Set within a region in Mexico that is rich in vegetation and abundant in bird life, the Uxmal ruins represent the pinnacle of late Mayan art and Puuc architecture. The architecture has several predominant features, most notably constructions with a plain lower section and a richly decorated upper section. Puuc, which means “hill”, refers to the nearby hills in the area.
The name Uxmal means “built three times” in Mayan, referring to the construction of its highest structure, the Pyramid of the Magician.
Uxmal was founded around 700 AD, relatively late compared to some other famous Mayan cities. Paradoxically, not that much is known about its history. Only one ruler, Lord Chac, has been specifically identified. Its location is also somewhat unlikely for a city. Yucatán has few surface rivers and most Maya cities, including Chichén Itzá, used cenotes to access underground water. There were no cenotes at Uxmal however. Instead, at Uxmal it was necessary to collect rain water in cisterns that were built in the ground.
Uxmal flourished in the Late Classic period, around 850-920 AD when most of the city’s main structures were build. During this time the population of the city reached about 25,000 people making Uxmal one of the largest cities in the Yucatán. The rise of Uxmal coincided with that of Chichen Itza and the two Maya cities seem to have been allies for a time in Chichen’s war against Cobá, although by the 10th century Chichen appears to have turned against Uxmal.
Around 920-950 AD Uxmal went into a very rapid decline. Although Uxmal collapsed as a city state it was never totally abandoned for its temples continued to be used for special ceremonies. Spanish documents from the 17th century complain that pagan ceremonies were still being carried out in Uxmal.
Map of Uxmal
|The map shows the location of Uxmal. The buttons on the left can be used to zoom in or out. Click and drag the map to move around.|
At 115 feet (35 m), the Pyramid of the Magician or Pyramid of the Dwarf is the tallest structure at Uxmal. Both of it names refer to an ancient legend stating that it was magically built overnight by an enchanted dwarf who then became the city’s ruler. The pyramid is unique among Mayan structures because of its layers are oval in shape, instead of the more common rectilinear plan. Beneath the Magician’s Pyramid are five earlier temples. Construction of the first pyramid temple began around 700 AD and the structure was expanded over the next 400 years.
West of the Pyramid of the Magician is the Nunnery Quadrangle, consisting of four rectangular buildings with 74 individual rooms. It might have been a palace or a residence for students, priests, or soldiers. It is decorated with elaborately carved façades. South of the quadrangle is a ball court that was dedicated in 901 by Lord Chac.
The Governor’s Palace, standing farther south, is probably the finest example of the Puuc style. Although it seems like one long low building, it is actually three buildings joined by covered vaults. The four façades are decorated elaborately with rich mosaics. The structure was probably a residence and contains about twenty rooms. The House of Turtles, a smaller building so called from its fresco of sculptured turtles, is located on the same terrace as the Governor’s Palace.
The Uxmal ruins are located about 50 miles (80 km) south-west of Merida. Most buses that take the inland route between Merida and Campeche can drop you of at Uxmal.
There is no town at Uxmal, only several top end hotels. Cheaper accommodations can be found in the nearby towns of Santa Elena and Ticul.
The entrance fee is M$95.