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UXMAL ARCHEOLOGICAL ZONE                                      Printer friendly version


"A pyramid built overnight by a dwarf magician and palaces carved with undulating serpents"

Uxmal means "'Built Three Times" in the Mayan language, and though its name is a mystery, its beauty is not. As a World Heritage site, it is one of the best restored and maintained ruins in the Yucatán, and certainly one of the most magnificent. Its architecture, some of the most majestic of the Yucatán ruins, is characterized by low horizontal palaces set around courtyards, decorated with rich sculptural elements and details.

This is one of the most well known of the Maya cities, and rated by many archeologists as the finest. In area the site is fairly compact, though you should allow at least half a day for a first visit, after which you’ll probably want to return to go over the site in more detail. There has been much renovation work and the grounds are well tended, but wear good shoes if you intend to do any climbing. It is permitted to climb the largest structure, The Pyramid of the Magician, and the view from the top is well worth the effort, though the steps are extremely steep.

Facilities at the entrance are excellent, with cafeterias, souvenir shops and toilet facilities. There is also a small museum and auditorium. If you arrive early, skip the museum and see the site first before the heat is too uncomfortable. The site is open between 8 AM and 5 PM, with a sound and light show in the evening. The show is in Spanish with headphones that translate the show into English, French, German and Italian.

Again the name Uxmal means “Built Three Times” in Mayan, referring to the construction of its highest structure, The Pyramid of the Magician. The Maya would often build a new temple over an existing one, and in this case five stages of construction have actually been found.

Recent studies have suggested that Uxmal was the capital of a regional state that developed in the Puuc region between 850 to 950 AD. Other evidence suggests that Uxmal collaborated politically and economically with Chichén-Itzá, the popular ruin located between Mérida and Cancún.

Uxmal was one of the largest cities of the Yucatán Peninsula, and at its height was home to about 25.000 Maya. Like the other Puuc sites, it flourished in the Late Classic period (around 600 – 900 AD.) Indications are that its rulers presided also over the nearby settlements in Kabáh, Labná and Sayil, and there are several sacbés connecting the sites. The area is known as the “Ruta Puuc” or Puuc route, from the nearby hills.

Puuc architecture has several predominant features, most notably constructions with a plain lower section and a richly decorated upper section. Carvings most commonly found include serpents, lattice work and masks of the god Chaac.

Chaac was the god of rain, greatly revered by the Maya at Uxmal because of the lack of natural water supplies in the city. Although the Yucatán has no surface rivers, most Maya cities, including Chichén-Itzá, used cenotes to access underground water, however there were no cenotes at Uxmal. Instead, it was necessary to collect water in chultunes or cisterns, built in the ground. The proximity of the Puuc hills did mean, however, that comparatively rich soil from the hilltop forests was washed down the slopes during rainstorms, making the area one of the most successful agricultural regions of the Yucatán.

Sometimes called the “Temple of the Dwarf,” or “La Casa del Enano” (House of the Dwarf,) this structure is one of the key structures in Uxmal due to its size and religious significance. This is the most impressive structure and the tallest standing at 117 feet (38 m) high; this structure dominates your view as you enter the complex. Unusually built on an elliptical base, this pyramid is the result of five superimposed temples. Parts of the first temple can be seen when ascending the western staircase; the second and third are accessed by the eastern staircase, in an inner chamber at the second level. The fourth temple is clearly visible from the west side, a giant Chaac mask marks the entrance and Chaac’s mouth is the door. Note also the series of Chaac masks on the sides of the stairway. Climb to the top of the east stairs to reach the fifth temple and view the whole site.

Located on the eastern side of the city, with its western face overlooking The Nunnery Quadrangle, this is the first structure seen as visitors enter the city. Though it appears as a single structure, this pyramid has in fact been built and added to five times in the course of history, in the known Maya practice of building newer temples on top of older ones at 52 year cycles. At the base of the western stairs archeologists have discovered the original temple that started the complete construction (called “Temple One”) and its birth has been carbon dated to the year 569. Though the overall temple as it appears now was completed between 900 - 1000 AD.

Structure like “El Castillo” at Chichén-Itzá are known for their angled, stepped appearance, but The Pyramid of the Dwarf is different from any other structure built by the Maya in that it resembles a truncated cone, with an oval base and no corners other than those found on the stairs and on the temples found at the apex of those stairs.

