Updated: May 23
San Gervasio ruins in Cozumel provide intriguing insights into Mayan civilization. For history enthusiasts and culture vultures, a visit to the Mayan ruins of San Gervasio is an absolute must when in Cozumel.
Situated about 15 kilometers from the heart of Cozumel, this ancient settlement's original name remains unknown, though it is speculated to be Tantún Cuzamil. The term "Cozumel" is derived from "Cuzamil," or "Cuzamil" in Yucatec Mayan, which translates to "place of the swallows."
San Gervasio holds the distinction of being the most significant Mayan settlement in Cozumel. As per the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), the oldest structures in this site trace back to A.D. 300–400, even though initial occupation dates further back to around 200 B.C.
Visit San Gervasio Mayan ruins on our Custom Private Jeep Tour in Cozumel
Between A.D. 1000–1200, the island was under the dominion of the Itza people, the Mayan group responsible for erecting Chichén Itzá and other notable sites. INAH states that Cozumel was integrated into Chichén Itzá's political and trade network during this period. From A.D. 1200 to 1650, San Gervasio was one of Mesoamerica's prime pilgrimage sites and simultaneously served as the island's administrative and religious hub. Archaeologists have discovered indications of the site being inhabited even during the colonial period.
San Gervasio is theorized to have been a pilgrimage site dedicated to Ixchel, the lunar deity, who was revered as the fertility and birthing goddess in ancient Mayan culture. While INAH notes that they haven't found evidence linking to such a deity on the site, it acknowledges that the ancient Mayans embarked on ritualistic journeys from the mainland to Cozumel, aligning with the moon's various phases.
As you delve into the site, the renowned Manitas (Little Hands) structure, named after the red handprints adorning its inner walls, will catch your eye. Housing two rooms, including one with a temple, this building is believed to have functioned both residentially and ceremonially, possibly serving as the abode of San Gervasio's rulers between A.D. 1000 and 1200. Adjacent to it is a platform where outdoor ceremonies were likely conducted by the ancient Maya.
The Chichan Nah (Small House) on the site's east side is another noteworthy structure, thought to have been a shrine. A path leading westward from the Chichan Nah will take you to two buildings, one believed to have been the residence of Cozumel's supreme ruler, referred to as the Halach uinic in Yucatec Maya, and the other, his private chapel.
The Central Plaza, once the hub of San Gervasio, and Las Columnas (the Columns), a structure with seven columns and a possible altar or throne, are among the site's most remarkable areas. Archaeologists have unearthed several burials with offerings, including obsidian knives and small stelae, within this building's chambers. Next to Las Columnas is Los Nichos (the Niches), another fascinating structure known for the small shrines on each side of its stairway. South of the plaza is El Osario (the Ossuary), named for the human remains discovered within it.
The El Palacio (the Palace), a multi-columned edifice with a central section that might have been an altar or a throne, is located to the west of the Central Plaza. Adjacent to the Palace is a ceremonial building called Las Murales (the Murals), named after the remnants of vibrant murals, including geometric patterns.