains. We drove the 13 kms to the East of the city towards the ancient city of Toniná.
We hadn’t really expected much. Toniná isn’t on the average tourists’ radar screen. It isn’t a seventh wonder of the world like Chichen Itza and the remote location coupled with the Zapatista uprising two decades ago, has kept most travelers away from the area. Avoiding this pre-Columbian gem is a mistake.
We entered the grounds, paid the 41 peso admission and were immediately directed by one of the security guards towards the museum. The first room graphically illustrated the site; both what it looked like when first discovered by Europeans and what it looks like now. There is a three dimensional model of the site that immediately caught our attention and wowed our Mayaphile souls. The acropolis is huge.
While we were anxious to get on the trail to the site, the guard once again intervened and motioned for us to go to a second display room. “Wow.”
Immediately you can see the difference between the sculptures, statues and other images. In Tulum, for example, you struggle to see the original images as they have been worn away by the elements. In Toniná, many of the statues and carvings on stone are crystal clear; three dimensional and full. This second room was impressive not just because of the clarity of the sculptures but also because of the content; a series of statues depicted bound slaves; some decapitated and holding their heads.
Toniná was often at war with other Mayan cities and was usually victorious. Even the great city of Palenque was plundered and the King caught and held captive.
After visiting the museum we walked towards the sight; along a horse trail, up and down the banks of a small river until we hit the expansive plain that was the city on Toniná. We quickly walked by a small ancient ballpark and headed for the great acropolis that was once the capital of the Mayan world.