Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Amazing (and Quiet) Ruins of Uxmal

We were hoping to see another Mayan ruins site before we go home in a week, so one morning, when we were up super early, we decided to hit the road and get to Uxmal before it got too hot.

The ruins at Chichen Itza are supposed to be amazing as well, but we've heard they are very crowded and filled with so many vendors that you can hardly enjoy the experience. Remembering what it was like in Egypt around the pyramids with mobs of pushy vendors, we decided that Uxmal was a better choice.

A long straight stretch of road...we've found the roads in Mexico to be very good. I guess the fact that they don't spread salt in the winter, and there are no frost heaves, makes a big difference.

And here we are at Uxmal (pronounced oosh-mal). It is considered one of the most important Mayan archaeological sites. Building began around 600 A.D. and reached its peak around 850 A.D. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

We debated the guide or no guide question. We normally like to have a guide as it gives you a much better understanding of what you're seeing. But these guides weren't cheap and there was no bargaining. 800 pesos is about $56 Canadian. That seemed like a lot, but we were only going to do this once and we like to support the local workers, so we went for it.

There is a crazy system to getting in, but I guess it employs people. You get in one line to pay the tax, then you get in another line to pay for your ticket. You find a guide and get in line to pay for him. Then you go through a turnstile and give the attendant your tax receipt. Then you go through a different turnstile and give them your entrance ticket. Phew...with all that accomplished, we were through and walking up the steps into the site.

And this sign says it all much better than I could...

The Mayans were a very advanced society. Lacking in water, they built cisterns with catch basins to store water during the rainy season. They introduced frogs to eat the algae and used charcoal for filtering the impurities.


And this amazing pyramid is what first greets you as you enter the site. It is called the Pyramid of the Magician or the Pyramid of the Dwarf. It is 35 m high and was built in several stages over 400 years.

The doorway was sculpted to appear as if the person entering was passing through the mouth of a serpent-like monster.

This is what it looked like when it was discovered in the early 1800s. Major conservation and restoration work began in the 1970s.

One legend says that it was built in one night by the magician Itzamna using his might and magic. Another version says a dwarf was sentenced to die unless he built a massive pyramid, taller than any building in the city, in one night. He did and he was named the new ruler of Uxmal and the structure was named after him. You choose the version you like. Either way, a massive and impressive structure for those times.

It is unique with its rounded sides...

The stairs were built at a steep angle. As worshippers climbed the stairs, they would be climbing the "Stairways of the Gods" to the sacrificial altar.

Those are pretty steep steps...notice the door at the bottom.

The wood in it has been carbon dated to the 6th century...

Our guide, Gabriel, showing us an aerial view of the site. We had just passed the Pyramid of the Magician in front. We were going next to the Nunnery Quadrangle behind it and then over to the Governor's Palace on the left and the Great Pyramid.

The first of many iguanas that we saw. There were so many that I almost kicked one when I was walking through the grass later.

Inside the Nunnery Quadrangle...although it contains over 80 rooms, the purpose of the Nunnery was unknown. The name was given to it by Spanish conquerors. It might have been residences for students, priests or soldiers. It might also have been the main place for people living in Uxmal to congregate.

Each building was richly decorated...all done by hand carving with hard, sharp rocks as they didn't have metal tools. Amazing!

There were several of these either on buildings or laying on the ground. This was part of the nose of Chac Mol, the rain god.

Chac Mol...he was much in evidence throughout the site.



Here you can see him as well, minus the nose. Uxmal is considered one of the finest archaeological sites because of the amazing detail.

Looking out one of the doorways to the ball game court, and the Governor's Palace behind.

Gabriel was explaining how the Mayan arch is different from the ones we know that are either rounded or come to a peak.

The East building with five doorways...the Mayans were superstitious about numbers and usually the buildings had odd numbers of doors.

The beautifully decorated West building with seven rooms. It was most likely the last wall constructed in the quadrangle.

There are many figures on the frieze of the West building...

Including two snakes complete with rattler tails...

Exploring the North building...

