Uxmal - The Ultimate Maya Experience

Address: No exact address. It is located at 38 miles south of Merida city. You will see signboards on the highway that will lead you to the place.

Hours: 8 A.M to 4 P.M every day of the year. There is a 1 hour light and sound show every night. This show starts at 7 P.M (November to March) and at 8 P.M (April to October).

Entrance fee: 177 pesos for foreigners and 125 pesos for Mexicans. This fee also includes the light and sound show. 72 pesos for foreigners and 46 pesos for Mexicans.

Remember: The narration during the Light & Sound show is in Spanish! So, you have to rent headphones (39 pesos) that give you the narration in English. These headphones are not very reliable, so double check them. Headphones are also available in French, Italian and German.
 

Above: The Pyramid of the Magician aka Pyramid of the Dwarf
 
Restrooms: Available. They are clean and well maintained.

Shops & Restaurants: Available. There are many, just outside the entrance. You can buy souvenirs, Mayan handmade goods, snack or eat a decent sandwich.

Lodging: A few hotels are available in walking distance to this site.

Parking: Available, costs 20 pesos.

Lockers: Available.

Tour guides: It is recommended that you get one. The site is really big, if no one guides you, you will be walking here and there and get tired.

A site map of Uxmal ruins that shows the significant structures


History of Uxmal:

Uxmal means 'Thrice built" possibly referring to the multiple layers built on the Magician's Pyramid. Some scholars also think that it comes from the Mayan word Ochmal which means "Future".  Uxmal was the capital city of the Puuc region constructed mostly from 800 - 950 A.D.
However, the Maya Chronicles say that Uxmal was founded around 475 A.D -525 A.D by King Tutul Xiu. The vast construction and expanse of the site supports the idea of gradual construction over the centuries. The place was once a busy Mayan city where 15, 000 to 25,000 people lived. Mayans lived here until 1100 A.D under the Xiu Kings until the Toltecs invaded them. The Maya King was defeated and moved to Mayapan, which was the last capital of the Mayas.
 Above: West side of the pyramid of the magician

Magician's Pyramid or the Dwarf's Pyramid: This is the tallest structure in Uxmal, standing roughly 120 feet tall. The base is Oval shaped, as opposed to most Mayan buildings which have perpendicular corners. There are stairs angled at 60 degrees on both the eastern and the western sides. On the eastern side, there is an inner temple near the top in the middle of the stairs. On the western side, there are much less number of stairs and a large rectangular temple at the top. This is also called by many other names such as Adivino, pyramid of the soothsayer and so on.

This pyramid consists of 5 temples, the 5th temple being the Magician's temple on top. Each temple appears to have been built at different times. At the top, the Magician's temple consists of three rooms and walls show lattice ornamentation. Visitors are not allowed to climb this pyramid anymore!

Above: Governer's Palace, where the King of Uxmal lived

Governor's Palace: This Palace sits on 5 acres and contains some excellent stone mosaic work.  The buildings are adorned with plenty of sculptures of snakes, jaguars and Mayan gods. The building itself is 322 feet long, 39 feet wide and 26 feet high. It is separated into three sections by tall transversal vaults. In the center, there is a throne with a seated sovereign, and is surrounded by intertwined serpents. This was dedicated to the Rain God Chaac, whose image appears more than 100 times on the walls.
A double headed Jaguar throne at Governer's Palace Entrance
 
On the entrance, you will see a double headed Jaguar throne, which are connected at the thorax. Nearby, there is a "Pillory Shrine" which is a large, tilted rock.
Above: The pillory shrine which was used for punishing criminals

This Pillory shrine is mentioned in Mayan mythology as a symbol of "Central Tree" aka "Axis Mundi". It was also used as a place for flogging criminals and dissidents.

 Above: The Mayan Ball Court at Uxmal

Mayan Ball Court: This was a place Mayans played the game of Pok-a-Tok, which is explained briefly in the Anthropology Museum section.  The field is 110 feet long and 32 feet wide and was built by King Chan Chak Kaknal Ajaw in 901 A.D.
Above: Mayan Ball Hoop adorned with hieroglyphs at Uxmal

This ball court is has one side of the ball hoops intact, which also has Mayan hieroglyphs carved on it. It is commonly believed that the winning team captain beheaded himself which was considered an ultimate honor. However, there is no archaeological evidence to support this claim.
Above: The grand pyramid at Uxmal, which has 72 steps denoting the power of Venus
 

Grand Pyramid: This pyramid was originally 9 levels high and has been partially ruined due to natural and man made damages. A restoration project was carried out by the Mexican government which was abandoned in the middle. It is no Pyramid of Giza, but you can climb up this pyramid, and get a spectacular view of the Uxmal from the top. This pyramid was the religious center for Mayan ceremonies. At the top of the pyramid, there is a temple dedicated to Chaac, the rain god. The grand pyramid has 72 steps, which denotes an astronomical cycle. every 72 years the Solstice and Equinox Sun appeares to move backward through the constellations one degree.

Above: A Penis shaped water spout that can "fertilize" soil during rain at Temple of the Phallus

Temple of the phallus: Normally, you cannot access this temple. But if you insist, guides can take you into the woods and let you inside this Temple. The temple has many sculptures of Penis, and unlike the Lingams of India, the sculptures clearly depict human penis. The phallus is a symbol of the god of fertility Ixchel. You can observe many interesting features here. For example, there is a penis shaped water spout on the one side of this temple. When it rains, the water pours through the penis and "fertilizes" the soil! 
Above: Mayans still perform rituals. Fresh flowers are offered at the House of the Old Woman.

