Uxmal and The Magician’s Pyramid

Another scorching hot week in Mérida. Another ‘escape from the city’ adventure with our trusty driver, José Luis. This time our long-time friend Richard also in tow. Destination: the much-anticipated Mayan pyramids of Uxmal. 

The ancient city of Uxmal (which means ‘thrice built’ in Mayan) lies 84ks from Mérida in the south west corner of the Yucatan in what the local Maya call the ‘Tical Range’ – surprising low rolling hills in an otherwise dead-flat landscape. Otherwise, there are no standout features, just endless low jungle, sliced through by a dead-straight dusty road with the occasional kink, a tiny sleepy village, a ruined hacienda or two and some fields of henequen. 

But it’s what lies hidden here in the low dense jungle that is truly astounding. This area of the Yucatan is referred to as the Ruta Puuc (Puuc meaning ‘mountain’ in Mayan), a triangular area that contains the ancient Mayan pyramid and temple complexes of Kabah, Sayil, Xlapal, Labná, Oxkintok and then perhaps the most spectacular of them all, Uxmal. 

Archaeologists generally believe Uxmal to have flourished between the years 200 and 1000 AD, with occupation dating back to least 500 BC. But it was around 1200 AD that Uxmal was mysteriously abandoned, leaving this vast majestic complex to be consumed by the surrounding jungle and to disappear from consciousness. I read that at its peak, Uxmal had a population of some 35,000, making it the most powerful Mayan city in the whole region, so its relatively sudden demise is just another of the many mysteries of Uxmal that may never be solved. 

Even when the Spanish conquistadores arrived in the mid 16th Century, this place was lost to time. The invaders showed little interest in these structures, other than perhaps using their stone blocks for their own religious buildings and, later, haciendas. 

Today, when you arrive at Uxmal it’s totally geared up for the modern tourist. There’s a pretty impressive hotel just outside the grounds that would make the nightly Son et Lumière a much easier proposition for travellers from Mérida; there’s a large car park to accommodate tourist coaches (none here); (empty) Mayan-themed restaurants-a-plenty; and souvenir shops selling all kinds of tchotchkes, from fridge magnets and tea towels to tee-shirts and mugs, plus local crafts and guide-books… all with the entry price having sky-rocketed to MX$498 (A$33) per person, doubling in recent years. Clearly COVID has taken its toll as it has everywhere, I suppose, with hardly anyone here on the day we arrived. Pre COVID, Uxmal was the second-most-visited archaeological site in all of Mexico. I understand the site has been closed at times over the past two years, only recently re-opening.

Sadly, as we were to learn when walking around the site, large sections of Uxmal have been roped off altogether or have restricted access. I have to say though, this didn’t hinder our experience as first-time visitors. We were still in total awe of the wonderous sights here, including the impressively unique oval-based Pyramid of the Magician, at 115 ft, the second tallest pyramid in the Yucatan. It dominates the site here and is the first thing to confront you on entering the complex.

The ‘so-called’ Nuns’ Quadrangle, named by the conquistadores, recalls the convents of their mother country for its colonnaded quadrangle and vast central court. The intricate stone friezes on the outer façades are spectacular, with lattice-work patterns, floral-themed carvings, long-nosed human facial masks, anthropomorphic figures, sinuous feathered serpents, gods for every occasion and incredibly complex geometric shapes. I can only imagine how wonderous these buildings must have looked during the Mayan hey-day, no doubt vividly coloured (most probably red) and dazzling in the hot Yucatan sun. Even today in its weathered bare stone form, these buildings are breathtaking in their intricacy and scale. 

To get an insight into how these magnificent buildings might have looked at their peak, take a look at this website and scroll down: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/rRd0NO

As Frank Lloyd Wright once expressed about Uxmal’s structures, “they are among the most outstanding, beautiful buildings the world has ever seen.”

I have to say, I think he’s right. 

#Uxmal #MayanPyramids #Yucatan #AncientMayan #Mexico

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Bevan Lee says:

    Jose Luis has seemingly become invaluable to your jauntings. I’m sure he appreciates the custom. Those buildings indeed look incredible. It must have been quite a demanding stroll in the heat however. I trust nifty parasols we’re used to ward off the rays.


  2. Michael Skinner says:

    Spectacular! i read somewhere that these Mayan places were depopulated during a very long and severe drought. No water , no food .


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