Intricate details on the North building...no wonder it took so many years to build.

Jim waiting in the middle of the quadrangle in front of the South building. That is how few people were here. It was totally enjoyable.

More Chac noses...look at that amazing sky. Gabriel said they call this a winter sky; there are no skies like this in the summer.

Many of the buildings have undergone restoration, where blocks were carefully removed, numbered and replaced.

Tiny Jim on the right heading over to talk to our guide...

Jim and Gabriel...

This was the ball court. I remembered from our visit to Dzibilchaltun the story of the ball game and how the stone or skull had to go through the hoop protruding on the right wall for the game to end. Some say it was the winner of the game who would be sacrificed as it was considered an honour. Huh...that's one time I'd like to be the loser.

We could see the steps that were required to go up to the Governor's Palace, so Jim decided to hang out here until I returned.

A close up of the aerial view showing the long Governor's Palace on the left and the smaller House of the Turtles in front. In behind is the Great Pyramid, which doesn't seem that great as most of it is still covered.

The view from the platform of the Governor's Palace...the ball court on the left which we had just walked through; the Nunnery behind it and the Pyramid of the Magician on the right.

This is the House of the Turtles. Turtles were also associated with rain. I guess due to the lack of water, there was a lot of praying to the rain gods. Notice also the three doors...



The steps to the Governor's Palace...at this point the tour was over and Gabriel gave me instructions on where to go, what to see, and most importantly, how to get back to Jim.

The Palace was built around 987 A.D. and was one of the last buildings completed at the site.

At first no one could understand why the Palace was positioned as it was. Only later did they realize it aligned directly with Venus. The Mayans were not only talented architects, but amazing astronomers.

The jaguar is a major symbol of power to the Mayans. This double-headed jaguar was built as a seat.

It looked like smoke signals coming from the Pyramid of the Magician, but it was a fire in the distance.

The most intricate details with hundreds of Chac masks everywhere...


That sky...

On the right was the Great Pyramid...I was debating whether I would climb it or not. It didn't look too bad from here.


The highly skilled stone masons of Uxmal created unbelievably intricate abstract designs, and then added beautifully carved representations of gods, snakes and birds.

Having viewed the Palace from all angles and taken the required selfie, it was on to the Great Pyramid.

A couple of iguanas sunning themselves...

And the Great Pyramid...

The steps looked a lot steeper once you were standing there...I wasn't so concerned about going up. Coming down was on my mind...

Don't climb to the roof...don't worry!

At the top...you notice how people are going up? Touching the step in front of them. Yup, that was me going down. The steps are not only steep, they are very narrow. Do not look down, one step at a time, hand on step.

There wasn't too far to go at the top as most of the pyramid remains covered.

Beautiful view...

And safely at the bottom. Another iguana having a rest...

And more iguanas...

I was about to leave the pyramid area when I noticed some ruins to the left...

Gabriel hadn't mentioned this...

An aerial view...

Now to find Jim...back past the Governor's Palace...

Success! Found Jim and we headed back toward the entrance...

We weren't sure what the building on the right was as no one had mentioned it. By now our heads were full anyway.

An amazing visit and so pleasant without any crowds or vendors...heading back to the entrance.

A restaurant, snack bar, many little stores...it was beautifully set up and very clean.

Good bye to the ruins...such a magical place.

We saw a lot of things that would never fly in Canada...like this. Hang onto your hats!

We ended up in the town of Muna, where our guide was from. This is known as a more hilly area compared to the flat land we had been on.

We had seen lots of people carriers, but these were fancy complete with a roof for shade.

Everything you need...

A road lined with the sacred Ceiba tree...

And the usual police stop closer to home. Jim said "Did you just take a picture??!" At any of these roadblocks, we were never given a second look. We were never given a smile either. At this particular stop, they were searching a BMW with two young guys inside. I guess that's their target audience.

An amazing day at Uxmal...almost time to go home!

1 comment:

  1. Such a good description of your visit! Haven't been to Uxmal since 2005 but sent several of our guests there and they were very impressed.

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