The Eastern Stairs are the widest of the two sets, starting from the base of the structure to the upper temple. The roof of the temple at the top of the eastern stairs stands 45 meters from the ground. Near the top of the eastern stairs is a smaller inner temple that cuts into the stairway itself. Once used for ceremonial purposes, this dark two-room temple is now a home for bats.

The Western Stairs overlook The Nunnery Quadrangle, and perhaps by virtue of them facing this significant structure, are very richly decorated and carved compared to the eastern side. Along both sides of this narrower staircase, images of the hooked-nose rain god Chaac line the stairs meaning that as worshipers climbed the stairs to the upper temples they would be in effect climbing a "Stairways of the Gods" towards the place where they would perform their ceremonies. The Upper Temple of the western stairs is in the Chenes style, where the open doorway to the inner temple is meant to resemble the jaws of a huge Cosmic Serpent in the visage of the Mayan god of the sky, Itzamna.

The following story was told to John Stephens when he first visited Uxmal in 1840. Variations on the theme abound, but this is the story as it was originally told to him by the local populace:

There was an old woman who lived in a hut that was located on the exact spot where the finished pyramid now stands. This old woman was a witch who one day went into mourning that she had no children. One day, she took an egg and wrapped it in cloth and placed it in a corner of her small hut. Every day she went to look at the egg until one day it hatched and a small creature, closely resembling a baby, came from the enchanted egg.

The old woman was delighted and called the baby her son. She provided it with a nurse and took good care of it so that within a year it was walking and talking like a man. It stopped growing after a year and the old woman was very proud of her son and told him that one day he would be a great Lord or King.

One day, she told her son to go the House of the Governor and challenge the King to a trial of strength. The dwarf didn't want to go at first but the old woman insisted and so to see the King he went. The guards let him in and he threw down his challenge to the King. The King smiled, and told the dwarf to lift a stone that weighed three arrobas (75 pounds). At this the dwarf cried and ran back to his mother. The witch was wise, and told her son to tell the King that if the King would lift the stone first, then he would lift it also. The dwarf returned and told the King what his mother told him to say. The king lifted the stone and the dwarf did the same. The King was impressed, and a little nervous, and tested the dwarf for the rest of the day with other feats of strength. Each time the King performed an act, the dwarf was able to match it.

The King became enraged that he was being matched by a dwarf, and told the dwarf that in one night he must build a house higher than any other in the city or he would be killed. The dwarf again returned crying to his mother who told him to not loose hope, and that he should go straight to bed. The next morning the city awoke to see The Pyramid of the Dwarf in its finished state, larger than any other building in the city.

The King saw this building from his palace and was again enraged and summoned the dwarf. The King told the dwarf he had one final test of strength. The dwarf had to collect two bundles of Cogoil wood, a very strong and heavy wood, and the king would break the wood over the head of the dwarf, and after that the dwarf could have his turn to break the wood over the King's head.

The dwarf again ran to his mother for help. She told him not to worry and placed an enchanted tortilla on his head as a crown. The trial was performed in front of all the great men of the city. The King broke the whole of his bundle over the dwarfs head one at a time without hurting or bothering the dwarf in the least. The King then tried to bow out of his challenge, but in front of all the cities great men he knew he had no choice but to go ahead and let the dwarf have his turn. The second stick of the bundle broke the Kings skull into pieces and he fell dead at the foot of the dwarf who everyone acknowledged as the new King.

The dwarf returned to tell his mother what had transpired, but found that she had died. But she died happy to know that her son had indeed become King.

Legend has it that in the town of Mani, seventeen kilometers away, there is a deep well that opens into a cave that leads all the way to Mérida. In this cave, on the bank of a stream under the shade of a large tree, sits an old woman with a serpent by her side. She begs occasionally or sells water. Not for money, but for a “criatura” (a baby) to feed to her serpent. This old woman is the mother of the dwarf.

This collection of four buildings around a quadrangle was named "Casa de las Monjas" (The Nunnery) by the Spanish, because the 74 small rooms around the courtyard reminded them of nuns’ quarters in a Spanish convent. Each of the four buildings has a unique ornate façade, and each is built on a different level. The northern building is the oldest and the grandest; here you can see many typical Puuc embellishments - Chaac masks arranged one over another vertically, serpents and lattice work. The building to the east and closest to The Pyramid of the Magician is the best preserved, with a stack of Chaac masks over the central doorway and serpents above the doorways to the left and right. The exact purpose of the group is not known, though, given the size and importance of the site, it is thought likely to have housed visiting dignitaries or administrative offices and it was probably used as a school for training healers, astrologers, shamans and priests.