Pyramid of the Old Woman: Local anecdotes say it was built for the mother of the magician, which is unlikely. However, the old lady is still worshipped by local Mayas. You can find fresh flowers being placed on the altar here, everyday. It includes a pyramid and a few other structures.The smaller structures are in rubbles, filled with phallic sculptures. This must have been a temple dedicated to Ixhel, the Mayan god of fertility. The sculptures are similar to that in the Temple of Phallus. 

Above: The Nunnery Quadrangle of Uxmal

Nunnery Quadrangle: The nunnery quadrangle is four buildings: North, East, South and West buildings. This was built in 906 A.D and it is well documented in Maya literature. This building dedicated to the planet Venus and was used for astronomical and scientific purposes. The face of this building is decorated by 584 crosses, which is the number of days when Venus goes from "Morning Star" to "Evening Star" position. The name nunnery quadrangle was given by the Spanish conquerors as the small rooms, reminded them of the rooms of nuns.
Above: Sculptures at the "House of the Turtles" . Is this a double headed turtle?

House of the Turtles: This is a simple structure adorned with sculptures of many turtles. Mayans had to depend on Rain heavily as most of the Yucatan peninsula has no rivers. In Mayan mythology, turtles were just like humans, they depended on rain for their survival. It was believed that turtles prayed to the rain god, along with human. Also, the Orion's belt was perceived as the Mayas as a "Cosmic turtle".
Above: The pigeons quadrangle or dovecots of Uxmal

Pigeons Quadrangle: This was a government complex similar to Nunnery Quadrangle. The exact purpose of this building is unknown. This building is completely ruined and may never be restored. Inside, there are many rooms which hint that people lived in them. Also, there are rectangular crests on the top of this building. Mayans built this to make Pigeons live in them.


Other Interesting info about Uxmal:

1. Human Sacrifices were performed at the top of the Magician's Pyramid.  In the book "Incidents of travel in the Yucatan" the author tells us how these sacrifices were done. The Mayan priest would carve the heart out of a living person with a flint knife. The heartless body, still moving would be tossed from the top of the pyramid. The moving body would roll through the stairs, spilling its remaining blood on the steps of the pyramid.
Above:The Mayan rain god Chaac at Uxmal - Evil smile after defeating Queen Elizabeth II :)

2. Mayan Rain God vs Queen Elizabeth II : in 1975, Queen Elizabeth II visited Uxmal for inaugurating the Light&Sound show.  The show is performed outdoors and it was a particularly hot day. As the show progressed, it reached the point where the Maya chantings to Rain God were sounded. A huge downpour of rain started, completely drenching the Queen and making her leave the place. The Mayan rain god Chaac had shown her who the real boss was. Even today, the local Mayans chuckle to this event and call it "Chaac vs Queen Elizabeth" event.

3. Dwarf & The Old Lady: There are many different versions of the 'magician' who built the Magician's Pyramid. Here is one of them. Once upon a time, there was an old lady who had magical powers. However, she could not get pregnant and deeply regretted not having a baby. One day, she found a strange egg in the woods and brought it home. She checked it everyday to see if it hatched. A few days later, a human like creature hatched out of the egg. She was overjoyed and took it in as her own son. The creature started talking and walking immediately, but stopped growing after a year. Neighbors mocked the creature as a dwarf.

Unable to hear the mockery, the dwarf ran to his mother crying. The lady told him that he was powerful than ordinary men. She asked him to go and challenge the King and he did the same. The king laughed at the dwarf for challenging him, but soon realized he could do everything that the King did. So, the King order him to build the tallest structure in Uxmal and the construction had to be done within one day. The dwarf went crying to his mother once again, but she made him sleep and chanted some mantras. When people woke up next morning, they found that the  Magician's pyramid had been completely built. It was the largest structure in Uxmal. The King was outraged and told the dwarf he would break bundles of heavy wood on the dwarf's head. If the dwarf survived, he would get his turn to break the wood on the King's head. The old lady placed an enchanted corn bread over the dwarf's head and told him to agree to the challenge. The dwarf survived the challenge, but it was now his turn to break bundles of wood over the King. The King's skull split into two halves and died. Thus, the dwarf became the King of Uxmal.
Above: Intertwined serpents on the walls of Governor's Palace. You can see the head and tail.

4. There are four smaller ruin sites around Uxmal: Sayil, Labna, Kabah and Xlapak. These are rarely visited by tourists, but you can ask a guide for the "Puuc route" ruins as they are collectively called.

5. The entire site of Uxmal is yet to be fully excavated. Just walk around the woods and you will stumble on plenty of ruins hidden in the bushes. Our guide told us the Government has no money or interest in unearthing all the surrounding area. Plenty of findings to be made here.

2 comments:

Thanks for your grateful informations, am working in Tourism Website ,
so it will be a better information’s for me. Try to post best informations like this always

Thank you for the valuable information and photographs. I am working on a novel set in the Yucatan in 1865, and your descriptions and detailed pictures are very helpful to allow me to visualize the scenes where much of the action takes place. I hope that you travel happily and healthfully, and thanks again for sharing.

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