Uxmal, pronounced "oosh-MAL", was first settled in 800 BC. Uxmal means "thrice built". Actually, the 40 metre Pirámide del Adivino hides four earlier temples like a Russian matrioshka doll.
It was the major political capital during the Late Classic period (550 - 800). As such, it controlled the smaller Puuc cities whose ruins we have just seen, Labná, Xlapak, Sayil and Kabáh.
Uxmal was abandoned around 1000 AD.
West of the big pyramid is the Nunnery Quadrangle, a large square enclosed by four narrow buildings decorated with Chaac masks.
This is the North building.
Here is the east side building with the Pirámide del Adivino behind.
The west side building is decorated with a Quetzalcoatl motif, clearly indicating a Toltec influence. That could indicate that the complex had a more military than religious vocation. It could have been a military academy for example.
South of the quadrangle is the inevitable ball court. In the background, the Governor's Palace.
I have not been able to identify this small but attractive building next to the ball court.
If you know, .
South of the ball court, we find this small building called the House of Turtles because of the turtles carved on the cornice. Turtles are associated with the Maya rain god Chaac.
Opposite the House of Turtles stands the 32 metre "Great Pyramid" (smaller that the 40 m Pyramid of the Magician).
To the left of this photo is the backside of the Governor's Palace.
This is the 100 metre long Governor's Palace. A remarkable work of Puuc architecture decorated with a frieze containing some 20 000 pieces of cut stone.
Leaving Uxmal, I saw this flowery bush and just had to take another shot of that great pyramid.
After Uxmal, the tour bus bought me to Mérida where I stopped for a couple of days before going to Chichén Itzá. I was completely satisfied by this organised tour and can recommend it without hesitation. We had enough time at each stop, there was no wasted time and the price was right.
Here is Merida's Cathedral on the east side of the Plaza Major.
And the Palacio Municipal on the western side of the Plaza.
Visiting the museum was a must.
The Chacmool figure often seen in Yucatan is not Maya. It was introduced here from Toltec Tula during the Toltec-Itza invasion after the breakdown of Mayan social and political structures during the Terminal Classic Period (800 - 1000).
Chichén Itzá was already occupied during the Late Classic period when some of the southern monuments of the site were built but it can best be associated with the Early Post Classic Period when the northern monuments and the Caracol observatory were built following the Toltec-Itza hegemony in Yucatan beginning about 1000 AD. Two hundred years later the Cocom dynasty of Mayapan conquered Chichén Itzá and became the supreme empire in the Peninsula.
This idealised model in the site's small museum helps the visitor to imagine what the ceremonial buildings must have looked like before they were ravaged by centuries of neglect.
This is the ball court. It is the biggest in Mezo America.
This composite photo shows the huge playing field (168 m long, 70 m wide), and the scoring hoops set mid way in each wall at a height of 7 metres.
The ball court is overlooked by by the Temple of the Jaguars (the tower on the right), and by lesser temples at each end. The one seen here is called the Temple of the Bearded Man.
This structure called Tzompantli (wall of skulls), was built during the Toltec period when human sacrifices became an important and frequent ritual. The skulls of the victims were heaped on this large platform (60 x 12 m), as testimony of the leader's devotion to the Toltec gods.
Finally, here is the Temple of Kukulkan also known as the "Castillo". Kukulkan is Maya for the Toltec Quetzalcoatl god (Plumed Serpent). According to the legend, the god Quetzalcoatl was exiled from Tula by his rival Tezcatlipoca (Smoking Mirror), the ruthless war god who demanded a regular diet of the hearts of sacrificed prisoners.
Its design is full of hidden signification. Each of the four staircases has 91 steps totalling 365 with the top platform. The nine terraces that form the 4 faces of the pyramid are divided by a flight of stairs resulting in 18 sections corresponding to the 18 twenty day months of the Maya religious calendar and each face is decorated by 52 panels corresponding to one 52 year cycle of the calendar.
The orientation of the pyramid is such that for about an hour around 3 o'clock during the spring and fall equinoxes (march 21 & September 21), the shadow of north-west edge of the pyramid on the side of the north stairway draws seven triangles of light that imitates a serpent creeping downwards until it joins the huge serpent's head at the bottom of the stairway.
The Castillo was built over an earlier pyramid also of Toltec style. It can be visited through a tunnel whose entrance is at the foot of the north staircase. The bunch of people in the previous picture are waiting to get in.
Once inside, the tunnel follows an steep flight of stairs to a small temple containing
this Chacmool figure and a red jaguar. I only took one picture because I ran out of
film just then. I had to move on without reloading because I had to climb down so
another group could come up. Taking pictures was forbidden so I was lucky to get this
The Toltec were warriors and the Maya intellectuals. Maya priests studied the planets and stars as astrologers to establish their ascendancy on the common people but their efforts made them excellent astronomers for their time. They established the Venus year at 584 days (the actual value is 583.92), to build the eight year table of Earth - Venus positions found in the Dresden Codex (8x365=5x584=2920 days).
The Platform of Venus, just north of the Castillo, testifies to the special interest the Post-Classic Maya had in the Morning Star.
The Temple of the Warriors is part of the "Thousand Columns Complex" in the north-east part of the site.
The pillars that once supported the long gone roof of the temple are identical to those found in buildings in Tula. The sides of the platform are carved with figures of gods, warriors and heart devouring eagles and jaguars.
Here are a few of the columns that gave this part of the site its name. Much of this area has yet to be explored.
We will now continue Chichén Itzá on another page to keep this one from becoming too slow to load.