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Río Bec architecture style

The term “Rio Bec” was first used by American archaeologist Karl Ruppert in the 1930s. Rio Bec is a unique Mayan architectural style in the Rio Bec region in the southeastern states of Campeche and Quintana Roo.

This Rio Bec architectural style is characterized by several key features:

  • Twin-towered structures
  • Symbolism
  • Elaborate facades
  • Narrow staircases
  • Floral and iconographic motifs
  • Hierarchical arrangement

The Rio Bec style flourished from about the 6th to the early 9th century.

The Rio Bec style represents a distinct phase in the history of ancient Mayan architecture. This architectural style is known for its unique combination of artistic expression, symbolic meaning, and religious significance.

The intricate carvings and distinctive features of the Rio Bec style make it a subject of study for archaeologists and historians interested in understanding the cultural and architectural evolutions of the ancient Mayans.

Rediscovery in the early 20th century

In the early years of the 20th century, French explorer Count Maurice de Perigny ventured into the forest of Campeche and discovered several new and mysterious Mayan sites that had previously gone unnoticed.

Although the region had already been visited, it was Perigny who realized that the architecture of southeastern Campeche was different from that which existed in the Peten region and to the north of the Yucatan.

The origin of the name Rio Bec

It may suggest that Rio Bec was the largest or significant settlement in the area.

In reality, the ruins found by de Perigny were discovered in close proximity to a seasonal river, the calm banks of which were covered with a special species of tree known as “bek” to the Yucatecan Maya (Ehretia Tinifolia).

This name came to be used to describe the surrounding area of the river.

Since then, the area lying between the Mexican states of Campeche and Quintana Roo has become known as Rio Boke, Rio Bec, or Rio del Roble. The region is distinguished by its unusual architecture – the Rio Bec style.

Rio Bec style elements

The most representative elements of the Rio Bec style are twin tower buildings and elaborately carved facades depicting the “Earth Monster”, also called Itzamna, Chaac, the rain deity, or even the Cauac monster.

The twin-tower buildings usually consist of only rooms on one floor, framed at each end by two towers that look like slender temple pyramids. The stairs to the upper temples have no practical use.

Although the riser is of normal height, the steps of the staircase are so narrow that only gods could step there. The upper temple is purely symbolic, consisting of just one wall with recesses representing the corners.

The earthen monster appears on facades throughout the area.

Rio Bec region

The various groups inhabiting the Rio Bec region lived in small agricultural communities dependent on the monumental Becan, such as Channa, Chicanna, Xpuhil, Hormiguero, Payan, Manos Rojas, Culucbalom, etc.

The first human settlement of the Rio Bec region can be traced back to the early first millennium BC. Back in 600 BC, the area around Bekan area was inhabited by groups of semi-nomadic farmers.

In 200 or 250 CE, a proper city was founded in Becan, with pyramids, and plazas.

Bekan was undoubtedly the political and economic center of this region. The remaining sites in the region known to us remained just small agricultural settlements and had only a few stone buildings.

Until 550-600 CE, the architecture reflected that of the rest of the Mayan world.

However, in 600 CE, the Rio Bec architectural style first appeared. This flourishing, perhaps driven by the use of more efficient agricultural technologies, lasted until the early 9th century.

The sites of the Rio Bec region appear to have been abandoned around the mid-14th century, although some peasants continued to leave offerings near the buildings, which were gradually swallowed up by the forest.

Maya ruins with the Rio Bec architectural style

These archaeological sites are in the Rio Bec style. Keep in mind that architectural styles can sometimes blend and evolve, so some sites might feature a mix of different influences alongside the Rio Bec style.

  • Calakmul (Campeche)
  • Becán (Campeche)
  • Chicanná (Campeche)
  • Hormiguero (Campeche)
  • Xpujil (Campeche)
  • Rio Bec (Campeche)
  • Hochob (Campeche)
  • Balamku (Campeche)
  • Dzibanché (Quintana Roo)
  • Kinichná (Quintana Roo)
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