The ruins of a 16th century church have emerged from the waters of a reservoir in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas thanks to a drought.

The 400-year-old church, known as the Temple of Santiago or the Temple of Quechula, was built by a group of monks led by Friar Bartolome de la Casas (later the first Bishop of Chiapas), who arrived in the region, then inhabited by the Zoque people, in the middle of the 16th century. It was believed to have been built by the same person who constructed the nearby monastery of Tecpatan which was founded in 1564.

It was reportedly abandoned in the late 1700s thanks to a series of plagues, according to architect Carlos Navarete who wrote a report on the building for Mexican authorities.

He told Associated Press it was built on what was known as the King's Highway - a road used by the Spanish conquistadors - with the expectation that it would become a significant population centre but the expected growth never occurred.

"It probably never even had a dedicated priest, only receiving visits from those from Tecpatan," he said.

The building, which is now attracting tourists, has been revealed thanks to a drought which has caused the water level of the Nezahualcoyotl reservoir to drop by as much as 25 metres. Its ruins, which stand 16 metres high, first went under water in 1966 when the Grijalva River was dammed. They previously emerged in 2002 when water dried up enough to allow people to walk around inside them.