Uxmal holds a special place among all the fabulous Maya cities. Its gorgeous constructions and the detail of its reliefs make it one of the most significant. No wonder the Unesco declared it World Cultural Heritage, back in 1996. Do you know what makes it so special?
It is situated in the Santa Elena Valley, over 38 miles from Mérida, beside hills known as Puuc. The same name is used for a style of architecture and art, of which Uxmal is the leading example.
Uxmal extends over seven and a half square miles, and its population reached nearly 20,000. During the 9th and 12th centuries A.D., it was the seat of political and economic power on the Maya peninsula.
The name means “three times built”, and they say it has had three periods of splendor. The first construction period was close to the 7th century. The second may have been around the 10th century and the third, just before the arrival of the Spaniards.
Although agriculture was the primary activity, they were outstanding in engineering and urbanism. They developed chultunes, or cisterns, hydraulic works for collecting and conserving drinking water. They positioned their buildings according to astronomical phenomena. And thanks to its proximity to the ocean, Uxmal must have been a major center for trade.
The Uxmal archeological zone has 15 groups of buildings set around courtyards. All of them display the Puuc style, with its decorative elements such as masks of the god Chaac, snakes, two-headed jaguars and other iconographic symbols. Small polished stones were used to create these reliefs.
At a height of 115 feet, the Pyramid of the Soothsayer, which took more than 400 years to build, stands out. Likewise, the Nuns’ Quadrangle is a stunning courtyard surrounded by four long buildings.
The Governor’s Palace is covered with masks and much of the art from the region. The same goes for the Great Pyramid, at the top of which is the Temple of the Macaws, displaying joyful depictions of the birds.
But the huge size of the Ball Court is extremely intriguing. It helps understand the importance the Maya placed on recreation and sports.
Other treasures at Uxmal include The House of Turtles, The Dovecote; the Platform of Jaguars and the Chimez Structure. Most of all, though, is the grand six-foot arch at the beginning of the sacbé (Maya road) that led to Kabac and the rest of the world.
These mysterious constructions are part of the magnificent, mysterious and suggestive Maya legacy, which never stop amazing us.