Izamal was an important site of the Pre-Columbian Maya civilization. It was sacred to the creator deity Itzamna and to the Sun God Kinich Ahau. Izamal was a site of pilgrimage in the region rivaled only by Chichen Itza.
Two huge Pre-Columbian structures are still easily visible at Izamal (and from some distance away in all directions). The first is a great pyramid to the Maya Sun God, Kinch Kak Mo, with a base covering over 2 acres of ground and a volume of some 700,000 cubic meters. Atop this grand base is a pyramid of 10 levels. (A great stucco mask still existed on one side as recently as the 1840s, and a drawing of it by Frederick Catherwood was published by John Lloyd Stephens.) The second structure is the so called "acropolis", known anciently as Popol Chac, a large man-made mound probably built up over several centuries and originally supporting city palaces and temples. After the Spanish conquest of Yucatán in the 16th century a Spanish colonial city was founded atop the existing Maya one, however it was decided that it would take a prohibitively large amount of work to level these two huge structures and so the Spanish contented themselves with placing a small Christian temple atop the great pyramid and building a large Franciscan Monastary atop the acropolis. Completed in 1561, the atrium of the Monastary was second in size only to that at the Vatican. Much of the cut stone from the Pre-Columbian city was reused to build the Spanish churches, monastary, and surrounding buildings.
Izamal was the first chair of for the Bishops of Yucatán before they were moved to Merida. The first Bishop of Yucatán, Diego de Landa lived here.
Little archeological work has been done at Izamal, but it is known that it was already an important city by the start of the Classic era about 200 AD, and over 80 archaeologically important structures have been mapped here.
Izamal remains a place of pilgrimage within Yucatán, now for the veneration of Roman Catholic saints. Several saints statues at Izamal are said to perform miracles. An early colonial era statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception is particularly venerated, and is the city's patron saint.