The Nunnery Quadrangle is located on the west side of The Pyramid of the Dwarf the most visible structure in the city due to its size. An upper temple on the west side of The Temple of the Dwarf overlooks this square courtyard. Wedged between the Nunnery Quadrangle and the Dwarf's pyramid is a smaller courtyard called the Court of the Birds The key entrance to the Nun's Quadrangle is actually located on the south side of the structure and is intended to be entered through the Corbelled arch on this side, though the ruined state of the city today makes it possible to enter the courtyard through many of the corners and holes in the structure. The inscriptions of the Nunnery tell us that it was built and dedicated by King Chan-Chaac-K'ak nal-Ahaw (also known as Lord Chaac) who is credited with shaping most of the city of Uxmal that we see today.

There are essentially four buildings that make up the sides of the complete structure and each one will be described briefly. All four are on slightly different levels and vary from one another in specific form and design. The southern building is the lowest of the four and has nine doorways. The east building has five doorways and sits on a low platform placing it midway up the overall layout. The west building has seven doorways and sits on the same platform as the eastern building, and the "key" portion of the structure appears to be the northern building. It is the first one visible as you approach the arched entry way, has 11 doorways, and is flanked on either side by smaller buildings that frame the unique stairway leading up to the building.

The entire structure is comprised of the North, South, East and Western buildings and the Courtyard.

The South Building:
The capstone from the southern building is very battered and worn, but the date appears to be 12 Kawak 16 Xul or or April 23, 906. This is the building that holds the Mayan Corbelled Archway that is the main ceremonial entrance to the courtyard encompassed by the Nunnery. From inside the complex then there are four decorated doorways on either side of this entrance that all lead to a single small room. At some point in the years after its completion the city’s builders added one small double roomed temple to each end of the main structure. Exactly the same designs grace both the northern and southern facades of this southern building. Along the longest axis of each side the structures design break it into three long sections. Typical of Puuc design, the lowest portion, surrounding the doorways, is plain stone with minimal design flare. The upper molding shows small flower designs at regular intervals that are called Itz, and refers to any number of sacred fluids like nectar, tree sap, and candle wax or morning dew. Itz also means "To Make Magic" so it turns the southern building into a place where magic was made. To the ancient Maya this house would be known as an Itzam Nah, or a "Conjuring House."

Each of the eight doors has a sculpture over it called a Xanil Nah, which was essentially a stone representation of the thatched roof hut that the Maya used as living quarters. The thatched roofs are shown as being blown by the wind. These stone huts are overlapping a cross-hatched design similar to overlapping long parallel poles in an "X" pattern to signify the house as having a special function. The southern structure is the only one of the four to have doorway access on both the side facing the inner courtyard and the outer structures. The other buildings only open up facing the courtyard.

In front of the lattices each hut has a zoomorphic monster head on top of each roof. The features of the face are non-specific, but there is maize growing out of the top of each head. This maize seems reminiscent of designs found in Palenque, Tikal and Copan where these houses are called Na Te'-K'an, or "First Tree Precious" and show us that the maize trees represent the reborn maize god and the place where the gods first formed humans out of maize dough (as found in the Myth of Creation.) This is the theme that archeologists believe is being brought forward in the southern building.

The East Building:
The east building has a painted capstone in the north-west room that tells us this building was dedicated on 5 Imix 17 K'ank'in in tun 18 of K'atun 12 Ahaw
, or or October 2nd, 906. This building is the closest structure to the Pyramid of the Dwarf to the east and sits on a platform level with the median molding on the south building. There are five doorways to this structure leading into small double-chambered rooms (an outer room and an inner chamber.) The central door accesses a larger inner series of five smaller rooms.

All the moldings on this structure include repeating cylinders in their design, while the medial and upper moldings have three dimensional serpent heads at all four corners and also over the larger central door facing the courtyard. Just like in the southern building, this structure's friezes include Itz flowers that encompass the entire building indicating that this structure is also a "House of Magic." The lattice pattern is repeated here also and interrupting the pattern in the center and on the corners is a stack of three masks. Historically, these masks have been called Chaac masks because of their long hooked noses similar to known Chaac images from Chichén-Itzá and the Codz Pop, however here in Uxmal, Chaac was not known for his long nose and these stone representations lack some of the standard characteristics commonly associated with a true Chaac mask such as ear flares. Archeologists are putting forth the theory now that these masks represent the Great Bird Itzam-Ye or Mut-Itzamna that sat on top of the world tree, with the hooked nose actually representing the angled beak. The presence of the Great Bird God adds to the power of these structures as Itzam Nah or as a "House of Sorcery."

