About 80 km (50 miles) south of Mérida,
the archaeological zone of Uxmal is situated behind a hill range. Hot and
arid, this area suffers from an almost total loss of water because
there are no "cenotes" like those that can be found in the northern part of Yucatán.
However, despite this, they built huge cities with nice monuments
whose splendor can compete with any other place. Uxmal, altered from Oxmal, means "built three times". According to the
Book of Chilam Balam, Ah Suytok Tutul Xiu settled there between
987 and 1007. Other historic sources claim that Uxmal was rebuilt
in the seventh century.
The Mayan city of Uxmal, founded about 700, had about 25,000 inhabitants.
Built from 700 to 1000, the buildings are arranged according to
The mayan provinces
The huge territory occupied by the Mayas was not a homogenous area.
Huge stylistic provinces could be a testimony of the existence
of ancient political and economic units, which were more or less autonomous and
influenced by the more powerful units. The Palenque style ,
a variation of the one in Petén , Guatemala, presents features
that are completely unique and thus cannot be found elsewhere. The same is true of the sites which are situated in Copán and Quirigua,
in the region of Rio Motagua.
In Yucatàn Peninsula
, several styles have been identified : in the north east of Petén,
the Rio Bec style; in the northwest, the Chenes style and north
of this, the Puuc style. This word means the hill range that
crosses the peninsula from east to west where Uxmal was the main city. Other cities, such as Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak, and Labná
developed there and formed a kind of confederation in the style of Greek cities.
Every farmer within the tropical areas radically depended on rainfall,
and this was even more so the case for farmers within the arid regions. Tlaloc, on the Mexican highlands,
and Chaac in the Mayan area, were a lot more important than other
gods. The high number of representations of Chaac on the sites left
long lasting memories to the Yucatán Indians.
Nowadays, they still regularly worship him. His image was formed of a trunk
shape nose and this is now the central pattern of decorations in all constructions.
Most of the constructions in Uxmal match the mid and late classic
(from the seventh to the ninth century) style which now make for the contemporary part within Chichén
Itzá. The Toltec influence is almost nonexistent, meaning
that this site was not occupied by foreign people. However the presence
of the Quetzalcoátl-Kukulcán cult reveals the existence
of a population possibly from the neighboring regions of Campeche, who settled
there during the Toltec period. The Xius dynasty of the Xius (Xius derived from the Náhuatl), who must have come from this area,
didn’t build the large constructions of Uxmal. They only made
some transformations and part of the geometric design. One century
before the arrival of the Spanish, the city was completely abandoned
and therefore it was empty upon the arrival of the Conquistadors.
Its buildings are characterized by straight horizontal lines and
an abundant decoration on the upper part of the facades, which constrasted
with the simplicity of the lower stones. Most of them were built
on high artificial platforms and arranged in quadrangle. To make
up for the lack of surface water, they collected rainwater
in tanks called chultunes.
The visit focuses on two main districts separated by the Ball Game
: The first one is set up with two adjoining squares, the Birds
quadrangle and the Nunnery quadrangle, the second one is set up
with the Big Pyramid and a large platform holding the Governor’s
Palace and the House of the Turtles.
The Birds Quadrangle
you step in the site, you will see the oval shaped Pyramid of the
Magician. This pyramid (one of the most ancient in the site), reveals
the different stages of constructions and various outside influences. The shape of this pyramid is different from the other Mayan pyramids.
Set up on an elliptic base, it comprises two parts one on the top
of the other. The existence of five temples clearly shows the
various steps of construction.
The first temple, partly visible from the west, was built with a double
row of rooms with 5 doors on the facade and a transverse room at
each end. The decoration of the facade shows some influence from
Teotihuacán. This first
temple was built on a small platform, almost at ground level. When
they decided to build the second temple, they partially covered
the first one with a pyramid. The Temple II stood at the top of
this pyramid, and was accessible via a stairway which had been built on the east side.
