Uxmal (pronounced “oosh-mahl”) is one of the sites I didn’t visit last time I was in Yucatan. Since then I kept seeing it in books and travel shows. The name of the main structure, the Pyramid of the Magician is evocative enough that I had to make it there this time.
Entering though the gift shop, there’s a short flight of stairs and you’re greeted by a very plain looking pyramid. The smooth rear side of the pyramid disguises its 38m height. It’s not until you walk round the unique oval shaped base to the opposite side that there are steps up to the top.
The main deity worshipped here is the rain god Chaac. Uxmal is 100ft above sea level, so has no underground water or wells to provide drinking water. Instead the Mayans here depended on rainwater, controlled by Chaac. By the entrance to the pyramid is a huge cistern, where the cities inhabitants stored their water.
Through the main entrance you’re confronted with Pirámide del Adivino. The name comes from the legend of a magician dwarf who hatched from an egg and built the pyramid the following day. No mention of what he did for his next trick, but judging by some of the carvings there was a lot of sawing people in half, if not putting them back together again unharmed.
Behind the pyramid is the Nunnery Quadrangle, so named as it resembles a Spanish Convent, although I’ve not seen one this ornate. The ornate facades continue throughout Uxmal, making it seem far more advanced than similar sites at Teotihuacan or even Chichen Itza.
Uxmal was constructed between 700 and 1000AD and at its peak had a population of 25,000.
Unlike all the other Mayan sites we’ve visited, Uxmal isn’t built on a flat plain. Instead it takes advantage of the terrain. South of the main pyramid the ground rises and is topped by another man-made plaza about 10m high.
The plaza is dominated by the Governor’s Place, a two storey building with yet more ornate decorations all the way round the second floor.
The best view of the palace is from the middle of the plaza, where there is a double-headed jaguar throne atop a small plinth.
23km south east of Uxmal is Kabah, another of the sites on what is known as the ‘Puuc route’. It’s nice enough, but I’d suggest visiting Kabah first, as it doesn’t match up to the spectacular nature of the Pyramid of the Magician and the Governor’s Palace.
There are three more sites on the Puuc route, but you can see in the pictures how hot the day was, so the call of a restaurant and a cool drink overcame the need to see more archaeological sites.