Monday, July 25, 2011

Las ruinas. Uxmal.


I had been looking forward to this day for months now, ever since I first started reading about Uxmal.  The ruins at Uxmal date back to before the 10th century AD.  In its heyday, Uxmal was one of the largest cities of the Yucatán peninsula with a population of about 25,000 Mayans.


 In terms of architectural design, it is considered by many archaeologists to be one of the most complex and beautiful expressions of Puuc architecture. Puuc means "hilly country," and is the name given to the hills nearby and the predominant style of ancient architecture found here. The main characteristic of Puuc architecture is the division of the facades of buildings into two horizontal elements. The lower of these is plain and composed of carefully dressed blocks broken only by doorways. The upper level, by contrast, is richly decorated with symbolic motifs in a strongly plastic style; the individual blocks make up a form of mosaic. There are sculptures over the doorways and at the corners of the upper level, almost invariably composed of representations of the head of Chaac, the rain god.

 It was shortly after 1pm, not exactly the coolest time of the day to be walking through ruins but it was our fault.  We had asked Francisco to take us on a walking tour of Campeche before we left so we got off to a later start than what he would have liked.

I prepared for a walk in the heat and humidity; I was armed with hat, sunglasses and a full bottle of water!

Uxmal is a UNESCO World Heritage site so there is a formal entrance to the park. I have to say that Mexico does take care of its heritage landmarks.  Everything is well cared for and when necessary, ruins are cordoned off to protect them.

Francisco got us our entry tickets and we followed him inside the park.





The cistern.  Unlike most Yucatan sites which relied on cenotes as their sources of water, Uxmal relied on man-made cisterns to collect rain water.  We passed by one of these cisterns near the entrance to the park.  There was a sign that depicted the design of the cistern.  The basic design was a large, deep container that was broader at the base than at the top.  I presume this design was intended to minimize evaporation.  It is very hot here.

According to Francisco, the Mayans used containers to bring water up, similar to what you would do with a well.




The massive Pirámide del Adivino (Pyramid of the Magician) was the first ruin we as as we entered the main grounds.  At 35 m (115 ft), the pyramid is the tallest structure at Uxmal. The pyramid was begun in the 6th century AD and regularly expanded through the 10th century. 


The Pyramid of the Magician is unique among Mayan structures because of its rounded sides, height, and steepness, and the doorway on the opposite (west) side near the top.

We walked around the west side of the pyramid to see that doorway.  We stood under the shade of an V-shaped archway, which is also very Mayan in architectural design, Francisco dissected the Pyramid of the Magician for us.  Beneath the Pyramid of the Magician are five earlier structures; it was common for the Mayas to build new structures on top of old ones at regular intervals.

Francisco tried his best to explain all the various layers of temples and pyramids but I had a very difficult time visualizing it.  A 3-D model would have helped.


For the love of Chaac.  Uxmal is essentially dedicated to Chaac, the Mayan rain god. There are sculptures over the doorways and at the corners of the upper level, almost invariably composed of representations of the head of Chaac, the rain god.  Carved heads of Chaac, who can be easily identified by his hooked nose, also lined the sides of the steps of the Pyramid of the Magician. 







The sun was blazing hot and the humidity a killer.  Wherever we could find a few minutes to rest in the shade and gulp down some water, we did.


We continued our walk, climbing up a small set of steps, and entering a large, grass covered courtyard. I immediately recognized the buildings.







The Cadrángulo de las Monjas (Nunnery Quadrangle) is ringed by buildings on all four sides.


The Nunnery Quadrangle was given its name by the 16th-century Spanish historian Fray Diego López de Cogullado because it reminded him of a Spanish convent.

The buildings of the Nunnery Quadrangle were constructed at different times: first the northern; then the southern, eastern, and western buildings. The western building has the most richly decorated facade, featuring intertwined stone snakes and numerous masks of Chaac.


On the eastern side, of the Nunnery Quadrangle, is another building with very intricate stonework.  Pyramid of the Magician towers over in the background.





From the Nunnery Quadrangle, we headed towards the ball court.  Along the way, Ayşe had her first encounter with an iguana.  She was determined to try and feed one but they are ever so skittish.  Even Francisco tried but to no avail.

We walked through the ball court....




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...and climbed up the steep stairs of the La Gran Pirámide (The Great Pyramid).  As usual, yours truly, the "Not-so-sure-footed-one" took it slow.  Originally, I was not going to do the climb but Francisco told me that I would regret it if I didn't so off I went.





When I finally made it to the top, I was grateful that Francisco had urged to go.  Before me was a bird's eye view of the Nunnery Quadrangle, the Pyramid of the Magician and the other buildings we had just been to.  What a view it was!!


Where doves rest.  From high above we could also see the the Dove Cote, or Pigeon's House so named because the niches in the roof comb appeared to Spaniards as a nesting area for doves or pigeons. Roof combs are not a common element in Puuc architecture. I just marveled at the workmanship of the Mayan artisans who constructed this building.  To make stone look so light and airy is not an easy feat especially if you don't have stone tools to work with!







The view of Uxmal, as seen from the top of the Grand Pyramid was magnificent but so was the stone work of the Temple of Macaws which sits atop the Grand Pyramid.  I stood, with my back right up against the temple wall so I could be in the shade.  It was hot standing at the top of the Pyramid :-)






Coming down the Pyramid, I did my usual "leading with the same foot" technique.  Takes longer but I feel safer that way.  Note that my brother walks down like a normal human being would.


Fit for an important person.  From the Grand Pyramid, we made our way to the Palacio del Gobernador (Governor's Palace) which is an imposing three level building with a 97m (320-ft.) long mosaic facade.  The Governor's Palace was built in the 9th and 10th centuries and in many peoples' opinions, rivals the Pyramid of the Magician as the masterpiece of Uxmal.


Oh how cute!  Located nearby the Governor's Palace is the Casa de las Tortugas (House of the Turtles), a very small and simply rectangular building.  It gets its name from the frieze of carved turtles around the top of the roof.  It's a charming little stone building.


We took advantage of the small step on the House of the Turtles to take a breather.  The heat and humidity had taken its toll on us and we all needed to just rest for a moment or two.  It was also our chance to take in one last view of Uxmal.







And one last photo op before we left. 
The Grand Pyramid provided the perfect backdrop.








Rested, we headed back out the entrance.  Thinking back on my visit today, I have to say that Uxmal is not a big city but the buildings are the most beautiful ancient Mayan buildings I have ever seen. 

Next destination.  Merida.