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Since 1000BC, Izamal has continued to be a pilgrimage site for Mayans coming to offer respect to Kinich kakmo, a manifestation of Itzam Na. Itzam Na is the god of healing, resurrection, arts, writing, and agriculture.
Like Dzibilchaltun, Izamal was populated at contact, therefore both locations have church-evidence built on site. The church of Dzibilchaltun was never completed, however, the convent of Izamal (Convento de San Antonio de Padua) was built atop (and from) the Popul-Chac pyramid. Using the stones from the pyramid, construction of this convent began in 1533, and was completed in 1561. It was one of the first convents built in the western hemisphere, and if one studies the columns and stones long enough, there is much evidence of maise patterns, as well as architectural style (square block-columns) fitting in with the original Mayan temple.
On July 12, 1562 Friar Diego De Landa burned five thousand idols, and 27 manuscrips at Mani. He destroyed all but three 'Maya Codices.' With most records destroyed, little is known as to why the Maya felt Izamal was a site of such great importance. Landa was later exiled to Spain for his crimes against the indigenous Maya and forced to document what he had witnessed in Yucatan. By 1566, Landa completed "Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan" - or "An Account of things in Yucatan," and though the ancient history of the Maya could never be recovered, Landa's book may be the only reason modern scholars understand the calendar system today.
Stephens and Catherwood visited Izamal in 1843, and as mentioned in the book "Incidents of Travel in Yucatan," the 'mounds' between houses, are mesmerizing. Though unexcavated, and small, it's a neat experience to stay in a village that has been built in an ancient city with remnants of the past remaining. It's most unusual to be walking past shops, see a pyramid, and then a residential neighbourhood. It would be as if one developed a village on the site of Chichen Itza...
In 1993, Juan Pablo II visited Izamal, making locals very proud of their convent and history. They painted their pride around the village, covering the buildings with yellow paint, and today Izamal is classified as one of Mexico's "Magical Cities." Mayans have continued returning to Izamal each year, since contact, during the October 18 "Procession of Christ" and December 8 for "Procession of the Virgin of Izamal."
In 1996, Izamal was a smaller village, with less tourism than today. Upon arrival, a young man was riding a bike down the dusty street, towing behind him a 4 foot square block of ice, being the fridge. There were few cars, and the pyramids were left open for investigation, but did not have name-signs, nor were they fenced and gated. Enroute to the restaurant, there was a tiny run-down tortilla factory, but the two people working inside were very content. Most of the homes outside the zocalo area were Na huts, and the roads leading in and out of Izamal were lined with henecken fields.
Today, the village of Izamal is a quaint town of stucco homes and one way streets. (On the outskirts of town there are still some Na huts, but they are few) The zocalo is full of activity, and the markets here are fun to wander through, as they are not aimed at tourism, but are for the local people. The small grocerias in town resemble the quaintness one used to see in coastal Quinatana-Roo, with narrow aisles stacked high with food and household items, odd things hanging from the ceiling, and amazing murals on the walls. The meat market is a large clean room functioning as a massive fridge, with scales and meat hanging from hooks, and sliding doors to let one in and out. It is nice to see the mercado now has a clean and spacious tortilla factory, with new machinery. Even the electrical wires in Izamal are more orgainized than in other areas of Mexico, as the meters are stationed on one large wall, together, as opposed to being stuck onto odd walls in strange places. Izamal is a success in terms of esthetics, cleanliness and community planning.
The roads leading in and out of Izamal are still lined with henecken fields, however, many of the Na huts have disappeared, as new suburbian developments are being built from stucco, and of course, painted yellow. While many people may stop in Izamal to visit the convent, then travel on, this village is a magical place to stay and unwind, in order to soak up local culture and wander the streets. What makes Izamal so special is the culture of a people who are proud and keeping their community clean, in keeping with the ancient city that once was, and still is, a very important religious center.
There are several day trips one may take from Izamal, including a small fishing village, Dzilam de Bravo, where the pirate Jean Lafitte is believed to be buried. Ake pyramid site is not far from Izamal, and could be seen in half a day. Driving on rural roads at night is not recommended due to farmers moving livestock, however, one could head to Izamal after the lazor show at Chichen Itza, making another day-trip possibility. Merida could be visited from Izamal in a day, however, is an incredible city that deserves at least a few days for exploring. And don't forget to leave at least one day to see Izamal itself!