Aké Ruins – A Complicated History Where Two Worlds Merge
The Aké Ruins located just 40 kms (22 miles) east of Merida, reflects the complicated history that defines the Yucatan Peninsula. We have been wanting to visit this archeological site for a while, and were completely taken aback by the combined Mayan-Spanish history we found in this site. What we came across was an archeological site built in 350 BC surrounded by protective walls, a grand plaza, and various sac be’s that once lead to Izamal (32kms/20 miles away). But before we found the entrance, we saw a working Hacienda that utilized some of the old Mayan structures as its base and had its own Spanish ruins that told its story. This combination of Maya-Spanish history made this visit beyond spectacular.
The Mayan city of Aké has a long and influential history that Stephens and Catherwood touch on in their book The Incidents of the Yucatan. Aké was the last ruin they visited before their studies of the Yucatan ended.
This Late PreClassic Period Mayan City remained influential until the Post Classic period when the Spanish arrived. It was the site of a 16th century battle between the Maya and Francesco de Montejo, the head of the Spanish family who also conquered and built Merida.
It was in the mid 17th century that Hacienda San Lorenzo Aké was built as a cattle farm then transformed into a henequen plantation during the boom of the ‘green gold’. During WW1 henequin lost its global hold on the market. San Lorenzo Aké hacienda continues to make and market this natural fiber, though it was significantly damaged by Hurricane Isadore in 2002.
What visitors see at the Aké Ruins is a merging of two worlds, the Maya and the Spanish, with ruins leaving a trace of this history. A good portion of the henequen factory, the owner’s home and the church are still in great working order, with the Maya conducting walking tours of both sites.
Fast Facts About Aké Ruins
- Aké means ‘place of the reeds’
- Occupied from the Late Pre Classic to Post Classic Period, its heyday was from 350 BC to 800 AD. The Maya still occupied the area in the 16th century during the Spanish conquest.
- The earliest columned building found in Mayan south lowlands architecture is found here.
- Aké had some of the most extensive sac be’s (hand built paths/roads) that went as far as Izamal
- Aké influenced Mayan cities as far as Coba and the Rio Bec region in Campeche
- This site is bound by two protective walls built at different time periods
- The structure in the central part of the Grand Plaza has 33 columns and 33 steps that lead to the top
- Aké is mentioned in the Chilam Balam – a collection of Mayan books written in the 17th and 18th centuries that explains Mayan religion, history, folklore, medicine, and astronomy.
- The original Mayan city was 4 square kilometers/990 acres but only a small portion can be seen today.
Fast Facts About Hacienda San Lorenzo Aké
- The Hacienda was built in the late 16th century and became a cattle ranch in the early 17th century
- The Hacienda transformed into a henequen mill in the mid 19th century and flourished until WW1
- The Hacienda church is built on an old Mayan structure that was part of the original Aké City
- The Hacienda was one of the first to adopt a steam powered henequen scraper machine that saved the industry during the Caste War.
- Henequen is still the main industry at this hacienda though many of the buildings are partially destroyed. It feels like an estate ruin where you are free to walk through and around antique European machinery once used during the henequen making process.
- Hacienda tours can be requested at the henequen workshop. Tours are only in Spanish by local henequen workers. Tours last about 90 minutes. Last tour is held at 3 pm. This is a great way to find out how henequen is made and discover the hacienda history that influenced the region.
- The Hacienda received significant damage during Hurricane Isadore in 2002.
How To Get To The Aké Ruins
The Aké Ruins and Hacienda San Lorenzo Aké are located in the small town of Aké just off the 180 highway. We are unaware of any public transportation that goes to Ake so a rental car or transportation service is required. It is east of Merida and west of Izamal, two popular cities in the Yucatan. We suggest going earlier in the morning as there is little shade in the archaeological site. The early start leaves you ample time to tour the Hacienda with a guide and walk through the old machine shop on the property (now in ruins). This is also a good day trip from Merida, if you are spending time in the State Capital.
Note: Bring water, snacks, pesos for tours, and a map. There is little in the town of Aké so come prepared for a few hours. We spent at least 4 hours at this location, as we were fascinated by the merging of histories and loved both of our guides stories.