Uxmal, Yucatan, Mexico

The Mayan Capital That Piled It Up To Collapse


The Great Uxmal
Uxmal was once the capital of the dominant Mayan kingdom of the present-day Puuc region.
at the level of the sky
Visitors on a stairway to the Governor's Palace of Uxmal.
God Proboscis Chaac
Sculptures of the rain god Chaac in a corner of the Quadrilátero das Nuns.
sun landing
Iguana recharges energy on a rock of Uxmal.
the ball game
Visitors on the staircase between the Quadrilátero das Freiras and the Jogo da Bola.
Kukulkan and Others
Reliefs of Kukulkan and other deities on a facade of Uxmal.
Governor's Palace
Visitor approaches the grand ruling palace of Uxmal.
Governor's Palace vs Pyramid of the Diviner
Two of Uxmal's great structures, in distinct areas and levels of the city.
Corner of the Governor's Palace
Visitor walks around the outside of the Governor's Palace.
The Pyramid of the Soothsayer
The most impressive structure in Uxmal, prominent among the trees and clouds above the Yucatan.
Nuns Quadrangle
One of the four facades of the also called Quadrilátero das Nuns.
Passage to the Nuns Quadrangle
Visitor photographs a detail on the ceiling of the passage of the Quadrilátero das Freiras for the Jogo da Bola.
Quadrilateral of the Nuns to the Sun
Patio of the Quadrilátero das Freiras framed by the shadow of one of the so-called rooms.
Nuns Threshold
Patio of the Quadrilátero das Freiras framed by the shadow of one of the so-called rooms.
another staircase
Outsider about to climb one of Uxmal's many staircases.
The Great Uxmal
Uxmal was once the capital of the dominant Mayan kingdom of the present-day Puuc region.
solitary walk
Visitor from Uxmal departs from the Pyramid of the Diviner, towards the Governor's Palace.
The term Uxmal means built three times. In the long pre-Hispanic era of dispute in the Mayan world, the city had its heyday, corresponding to the top of the Pyramid of the Diviner at its heart. It will have been abandoned before the Spanish Conquest of the Yucatan. Its ruins are among the most intact on the Yucatan Peninsula.

We could even stop there, merely underlining the integrity of Uxmal's millenary complex.

There is more and we feel a duty to address it. When it comes to the Yucatan Peninsula's abundant Mayan ruins, Chichen Itza has achieved stardom, the status of one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, enunciates it with due pomp, Fausto, the guide charged with helping us unravel it and other wonders of the Mexican Southeast.

Uxmal, located some 200km to the west, quickly proves, without much room for debate, a more rewarding archaeological ensemble for the senses.

We reached it after a morning trip from Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatan. For just over an hour, oriented from north to south along the Hopelchen-Uman route, we traversed the same smooth and uniform expanse, covered with dwarf tropical forest, but verdant and malleable, that had shrunk our horizons for days.

We cross Lázaro Cardenas, one of the Mexican towns that honor Cardenas del Rio, a president of the 30s, one of the most admired by the nation.

Moments later, the road enters the vast domain of the Puuc State Biocultural Reserve, a Mayan name for the southern part of the Yucatan which, for a change, appears full of hills or almost hills of karst origin and which inspired a Mayan architectural style as late as outstanding .

Discovering the Old Mayan Capital of Uxmal

Without warning, the straight line Hopelchen-Uman bends east. We leave you around that corner of yours. A clear dirt detour instead of one of the old paths bags Stucco or lime Mayans lead us to the contemporary entrance to Uxmal.

Faust summons us to a rounded cistern, open on the parched ground. “I know you're eager to discover the ruins, but I'm just asking you for a few minutes…” We grant them, albeit an effort.

“This is one of thousands of chultunes e watery, cisterns or reservoirs on which the Mayans of these parts depended.

As you have already seen, further north, the peninsula was, as it is, riddled with cenotes, natural wells full of fresh and running water.

In this south, by some geological whim, the cenotes they don't exist and the Mayans depended on the rains and their ability to withhold them.”

We made progress.

Uxmal, Yucatan, Mayan capital, Staircase

We pass through a patch of vegetation that serves as a natural screen.

From there, we were amazed at how much the Mayans had mastered this dependence. And prospered.

We step out of the shade into sunny grass. At its entrance, we come across what appears to us to be the back of a large pyramid with abrupt faces that time has darkened and, in some areas, has almost turned brown.

Two somewhat eccentric Mexican couples, tucked into mismatched hats, indulge in an unmistakable addition to each other. selfies and group photos, first with the pyramid, then with other corners of the ruins in the background.

They retain visitors who follow in their footsteps.

Uxmal, Yucatan, Mayan capital, corner

The enigmatic courtyard of the Las Monjas Quadrangle

Finally, one of the many iguana who have their home in Uxmal, distracts them. With the route clear, we skirted the eastern and shadowy edge of the pyramid.

We check in Las Monjas Quadrangle, that's how the great patio at the base of the front of the Pyramid of the Diviner or the Sorcerer was called, in Castilian, the structure that towers over and stands out from the mysterious history of Uxmal.