Over the outermost door pairs, and overlapping the latticework, is an interesting pattern of double headed serpents that form a "V" shape. An interesting interpretation of these designs comes from the modern Maya word for a stick basket called wood cribbing used to store and carry dried maize. The Yucatán people of today call this basket Kan Che or "Snake Wood."

In the upper portion of the Kan Che design there are mosaic masks with symbols representing crossed javelins behind them. These odd masks are composed of various symbols representing shells, jewels, spear thrower darts and feathers. An odd device covers the "nose" and a tongue emerges from the mouth hole. If the outer symbols are spear thrower symbols, then the center figure may be an "Arrow Shield" known to be used by the Maya.

The West Building:
The west building sits on the same platform level as the eastern building so that its middle molding aligns with the baseline of the key northern building. A long stairway runs along the length of the structure and empties out into the courtyard. It has seven doorways all leading into double interior rooms in the same fashion as the eastern building. When originally discovered in the 19th century, only two small portions of this building survived. A portion between doors number two and 3, and a slightly longer section over door number six. Archeologists over the years have taken what they know of the Maya, along with photographs and pictures from other sites and other explorers, and essentially pieced the buildings together like a large jigsaw puzzle, from the stone fragments near the structure. The small surviving sections gave them an indication of the completed design theme and gave them the "starting point" they needed to complete the restoration.

As with the other buildings, there are reminds of Itz flowers along the upper molding. The background of the upper portion of this building has more variety of design than the eastern and southern buildings. A latticework background supports flowers and square spiraling Muyal or "Cloud" scrolls marking this building as a community or cloud house. There are jaguar masks as well as two small man shaped figures between doors one and two and six and seven. The man shaped figures are both naked with short sticks penetrating their thighs and penises which was a Mayan form of bloodletting for sacrifice. They may have been captives prepared for sacrifice. Spanning the length of the building on the upper carvings is a representation of the feathered serpent Ku'kul'kán. The ends of the huge snake show a human head emerging from the mouth of the serpent. There are also three stacked masks over doors two and six which, as mentioned above, are the Itzam-Ye birds, and may also be represented in the form of a small man with a feathered cape, a loin cloth and a bird mask.

The North Building:
The north building sits on the highest platform in The Nunnery Quadrangle. There are eleven doorways facing the courtyard with one more doorway in either end to bring the total to thirteen doors, all leading to double roomed interior chambers. This building is the key to the entire structure evidenced by its high position, the presence of smaller sub-structures on either side of the staircase that leads up to it, and by the sheer number of symbols and religious carvings surrounding its upper layers. The background pattern is a collection of flower lattices and clouds scrolls. The cross hatch pattern is made of jagged lines so that each triangle that it form where it overlaps appears to produce a flower and it is believed to be a Nikte'il nah, or "Flower House", or may be called a Popal-Nah or "Mat House." Either way it is a community house where the city’s people met to discuss affairs of state and that it was also marked as a flower house that would have been used for council meetings and for public dancing at festivals. As seen in other buildings there are representations of wind-swept thatch houses with additional sculptures of double headed serpents. Under the front door pictured in these stone houses sits a small jaguar throne. Unlike most jaguar thrones these images are not double headed as two entwined tails are clearly visible.

Stone masks sit atop the houses that again are representations of Itzam-Ye, meaning the houses are Itzam-Nah. These Itzam-Nah masks have another mask over them with large ringed eyes that are read as ch'ok, or "Young Person" or "Sprout" which indicate this northern building was unique in that it was also a Lineage House. There are many other carvings imposed over the flower lattice. Naked bound captives with exposed genitals next to conquering warriors, Quetzal birds, and sacrifice images where prisoners had their penises pierced to offer blood, the most sacred Mayan offering, to their gods.

Astronomer Ian McGregor of the Royal Ontario Museum also points out that the face of The Nunnery Quadrangle at Uxmal contains 584 crosses in its decoration and that the planet Venus has a repeating cycle of exactly 584 days.

