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Uxmal
Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-02-28 16:54:25 | Uxmal, Yucatan, Mexico
Keywords: Mayas, UNESCO
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 natural bumps.

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.

Related posts:
Copán Ruinas
Quiriguá
Tikal
What I've seen in Mexico
Chichén Itzá

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