How to get thereBy bus from Mérida about 1.5 hours or from Campeche; by car from Mérida 80km/50mi on the MEX 261, from Campeche 152km/94mi on the MEX 261.The famous Maya site of Uxmal is situated on a plain covered with thick scrub 80km/50mi south of Mérida in the north-west of the Yucatán Peninsula.
Opening hours: 8am-5pm
Entrance fee in MXN: Adult $30.00
Among the exhibits displayed in the museum at the entrance to the site are four stone heads of the rain-god Chac, panels with hieroglyphics, a phallic sculpture and a stone turtle.
Pyramid of the Soothsayer
Opposite the entrance to the site is the highest building in Uxmal, the 35 m (115 ft) high Pyramid of the Soothsayer or Sorcerer (Pirámide de Adivino). Legend has it that this pyramid was built by a dwarf in one night with the help of his mother, a witch. In fact it consists of five buildings lying on top of one another, which were erected over a period of more than three centuries and which are all quite clearly distinct from each another. Instead of the usual rectangular ground-plan which was customary elsewhere, the base of this building is oval.
On the west side at the base of the pyramid it is possible to see the foundations of Temple I, the oldest of the buildings. A date chiselled into a door lintel reveals the building's inception to have been AD 569. The façade, richly decorated mainly with masks of Chac, the Maya rain god, also has the famous sculpture known as the "Queen of Uxmal". This figure, which depicts a tattooed priest's head caught in the jaws of a snake, is now to be found in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
Temple II (Templo Interior Oriente), which has a central interior supported by pillars, is reached through an opening in the upper middle part of the east steps. Temple III (Templo Interior Poniente) is not visible from the outside. It adjoins the rear part of Temple II and consists of a small shrine and an antechamber. The steps on the west side, which have a gradient of 60°, do not possess a balustrade in the traditional sense. The parapet is set back and formed by stylised Chac masks which frame the steps.
From Temple III steps lead to Temple IV (Templo Chenes), the entrance to which is formed by the open jaws of a stylised mask. In contrast to the Puuc style which is elsewhere the norm in Uxmal, this temple is conceived in the pure Chenes style, as evidenced by the entrance. The façade of this cube-shaped building is completely covered with Chac masks and lattice-style ornamentation.
Temple V, also called the House of the Soothsayer, belongs to the last wave of building which took place in Uxmal (about ad 1000). It can be reached either directly from the steps on the east side or by two narrow lateral flights of steps situated along the west side of the Templo Chenes (Temple IV). The rectangular building appears to date from the late 9th c. and to be a smaller-scale reproduction of the governor's palace. Part of the facade of the temple, which consists of three interior rooms, is decorated with lattice-style ornamentation.From the summit of the Pyramid of the Soothsayer there is a marvellous view of the other buildings on the site and the countryside surrounding Uxmal.
Directly to the north-west of the Pyramid of the Soothsayer stands the magnificent Nuns' Quadrangle (Cuadrángulo de las Monjas; ad 900-1000) which was given its name by the Spanish because of the large number of "cells" which the building possesses. The four long buildings, which enclose the 64 3 46 m (210 3 151 ft) trapeziform inner quadrangle, stand on terraces of varying heights and were erected at different times.
The inner quadrangle is entered by the large arched entrance in the south building, which is the second oldest building on the site. The arch lies on an axis with the ball court which is situated in front of the quadrangle and is largely in ruins. There are eight rooms both to the right and left of the central walkway, of which one half face outwards, while the other half face north into the inner quadrangle. The frieze over the doors has sculptures of Maya huts which stand out above panels of latticework.
Opposite the south building, and standing on a platform almost 7 m (23 ft) high, is the oldest and most important building of the Nuns' Quadrangle, the north building, which is almost 100 m (328 ft) in length. The 30 m (98 ft) wide stairway is flanked by two small temples. The left one (to the west) is called the Venus Temple, because a motive in the frieze has been connected with the planet Venus. The temple rests on four columns which form a hall. It is the only building in Uxmal which has such columns. The north building comprises 26 chambers and eleven entrances on to the inner quadrangle. As is usual with buildings in the Puuc style the basement level has no ornamentation. Over the ledge there are four "mask" towers, each with four Chac masks placed above one another. Next to them there are pictures of thatched houses and reliefs of monkeys and snakes.
The third oldest structure is the east building with its five entrances. The ledge consists of an ornamental serpent, its heads looking out on the north side. The frieze is quite stark in its conception and consists principally of latticework. On top there are trapeziums in which owls' heads are inserted.
The newest section, the west building, has seven entrances. Its frieze is considered to be the most ornate in all Puuc architecture. Above the main entrance there is a throne with a baldachin, on which a seated figure, half man, half turtle, can be seen. The magnificent panel displays alternating sculptures of two Maya huts, rows of masks, geometrical ornaments and meandering coiled snakes. The last-named belong to the few Toltec stylistic elements to be found in Uxmal and were only added as an afterthought. Each of the edges of the building have three masks of the rain god Chac placed one above another.
Sound and Light Show
Every evening in the Nuns' Quadrangle a spectacular son et lumière show is held, in which various places are lit up to the accompaniment of drum and flute music, while a speaker recounts the history of Uxmal. The 45 min. long performance is given at 7 p.m. in Fall and Winter, and 8 p.m. during Spring and Summer.