The Court:
In the center of the Nunnery courtyard stands the remains of a small building. It had walls on three sides and the open side faced towards the west building. This style of "C" shaped buildings was common throughout the Maya lowlands in the Terminal and late Post-Classic periods. It was likely added to the courtyard late in the life of Uxmal, perhaps even after it was abandoned as a main ceremonial site. Alberto Ruz discovered a Sacbé, or "White Road" leading from the center of the court to the arch in the southern structure. In the center court he found a ruined altar near a shattered jaguar carving and a large column shaft. This combination of column shaft, jaguar and an altar occurs in front of the House of the Governor which means it was built by the same king. The column represents the world tree or “Wakah-Kan.” The jaguar throne represents the Jaguar-Throne-Stone that was placed in the cosmic hearth (under the belt of Orion) in 3114 BC at the moment of the fourth creation. The Jaguar-Throne-Stone was the first stone placed in the Myth of Creation. The small northeast building that appears in the courtyard (on the right hand side of the stairs under the north building) also has a painted capstone similar to the one in the east building, that records a date of 4 Eb 5 Keh, or or August 9, 907 and records the dedication of this building by Chan-Chaac-K'ak nal-Ahaw about a year after the east building was dedicated.

The huge crests that are the hallmark of the Pigeons Quadrangle (and the corbelled archway in the center of the surviving building) are all that is left of this structure. It is located directly west of The Great Pyramid. Now in ruins that may never be completely reconstructed, what remains of this structure tell us it is similar in design to The Nunnery Quadrangle. In effect, four long rectangle buildings open at the corners, with numerous inner chambers and dwellings that marked it as a ceremonial center. Visible in this structure, and not in the Nunnery, are the large roof crests still visible today.

Regarded by many experts as the best example of Puuc architecture in existence, The Palace of the Governor stands on an artificial raised platform and is thought to be one of the last constructed building on the site (around 987AD.) The structure has a typical plain lower section and a richly carved upper. Amongst the depictions are serpents, lattices and masks and also a central seated god-like figure with a long feathered head-dress. The Governor's Palace is an excellent example of stone mosaic work probably created by hundreds of masons and sculptors.

Impressive in its size, it is one of the few buildings that have needed very little restoration from the condition in which it was found, having survived almost a thousand years since its creation. Overall, it spans almost 100 meters, and is made up of three sections. A long center section of almost 55 meters and two 15 meter "wings" connected by a Mayan corbelled arch that span almost seven meters each. These wings were originally separate from the main structure, but at some point in its life these openings were filled in and the joints were filled in and turned into the archways visible today.

Again reflecting the reverence the Maya had for the planet Venus, the front facade of this palace faces the favorable rise of the planet Venus that occurs at this location once every eight years.

The main structure appears to have been built on a huge hill with a wide stairway working its way up to the top. In fact, the structure sits atop a huge multi-layered man-made platform built to support the main structure. The lower platform measures 188 by 170 meters and is 1.25 meters high. Sitting on this platform is the second platform measuring 162 by 165 meters and standing 7.5 meters high. The highest and final part of the platform is 130 by 50 meters and rises an additional 6.3 meters high. A fourth and final platform measures 110 meters long by 22 meters wide and rises three meters more. The total height of the support platform is 18 meters high and was made with almost 500,000 tons of material, all of which had to be moved, cut and placed by hand.

There are seven doorways to the main central section of this structure; each wing has two doorways on the face and one on the outside ends, bringing the total number of doors to 13. All but two of the doors lead to twin roomed, vaulted chambers for a total of 20 chambers. At one point in the past there were additional chambers built into the wings that connect the main body to the outside additions. There is an interesting symmetrical pattern that is evident between the doorways themselves.

The center doorway is the key to the building. It is much larger on the inside than any of the other chambers, and directly above the centre door is a unique carving. The statue is of a king with a huge headdress of quetzal feathers sitting on a throne. Chaac masks and jaguar heads surround the image of this king that is likely King Chan-Chaac-K'ak nal-Ahaw (also known as Lord Chaac) the king credited with shaping most of the city of Uxmal that we see today.

The upper two-thirds (about four meters) of the structure is completely covered by a richly carved frieze which tells us the significance of the building. There are masks of the rain god Chaac on each of the four corners of the building as well as elsewhere in the decorations and even in some buried cornerstones. Design motifs here are similar to those located on the moldings found in The Nunnery Quadrangle. A latticework background supports flowers and square spiraling Muyal or "Cloud" scrolls marking this building as a community or cloud house. Cosmic serpents, the sun and rain gods all lend their images to the theme of this building as one for significant ceremonies.