Temples III and IV were built on the first floor, widening the base
of the pyramid, thus completely covering Temple I. Temple III
shows Petén influence, unlike Temple IV, whose facade can be seen on the west side and also has the mouth of a huge Chaac head as an
entrance door, thus revealing true Chénès style. Magnificent stairs,
hiding part of the façade of Temple I, are decorated with Chaac heads on each side. The pyramid was then covered with another
layer hiding part of Temple IV as well as the eastern stairs leading
to Temple II. On the top of the pyramid stands Temple V, 26 m (85
feet) from the ground. Behind the pyramid, there is a beautiful courtyard,
which was named after the wall covered with stone bird sculptures.
The Nunnery Quadrangle
(named by the Conquistadors because of its' resemblance with a
each of the four sides of a 65m (213 feet) by 45m (148 feet) courtyard, stand
buildings whose facades are covered with raised pattern decorations.
It is one of the most extraordinary developments in Mayan architecture.
Huge stairs led to an entrance arch in the southern building.
On the side opposite this entrance, another stairway, with two temples on each side, leads to the
palace with a 80 (262 feet) long façade. The southern building
which houses the arch is also 80m (262 feet) long and contains a double row of rooms, some of which face outwards and some inwards.
building is the smallest, measuring 48 m (147 feet) long. The western
one is 54 m (177 feet) long and is the most ornamented. The fresco
on the upper façade has classical elements of the region:
Chaac heads, representations of cabins, mascarons, people sitting
on thrones, etc… as well as large feathered serpents with two
human heads in their mouths. This representation of Quetzalcóatl
may have been producec during the Toltec domination.
The Ball Court, with its rings, is located at the entrance of the quadrangle and is also of a Toltec influence. In contrast to other Mayan cities, the ball court situated in Uxmal is neither monumental nor is it surrounded by temples enforcing symbolic importance. The walls are of average size and have not conserved many of the vestiges from the small temples that it supports. The original sculpted stone rings have been taken away in order to protect them from weathering and have been replaced by reproductions. Their shape differs to that of the Chichén Itzá rings which are much more robust, sculpted and symmetrical.
The Governor palace
The Governor palace stands on a 181 m (594 feet) by 153m (502 feet)
and 12m ( 39 feet) high platform surmounted by a 122 m (400 feet)
by 27 m (89 feet) and 7 m (23 feet) high platform. It is made of
an imposing central part with two lateral building separated by
arches. These arches were later partitioned in rooms. The décor,
made of Greek frets and mascarons of Chaac God, is extraordinary
precise, making this palace one of the most beautiful palaces belonging to Pre-Hispanic
This is a true stone lace, a huge mosaic of about 20,000 slabs built with a clear taste. Despite its size, the building is well proportioned, elegant,
even light, thanks to its perfect integration in the majestic Yucatán
plateau. There are two huge arches piercing the façade
of the building. The decors of the façade look like the one
in the Nunnery quadrangle. This building to not only
deserves a close up viewing but also is worth a look from a distance. Its eastern orientation leads
us to think that the Mayas placed it there in order to observe Venus.
By the side of the Governor Palace, stands a great pyramid - 32
m (104 feet) high - whose facade has been restored. It holds the
Temple of the Parrots, pleasantly ornamented with macaws with spread
wings, flowers or reef knots. In the western corner, three noticeable
mascarons have been reconstituted : from each slightly open mouth
emerges a human head with some solar meanings. From the top of the
Great Pyramid, you have an unobstructed view over the whole city
that had 25,000 inhabitants over 8km2 (1976 acres). Part of another
huge building, to be restored, is the Dovecot. It is noticeable
for its serrated roof-crest that gave it its name. Other structures can be found
spread out across the forest.
The Great Pyramid
Just next to the Governor Palace stands the Great Pyramid (32m high) whose facade has been restored. The pyramid is comprised of 9 staggered landings and certain aspects lead to think of Deven’s Pyramid. This pyramid is however smaller much more open and more advanced than the Deven’s Pyramid. The architecture of this structure contrasts with that if other structures; it does not reveal refined mosaics, although the facade is covered in decorations and ornaments. At the top, it supports the Parrots Temple, decorated in an attractive way with winged macaws, flowers or overhand knots. At the west angle, three remarkable heads have been reconstructed, from each partially open mouth emerges a human head with solar attributes. At the top of the Great Pyramid, you will have a clear view of the entire town which has 25,000 inhabitants over an 8km2 distance.
