July 26, 2010

Uxmal (Maya Ruins)


Site: Uxmal

Average time to see the whole site: 2-4 hours

Opening times: 8am - 5pm; then 7.30pm for light show.

Guides: 500 to 900 pesos to hire, speaking a variety of languages.

Wildlife: Iguanas.

Entrance fee: $10

Uxmal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located 78km south of Mérida. A lot of restoration work has taken place on the ruins, but little in the way of archaeology. Therefore, while the ruins look impressive, not much is known about them.


What has been established by archaeologists is that Uxmal was built between 700 and 1100 CE and housed an estimated population of 25,000. However, The Mayan Chronicles state that it was founded two centuries earlier, in 500 CE, by the Xiu dynasty. After the Xiu aligned themselves with the Spanish Conquistadors, they relocated to Mani. Thus Uxmal went into decline, until the jungle reclaimed it.

There is a pyramid with unusual architecture here, known as the Adivino, or the Pyramid of the Magician, or the Pyramid of the Dwarf. The sides are more oval in shape than the usual rectanglar design. Moreover, there is a legend connected to its building. In Mayan folklore, el enano del Uxmal (the dwarf of Uxmal) was set a series of challenges in competition with the local Mayan king, all of which were orchestrated by the dwarf's mother, a bruja (witch). Part of the challenges was to build a pyramid. The dwarf built the adivino overnight, after the king told him that he couldn't. The dwarf won the competition. The House of the Old Woman, on the site, is said to have belonged to his mother.


Other significant buildings include the Governor's Palace, which has the longest platform facade in MesoAmerica; Nunnery Quadrangle, which is a Spanish name given to the largest quadrangle government palace; a beautifully preserved ballcourt; the North Long Building; House of the Birds; House of the Turtles; Grand Pyramid; House of the Doves; and South Temple.

Several statues and reliefs, each depicting phallic elements, were removed from the site in 1863, ahead of the visit of Empress Carlota of Mexico. The site had its revenge upon another monarch 113 years later, when Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain arrived for the launch of a light and sound show. Despite the event taking place during a prolonged dry spell, as the show progressed into a prayer to Chaac, the Rain God, torrential rain arrived from a previously cloudless sky and drenched the watching dignitaries.

Visitors can climb on some of the structures, looking out over jungle through which unexplored structures poke out. But these are increasingly becoming roped off. As this sprawling expanse of Maya ruins is not prominently on the main tourist trails, they tend to be less crowded than the more famous sites. However, visitors will find more than adequate amenities, including a gift shop, bookstore, hotel and restaurant. There is no mercado, nor lone vendors, inside the grounds.

Please note that it can get very, very hot at Uxmal, so take measures to keep yourself cool in the Mexican heat.

Getting there:

* It takes around 4-5 hours to drive from Cancún. Therefore leaving the ruins at noon is necessary, if you wish to drive in daylight.

* The ATS bus line has a daily bus leaving the 2nd class bus station in Mérida at 8:00 a.m. The bus does a circuit of five archaeological sites (known as the Puuc Route). It waits for 30 minutes at the minor ruins, and then waits 2 hours at Uxmal before returning to Mérida. It does briefly stop at Uxmal before going onto the circuit. The bus returns to Mérida at 2:30 p.m.

* Book into the Villas Arqueologicas Uxmal hotel, which has gates which open directly into the ruins.

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