To the south of the Nuns' Quadrangle is the ball court which measures 31 3 10 m (102 3 33 ft). The two mortised stone rings bear the calendar date AD 649.
Casa de las Tortugas
To the south of the ball court is the House of the Turtles (Casa de las Tortugas; ad 800-900). Measuring almost 7 m (23 ft) high, 29 m (95 ft) long and 11 m (36 ft) wide it is one of the most symmetrically proportioned buildings in Uxmal. Three entrances lead from the east side through the unadorned basement into the interior of the house. The frieze running above the central ledge consists of a row of pillars standing close to one another. The building gets its name from the stylised turtles which decorate the upper ledge.
Immediately to the south of the House of Turtles is the Governor's Palace (Palacio del Gobernador), possibly architecturally the most perfect building in prehispanic America. The palace stands on an enormous platform and a terrace and is 98 m (322 ft) long, 12 m (39 ft) wide and 8 m (26 ft) high. The building comprises a main building and two side wings which open on to two vaulted passages. These were later closed in by cross walls.In the basement with its plain façade there are eleven entrances on the front wall and one on each of the sides; they lead to 24 chambers which all have the typical arched vault. Along the central ledge there is a 3 m (10 ft) high frieze which in its upper section consists of an almost uninterrupted row of 103 Chac masks. Alongside it there is a host of geometric shapes. The lower part has a row of S-shaped decorations which form a serpent which once almost encircled the whole building like a necklace. The sculpture over the middle entrance has been restored; with its headdress of quetzal feathers it could be a former ruler of Uxmal. It is estimated that some 20,000 hewn stones with an individual weight of 20 to 80 kg (44 to 176 lb) were used to make this enormous mosaic frieze.In front of the palace stands an altar with a two-headed jaguar in the middle. This figure could be a symbol of power and have been used as a throne; it is hewn out of a single block of stone and was discovered by Stephens in 1841.
To the south-west of the Governor's Palace stands the Great Pyramid (Gran Pirámide), which has been partially restored. This building, which once had nine storeys, is 30 m (98 ft) high and was levelled off at the top. It did not have a temple, but merely small palace-like buildings on its four sides. The top storey had ornamentation in the Puuc style, including masks, parrots, latticework, flowers and meanders. One of the masks is fashioned in such a way that the nose forms a step or a throne, similar to the Codz-poop mask in Kabah.
To the west of the Great Pyramid is the Dovecot (palomar) which has been only partially restored; its buildings surround a central courtyard (60 3 40 m (190 3 130 ft)) similar to the Nuns' Quadrangle. It derives its name from the novel design of its serrated roof-crest. On a row of columns there are nine triangular constructions with window-like openings which give the appearance of a dovecot. It is thought that this interesting building is as much as 200 years older than the Nuns' Quadrangle or the Governor's Palace, and was therefore probably built between AD 700 and 800.
The buildings to the south and north of the Dovecot, the South Group (Grupo Sur) and the Quadrangle (Cuadrángulo), which have not yet been restored, have a similar ground-plan to the Dovecot.
Pyramid of the Old Woman
One of the oldest remains in Uxmal is probably the Pyramid of the Old Woman (Pirámide de la Vieja; c. ad 670-770), which lies to the south-east of the South Group and still awaits excavation. From the top of this pyramid it is possible to take excellent photographs of the Governor's Palace.
Temple of the Phalluses
From the Pyramid of the Old Woman a path leads to the remains of some buildings, 400 m (1314 ft) away, which have been given the name Temple of the Phalluses (Templo de los Falos). There is a row of stone sculptures in the shape of phalluses, which were probably used as fountains.
Temple of the Cemetery
To the east of the Nuns' Quadrangle is the group of buildings which includes the Temple of the Cemetery (Templo del Cementerio). The square inner courtyard is surrounded by buildings in varying states of dilapidation which include on the north side a pyramid on top of which stands an almost completely destroyed temple. Only on the west side is there a relatively well-preserved building, into which three doors lead. The roof-crest of the temple is built in a very similar way to that of the dovecot. This leads to the conclusion that this building is also of an older date. The whole group of buildings gets its name from the four small platforms, probably altars, which are covered with pictures of skulls with eyes and crossbones and hieroglyphics.
Platform of the Stelae
Not far from the Temple of the Cemetery is the Platform of the Stelae (Plataforma de las Estelas). This is where originally 16 stelae and 15 altars stood, of which only a few in poor condition have survived.
16km/10mi from Uxmal on the MEX 261 is the town of Muna, where a road goes off to the west in the direction of Maxcanú. After 25km/16mi on this road the village of Calzehtoc is reached. From here an unmade-up road leads to the caves of Calzehtoc 3km/2mi away. Just before the caves a track goes off for another 4km/2.5mi to the large Maya site of Oxkintok, which is one of the oldest known Maya centres in Yucatán. It is probable that Oxkintok dominated this part of Yucatán from AD 400 to 800, until it was superseded by Uxmal. Excavations have brought to light 22 sizeable buildings and a number of stelae. Most of the finds can be seen in the Museum of Archaeology and History in Mérida. A stone door-lintel has been found, dated a.d. 475 and therefore from the Early Classic period, while the most recent date, found on a stela, is AD 849. The architecture of the buildings corresponds in the Early Classic period to the Petén style, in the Late Classic section to the Puuc style. Calzehtoc and Oxkintok can also both be reached from Mérida and Campeche on the MEX 180 via Maxcanú.