Belonging to another large structure which has not yet been restored, the Pigeonhole is recognisable for its stone crest skylight which effectively gives it the characteristics of a pigeonhole. The construction would have been a residential building, including a temple of which the roof has collapsed, at the oriental extremity of the group as well as a high pyramid crowned by a sanctuary. On the south side, a crest pierced with openings and partially collapsed, comprises nine pierced triangular sections like niches with serrated edges. It was in this structure where the explorer Stephens gave the structure the name Pigeonhole, due to the 40 small windows which still remain today. The roof has collapsed and enables one to see the many rooms resembling cells located above the walls. On the surface of the crest, various characters are sculpted in stucco. The others that have been preserved lead one to think of the figures leaning on the pedestals.
Other structures are scattered in the forest at varying distances.
The Turtle House
It is located on a terrace north-west from the Governor Palace. Its facade, plainly adorned, represents the true sobriety of the style Puuc : a few turtles decorate the very simple upper ledge. This temple could have been erected for the glory and worship of a wel-doing and loved God, who was of course in connection with the aquatic environment. The structure measures 30m east to west by 11m from south to north, with a height of approximately 7m. It houses 3 central rooms, crossed by corridors whose access is always via the north and south sides. It also has two side rooms. Research has allowed for the estimate of the construction date of the building between 800 and 900 A.D. It is believed that it was formed with the first structure inferior to that of the Governor’s Palace. It was only several centuries after its discovery that a neighbouring catholic priest f Uxmal gave his name to the Turtle House.
To complete the visit
: To the west of the Ball Court, the Group of the Cemetery, badly
preserved ruins, is worth the detour because of the platform of
the Steles. The Steles are in the small museum at the entrance but
you still can see a nice frieze of glyphs, interlaced heads and
tibias. To the south-east of the Governors Palace, there is the Temple
of the Old Woman, from where there is a nice view of the Palace
and, about 500m (1640 feet) away, the Temple of the Phalluses, a
non erotic symbol of fertility.
The site is open daily from 8AM to 5PM. The entrance
fee is MXN$177 including the light and sound show (7PM
from November to March and 8PM from April to October; duration 50
min). Only the entrance fees for the light and sound show : MXN72 for visitors and MXN46 for local residents.
This site is included on the Word Heritage Cultural List of UNESCO
since 1996 :
Map of the sites of Mayapán and Uxmal :
To go there : Go to the Mérida
bus station and take the bus with the company ATS (Autotransportes del Sur).
You have the choice between six buses a day and a first departure
at 6AM (1hour and a half trip). To come back, take the bus on road
261, in front of the Hacienda Uxmal (check the return schedule at
From the second class bus station in Campeche,
there are four departures by day from 6AM too (2hours and a half
The Puuc road
Uxmal is the most important center among several cities.
The Puuc Road is along the unique Yucatán
Peninsula hill range, known as Sierrita de Ticul. The
baroque Mayan architectural works of art were built from 600 to 1000 A.D. during
the extraordinary regional development of the Mayan culture. This includes the Great Palace of Sayil, the Arch of Labná, the Palace
Codz Poop of Kabah and the Pyramid of the Magician, the Nunnery
Quadrangle and the Governor Palace of Uxmal.
Lavishly sculpted, the facades offer a huge diversity of previously
manufactured elements making up a stone mosaic with geometrical
complex designs and symbolic elements such as the Mayan house, the
serpents, the turtles and the birds, the Greek frets and columns.
Masks of the rain God Chaac can be found everywhere. In an area without
spring, river or lake, he was the most worshipped God.
Kabah is located 20 km (12.4
miles) from Uxmal and has one of the most beautiful specimens in Mayan
architecture. This palace, called Codz Poop ("rolled mat"
referring to the trunk shape Chaac masks), as an exception in the
Puuc region, has a whole façade adorned with more than 250
Chaac masks disposed in a frenzy repetition. Built on a huge platform,
it dominates the road from Uxmal. On the other side of this road,
a restored arch indicated the entrance of the city and the beginning
of a "sacbe" (paved road) that led to Uxmal,
through a small temple, called the mirador.
