Yucatan, a peninsula of Mexico, extending from about lat. 17° 20' to 21° 30' N., and from Ion. 87° to 92° 30' W. It is bounded W. and N. by the gulf of Mexico, E. by the Caribbean sea, S. E. by British Honduras, and S. by Guatemala and the state of Tabasco; area (inclusive of neighboring islands), 58,748 sq. m.; pop. in 1869, 502,731, a large proportion of whom are Indians, chiefly Mayas. The coast, generally higher and bolder on the Caribbean sea than elsewhere, is there indented with numerous bays, some forming excellent harbors. The remainder of the shore is low and sandy, and the northern portion presents two sandy peninsulas, on which are the ports (or rather roadsteads) of Sisal and Progreso. The principal inlet on the W. coast is that forming the Laguna de Términos. The chief islands are Cozumel, with an area of about 300 sq. m., Carmen or Perla del Golfo, lying across the mouth of the Laguna de Términos, and the Alacranes group. The face of the country is mostly low and flat, save in the interior of the E. portion, where a low chain of hills traverses the peninsula from N. E. to S. W. The only important stream is the Usumasinta, which, rising in Guatemala and forming part of the southern boundary of the peninsula, sends one of its branches to empty into the Laguna de Terminos. A most remarkable feature of Yucatan is the number and magnitude of its subterranean rivers.
The climate, though generally very hot, is on the whole salubrious, except on the gulf coast, which is periodically visited by yellow fever. The seasons are but two, the dry from October to May, and the wet embracing the remaining months. Most of the interior is covered with dense forests, rich in many varieties of precious woods, including mahogany and rosewood. The soil in the south and east is of great fertility, yielding abundant crops of maize, pulse, rice, indigo, tobacco, coffee, vanilla, sugar cane, and, above all, the precious henequen or pita plant, which furnishes Sisal hemp. Copal and other resins and gums are plentiful. The chief occupations are agriculture and cattle rearing, the manufacture of coarse cotton fabrics and of various articles of henequen, and fishing. The evidences of a higher civilization possessed by the race who originally inhabited Yucatan are abundant and interesting. The ruins of Uxmal, Chichen, Izamal, Mayapan, etc, have been explored by Stephens and other archaeologists. Those of Uxmal, the most remarkable, are situated about 50 m. S. S. W. of Mérida. They comprise numerous massive limestone structures built on broad terraced platforms, and all highly ornamented.
The largest single building, called the " governor's house," has a front of 322 ft., and contains 24 rooms. The most beautiful structure is the "house of the nuns," composed of four ranges enclosing a large courtyard, with 88 apartments. The "•house of the dwarf," on a very steep mound 88 ft. high, was a teocalli for human sacrifices. But little, if anything definite, is known of the uses of the temples and other vast edifices, which, from their size and profuse ornamentation in carved and colored figures and bassi rilievi, are even in their ruined state among the most wonderful architectural relics in the western world. Nor does any certainty exist relative to the building of the edifices and cities, though Morelet, Orozco y Berra, and some others contend that they could only have been constructed by the Toltecs. (See Chichen.) - Juan Diaz de Solis and Vicente Yaflez Pinzon are said to have disoovered the E. coast of Yucatan in 1506; but the first European who visited its shores was Francisco Fernandez de Cordova, in 1517. The conquest of the country, carried on successively by Cordova, Juan de Grijalva, and Francisco de Monte jo, was completed by the son of the last named in 1541; and Yucatan, at first named New Spain (a name afterward applied to the whole territory which still later was called Mexico), belonged to Spain till 1821. After more than three years of independence, it was united to Mexico in 1824; it was again independent from 1840 to 1843, and from 1846 to 1852; and it has since belonged to Mexico, first as a single state till 1858, and afterward as two states, Yacatan and Cam peachy.
Yucatan, a maritime state of Mexico, occupying the N. E. portion of the peninsula of Yucatan; area, 32,658 sq. m.; pop. in 1869, 422,365, mostly Maya Indians. The state is divided into 15 districts, viz.: Merida, Motul, Izamal, Valladolid, Espita, Tizimin, Ticul, Sotuta, Tekax, Peto, Maxcanu, Temax, Tixkokob, Hanucma, and Acanceh. The capital is Mérida. Public instruction is here in a flourishing condition, there being a literary institute, private colleges, academies, and lyceums, schools of law, medicine, and pharmacy, and in 1869 154 primary schools, with an attendance of 7,493, of whom 1,388 were females. Since that time it is estimated that the attendance at the primary schools has increased by 25 per cent. The manufactures are very prosperous, comprising cotton fabrics,- cigars and cigarettes, rum, refined sugar, molasses, cordage and other articles from the pita plant or henequen, leather, soap, Panama hats, etc. The chief articles of export are Sisal hemp, cordage, leather, deer skins, salt, Panama hats, cattle, hides, and indigo.
The mean annual value of the foreign commerce, almost exclusively carried on through Progreso, the port of Mérida, on the gulf of Mexico, is about $2,000,000; rather more than two thirds being with the United States, one fourth with Havana, and the remainder with France and England. The port of Progreso is visited twice monthly by the steamers of the New York and Vera Cruz line; and the total annual tonnage, including sailing vessels, is about 60,000. A railway from Merida to Valladolid is in course of construction (1876), and there are in the state about 500 m. of telegraph wires.