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Cobá (Mexico)

Lowland Maya Center


La Iglesia Pyramid at Coba (Quintana Roo, Mexico)

La Iglesia Pyramid at Coba (Quintana Roo, Mexico)

Claire Dancer
Ballcourt at Coba

Ballcourt at Coba

Coba Sacbeob

Coba Sacbeob

SABET sabet

Cobá is the name of a large lowland Maya city and the capital of a city state located between two large lakes (Macanxoc and Coba) in east central Quintana Roo, Mexico.

During its heyday (AD 550-850), the city supported a population of an estimated 55,000 people, within an area of approximately 70 square kilometers (17,200 acres) and approximately 20,000 buildings. Cobá's control stretched far out into the country, an area which has been estimated at approximately 5,000-8,000 square kilometers.

City Plan

Cobá's central core consists of three main groups of buildings, each made up of civic and religious structures: the Cobá group; the Nohoch Mul group; and the Chumuc Mul Group. The main Cobá Group of buildings include a 24 meter (78 foot) high pyramid (called La Iglesia), a one hectare open plaza, a ball court, and stelae within an area of about 8 hectares (20 ac). Placed atop stacked platforms, the major temples in these groups tower over the jungle vegetation, itself some 30 m (100 ft) high.

Large central plazas in Coba's central districts were constructed for the use of public events and markets for redistribution of goods. The elite residents of the city lived in suburbs within 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of the central core, and the periphery (beginning about 8 km or 5 mi) away) included several secondary centers, such as Kubulte, San Pedro, Lab Mul, Kitamna, and Oxkindzonor.

The city of Cobá was divided into districts connected by at least 35 causeway-roads (called sacbe, plural sacbeob), radiating out from the Nohoch Mul group. Each of these roads connected Cobá to other cities such as Ixil (19 km or 11 mi from Cobá) and Yaxuna (100 km or 62 mi away). Sacbeob were built over marshy areas in some places, and they had numerous functions, including public, ceremonial and symbolic meanings in addition to being a way to travel. Coba's city center was consolidated between AD 400-800, and the connecting sacbeob were constructed between 800-1100.

Cobá Lifestyles

Domestic compounds--residences for elite personages--in Cobá are typical for lowland Maya cities, in which a low wall enclosed kitchens, houses, pens for domestic animals, an orchard, and a domestic altar and other buildings.

Food cultivated by the residents of Cobá included maize, beans, squash, and domestic dogs, honeybees and turkeys. They also hunted deer, monkeys, peccary, wild turkeys, agouti and jaguar and fish.

Dating Cobá

Archaeological evidence indicates that Cobá was first settled between about 100 BC and 100 AD, and it was more or less continuously occupied until the Spanish conquest about AD 1550. Population peaks occurred during the Late Classic (AD 550-730) and Terminal classic (AD 730-1100) periods.


This glossary entry is part of the Guide to the Maya Civilization and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Folan WJ, Hernandez AA, Kintz ER, Fletcher LA, Heredia RG, Hau JM, and Canche N. 2009. Coba, Quintana Roo, Mexico: A Recent Analysis of the Social, Economic and Political Organization of a Major Maya Urban Center. Ancient Mesoamerica 20(1):59-70.

Leyden BW, Brenner M, and Dahlin BH. 1998. Cultural and Climatic History of Cobá, a Lowland Maya City in Quintana Roo, Mexico. Quaternary Research 49(1):111-122.

Loya González T, and Stanton TW. 2013. Impacts of politics on material culture: evaluating the Yaxuna-Coba sacbe. Ancient Mesoamerica 24(1):25-42.

Manzanilla, L. 2001. Coba (Quintana Roo, Mexico). In Evans ST, and Webster DL, editors. Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing Inc.

Manzanilla L, and Barba L. 1990. The study of activities in Classic households: Two case studies from Coba and Teotihuacan. Ancient Mesoamerica 1:41-49.

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