Also worth a look: The Grand Palace. This architectural structure is a collection of many structures that have been reunited on one platform, all of which can be accessed by a stairway. The structure, which counts several smaller annexed temples, is one of the better preserved structures within Kabah. Its decorative style simple and not at all elaborate is representative of the Puuc Style and recalls the Nunnery and Bird Quadrangles on the Uxmal site. The frieze combines the groups of three small columns which have been separated by straight panels. The repetitive, monotonous aspect of the motifs is interrupted by the presence of two doors which are supported by a central column, surmounted by a small top of square shape. The cresteria (crest) is on one wall decorating the top of the palace. The stairway leads to the first floor of the palace, on which there are 7 doors, of which 2 larger doors which have a column for overlay.
located 9 km (5.6 miles) south from Kabah,here you can find two partly restored
constructions : the Palace and the Mirador. The first one is the
most interesting with its 90 m (295 feet) wide façade. It
comprises three stories, each one setting back from the other. The
facades are adorned in the traditional Puuc style. In addition to
the representations of Chaac, there are, above the doors of the
second floor, very stylized representations of the descending God,
Venus, in the morning form. This Great Palace, several times extended,
comprises 99 rooms including some which are not open.
Its architecture has three superposed levels and wider openings
thanks to pillars with capitals. In front of the palace, a trail
leads to the Mirador, a temple that still has part of its crest.
It is believed that a market was held close to this temple.
The Mirador is a temple of square shape, small in size and comprised of five rooms and capped off with a high crest. This is representative of the Chenes style found in the Peten region. This style has nevertheless undergone a fusion with the early Puuc style which appeared many years later in other cities within this area. The Mirador is 14m high and is built on staggered bedrock. From the top, you can see a Mayan vault as well as a high, shaped crest.
The south-east section of this building is the only part that has remained in good condition.
Xlapak is located
5 km (3miles) from Sayil, displays a modest palace with nine rooms
and various Chaac masks.
The same road leads to Labná (4 km or 2.5 miles from Xlapak).
Here you will find the same elegant palaces with facades that are covered with
Chaac masks. The detour is worth it due to the magnificent
adorned arch which connected two buildings. The doors are surmounted
by small mini huts with a trace of paint remaining on a sculpted frieze revealing serpents. It’s typical mayan ‘false-arch’ structure is decorated eith Chaac maks in the superior part of the building. The Labna arch is the most interesting structures to be found within this site, the product of remarkable design work completed by mayan architects. The arch may well mark the entrance and the exit to the city and would have been linked to another "sacbé". The site is built of groups of palaces situated in the North and the Mirador which is situated in the south. You can also admire the Thousand Columns Temple. The Labna Palace is an a-symmetrical building with a length of 135m and overlooks the ensemble which has its name. It is decorated with remarkable masks which are like no other in the Puuc region. The palace is connected to the famous arch by a "sacbé".
The most characteristic aspect of Mirador is the single crest that is 4m high. At its best, it displayed stucco decorations which represented mayan noblemen and gods. The crest is comprised of five vertical rows containing rectangular perforations. This type of crest in the form of a plume is called ‘peninsular’ and dates back to the seventh century. However the Mirador corresponds to the early Puuc style found between 670 and 770 A.D. Similarities have been found between the crests that crown the Church and the Chichanchob in Chichén Itzá.
These four sites are open daily from 8AM to 5PM; entrance fee :
MXN$42. If you are unable to visit all of the sites,
priority should be given to Kabah, Labná and Sayil.
To get there, from Mérida,
take a Ruta Puuc ATS bus which leaves every day at 8AM with a 30 minute
stop in every site (1hour30 in Uxmal) and back at 4PM ( MXN$125/135). Tarifs subject to changes.
The ceremonial sites of Uxmal, Kabáh, Labná
and Sayil form the peak of Mayan art and architecture.
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