As Chilam Balam Mayan Narratives, found in the Yucatecan village of Chumayel and which are the oldest writings to make reference to Uxmal, allowed us to estimate that the city was founded in the XNUMXth century, enlarged and inhabited in different population areas.

Uxmal, Yucatan, Mayan capital, Nuns Quadrangle

A pioneer, believed to have been inaugurated by priests who worshiped Chaac, the Mayan god of rain, lightning and storms, divine guarantor of the fresh water that filled the cisterns and irrigated the crops.

Three centuries later, a new migratory flow from the high and central lands of Mexico affected the city. It brought together thousands of migrants from the Tutul Xiu sub-ethnic group, translatable as “those who overflow with virtue”.

Os xiues they constituted the last Mayan group to inhabit the Yucatan Peninsula, between 987 and 1007. They introduced cultural and religious components into the new territory nahua that the Mayans would ultimately adopt.

It was the cases of the cult of the gods Tláloc and Quetzacoatl, the Plumed Serpent that Yucatan Mayas they would adopt in the skin of Kukulkan.

Uxmal, Yucatan, Mayan capital, facade decoration

The Benesses and Whims of the Rain God Chaac

We find aligned representations of Chaac on the corners of the Las Monjas Quadrangle.

From them project large trumped noses, petrified icons of the many rays that strike this Mexico between the homonymous gulf and the Caribbean Sea, especially during the rainy season.

On February 27, 1975, the long-nosed deity took over again. On that date – and there are plenty of black-and-white and sepia photos to prove it – Queen Elizabeth II was present at the inauguration of the local light and sound show.

Uxmal, Yucatan, Mayan capital, god Chaac

As a prayer to Chaac blessed Uxmal and the guests, the deity poured an unexpected blow on royalty and other distinguished dignitaries.

In mid-November, the Yucatan rainy season was over. Only one night we spent there was wet. The morning we dedicated to Uxmal, not a hint that this could happen.

The sky remained blue, sprinkled with small white clouds, almost barren remnants, but decorative from distant storms.

From the Quadrangulo de Las Monjas to the Governor's Palace

The chlorophylline air of the late afternoon intensified. We took refuge in the shade of one of the old rooms around the courtyard.

Enthusiastic about the framing of its frame, we immerse ourselves in it long enough to revel in the aroma of fermented guano that the condominium bats renew there.

Uxmal, Yucatan, Mayan capital, Nuns Quadrangle

We return to the enclosure.

We cross the opening in the south wall of the Las Monjas Quadrangle for the Mesoamerican ball game, one of the rare ones found in Mayan ruins in the Puuc region.

Degraded, but with its ornate hoops still firmly attached to the top of the adjoining ramps.

Uxmal, Yucatan, capital Maya, Ball game

We cross the ball game. On the other side, once again among iguanas charging batteries in the sun, we go up to the small Casa das Tartarugas, where the reptiles are made of stone and ornamentals.

And even more to the level of the Governor's Palace, in turn decorated by nearly four hundred glyphs believed to be of Venus, fitted to the cheeks of the rainy Chaac.

Uxmal, Yucatan, capital Maya, Governor's Palace

We arrive at the northern threshold of the platform on which the Governor's Palace stands, and then at the top.

And the Most Distant and Mirabolic View of the Pyramid of the Diviner

From this privileged summit, we find the Pyramid of the Adivinho, culminating, in addition to a leafy tropical grove that the successive cloud caravans sometimes shaded and sometimes made to shine.

As we could see it from there, with its 35 meters high, almost touching the cloudy blue sky, the Pyramid of the Adivinho resisted as the maximum temple of the Mayan belief.

For centuries it was a kind of religious portal with steep stairs that raised the priests and leaders of Uxmal, who made earthly projections of the Sun and Venus.

Uxmal, Yucatan, Mayan capital, the Pyramid of the Diviner

The Mayan term Uxmal has the meaning of “built up three times”.

In large part, due to the skill with which it accumulated and managed rainwater, Uxmal would have welcomed between 15 and 25 thousand inhabitants and dominated other smaller towns, such as neighboring Kabah, Sayil and Labna.

During the city's expansion and population growth, in periods more or less following the migratory waves, the Pyramid of the Sorcerer received new floors.

It was enriched with structures and ceremonial importance.

Uxmal's Mystery of Abandonment

In the middle of the XNUMXth century AD, for reasons that lack irrefutable proof, the inhabitants left the city, in a short time, demoted to a mere pilgrimage hub.

Two distinct theories continue to debate themselves as the most likely. One argues that Uxmal fell victim to the sudden rise of rival Mayan cities that challenged and battled his supremacy.

The other is based on hand washing of chaac, which would have generated a long period of drought and made the accumulation of water and life in the city unfeasible.

Uxmal, Yucatan, Mayan capital, panoramic

Contrary to what happened elsewhere on the Yucatan Peninsula and from Central America, the Mayan capital of the Puuc region sank even before the landing of the bearded gods from the endless sea.

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