With thick jungle protection, Uxmal was shrouded from prying eyes and awaiting re-discovery, which didn’t arrive until the early 19th Century, when the American archaeologist John L. Stephens tracked down the ruins in 1841, introducing the world to Uxmal through his book ‘Incidents of Travel in Yucatan’. I’ve got a copy and I’m wading through its rather dense formal 19th Century language which talks of his exotic adventures in the Yucatan and his gruelling, sickness-plagued travels into the dense jungle. His English explorer companion, Frederick Catherwood, an artist, visually documented the wonders that they discovered, ultimately producing a portfolio of 26 lithographs that are considered to be masterpieces. Catherwood never achieved the fame or notoriety of his companion and, even today, very few people have either heard of him, or seen his marvellous illustrations. As it happens, there’s a Catherwood Museum just around the corner from our casa with the only complete set of lithographs remaining in Mexico. I’ve included some of his illustrations* of Uxmal so you can see what he saw back in the 1840’s compared with today. What a sight it would have been to behold!
When Stephens and Catherwood first came across Uxmal in 1841, the local Maya retold the legend of the House of the Dwarf. The story goes something like this: An old sorceress magically hatched an egg, producing a dwarf child. The child showed great intelligence and extraordinary feats of strength, including the building of a house in just one night that was higher than any other… It goes on, so if you’re interested, here’s the full legend as told directly to Stephens by the local Maya:
This legend captured the imagination of Stephens and Catherwood, which inspired them to name the pyramid ‘The House of the Dwarf’ or, as it’s also known, ‘The Sorcerer’s Temple’ or ‘The Magician’s Temple’ – depending on which guidebook you happen to be looking at.
You can digitally view the book ‘Incidents of Travel in Yucatan’ here, with all of Catherwood’s extraordinary lithographs: https://archive.org/details/gri_33125012602591/page/n39/mode/2up?view=theater
*With thanks to the Catherwood Museum, Barrio Santiago, Mérida
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