|Uxmal is the second Mayan site I've visited so far, and it's considered by the experts as the best of the design of that rich civilization. Since it's relatively close to the Riviera Maya flooded with tourists, there are many tours reaching Uxmal from major cities like Cancún.|
It's considered the best
urban Mayan design. The city was built around year 700 to year 1000,
right at the end of the golden era of the Mayan civilization (which
began around 2 000 BC). It was also located at the outskirts of the
old Mayan empire that stretched basically from the Yucatan-Chiapas
axis in Mexico on the NorthWest down to Honduras in the South-East.
These factors both contributed to giving Uxmal the optimal design
after centuries of Mayan constructions all over their empire. It's
believed that this city of over 20 000 people (spreading over 8
square kilometres) was the regional capital of the Mayas.
One of the most important
traits of the regional Mayan architecture is seen on the buildings.
The first layer of the buildings present plain walls with the doors
and windows openings. While the upper levels are richly ornate with
references to the gods and other traits of the civilization.
Partial view of the Nunnery square
Unlike most pre-hispanic
cities, it's layout isn't geometrical but mostly based on the
astronomy (there are many indications it was aligned with the
trajectory of the Venus planet). The topography of hills at that
location also imposed its restrictions on the urban and buildings
design. Unlike the Theotihuacans or the Aztecs, who would probably
have shaved the hills, the Mayans adapted their plans to those
All over the city,
you will find references to their god of rain: Chac. Uxmal is
located in an area full of hills (called Puuc), in between which the
Mayas cultivated corn and their two harvests a year allowed them to
use that for trade with other groups or cities in the Yucatan
peninsula. But it's also a relatively dry area and since corn
requires lots of water, the Mayas were constantly asking Chac for
more rain. In sister smaller cities of Kabah, Labná and
Sayil, with which Uxmal was doing most of its trade, you can find
even more references to Chac. Because of the rarity of the water,
the Mayas built many underground water reservoirs in Uxmal.
There are two versions regarding the
name of the city. The first one refers to the word 'Oxmal' which
would mean 'built three times', referring to the long history of
occupation of that site, even though the permanent buildings as we
see them today were built around year 700. The second possibility is
from the name 'Uchmal' which means 'what is to come, the future'.
More than millennium later, it would be tempting to look back and opt
for the first one, since it was built essentially at the end of the
Mayan civilization, so no future.
The signature building of Uxmal is
right at the entrance of the site, welcoming you with an astonishing
sight (photo on top). That's the Pyramid of the Magician. On top of the 53 m
pyramid, you find a temple. But that's in fact the 5th
temple of that pyramid that took over 400 years to build. In each
construction phase a temple was built. Then the construction
continued to go up and up, adding a new temple at each phase, while
preserving the older structures. Today, the temples #2, #4 and #5
are still accessible (but not to the public).
The UNESCO added the site to the World
Heritage List in 1996, because of the architecture and the importance
of the site within the Mayan empire.
Example of the simple architecture at the bottom.