This structure is a true feat of engineering. Imagine for a moment if you will, that this building is almost 100 meters (270 feet) long and 15 meters wide. The length of the frieze is then 230 meters long and about four meters high. In the total area that makes up the frieze of The Palace of the Governor, there are 230 Chaac masks, and roughly 300 square meters of stone latticework. Each Chaac mask is made up of 19 different blocks. The total blocks needed for just the Chaac masks were therefore 4,370. Add to this the 6,000 smaller blocks that made up the jagged background and the other portions of the frieze, and we can estimate that in all the frieze of the building would require over 10,000 blocks. There would be different "teams" of carvers, each working on a different section of the frieze or on a different design motif, all needing to be coordinated to fit together at the same time. All blocks carved from stone by hand, and all having to be within a certain tolerance. If each block was out even a centimeter, then by the time builders reached the far end of the building, that error would have been so magnified that the patterns would not match at all. What this tells us about the Maya, is that in a world just emerging from the Neolithic period of history; the Maya had a mass production system in place for the building of such structures. Likely different groups would be required to perform different functions. Some would cut the course stone in a quarry, others would transport the stone to those who roughed them into shape, and finally, the most skilled craftsman would perform the final carving to the exact dimensions needed to fit with the other teams to give the final product. All in an age with no calculators, no sophisticated measuring devices, and no metal tools. Another example of this almost obsessive use of the Chaac image can be found at the Codz Poop in Kabáh.

An inscription at The Ball Court in Uxmal seems to indicate that this structure was dedicated in the year 649 AD. There is an additional date elsewhere indicating to archeologists that in 901, the Maya added a huge coiled snake, intended to represent the serpent god Kukulkán, in the design of The Ball Court, likely a result of the Toltec influence later incorporated into most Mayan designs.

There are several accounts of the Aztecs and Maya playing the "games" at the time of the conquest. However, no one noted the rules of the game or the manner in which it was scored. No surviving pictures or carvings ever show that the ball was touched with the hands, so archeologists have deduced that the ball could not be caught or kicked. The ball itself was a little larger than a basketball and was made of solid rubber so was quite heavy, hence the need for protective padding. Players shown in the carvings are shown with a single knee-pad which may tell us they continually dropped on the same knee during play. Players were richly dressed and decorated during play to add to the social and religious significance of the game.

Evidence at other sites seems to show eleven players in addition to the captains, while other images show twelve. Figures are shown wearing the typical gear for the games. Knee pads and foot covers with sandals shown only on the left foot (and the same leg as the knee pad). Fringed padding protects their arms and each figure has a unique headdress and personal jewelry. Each figure wears a protective "U" shaped yoke-belt that was worn around the waist. This heavy belt (made of stone or heavy wood) and other gear protected the player from the dense rubber ball when they hit it using only their waist, forearms and thighs in order to hit it through the goal. Players are also shown holding stones carved into the effigies of animals showing the religious significance the ceremony held other than simply a "game."

Though the proportions of this Ball Court are much smaller than in other ceremonial centers such as Chichén-Itzá, the essential design is the same throughout the Yucatán. Courts are rectangular, with an angled bench that runs the longest length of the court. A vertical wall is positioned behind these benches and the court's two goals are positioned out of this vertical wall, up the longest sides.

The Popal Vuh named the ball used in these games "White Flint" as it said it was made of flint covered with powdered bone. A common modern myth is that it was the “Winner” of each game that was sacrificed. There is, in fact, no archeological evidence to support this theory and it is likely incorrect. The kneeling posture of the sacrificed victim shown in the carvings is a common show of submission and is more likely to be associated with the loser of the game rather than the victor.

The two ball court goals or "rings" are richly carved with glyphs and religious images. Any goal scored is actually passing the ball through a portal into the other world. In some cases human eyes peer out between the bodies of entwined serpents so that the rings are also "seeing" instruments used by the gods to view the games.

The court itself was intended to represent the act of creation. The Maya constructed the angled shape of the benches to represent the crack in the top of Creation Mountain. The Popal Vuh shows us the Mayan word "hom" or crevice is also the word for Ball Court. As a symbolic crevice in the surface of the earth, playing the game granted access into the “Other World” where the Mayan ancestors and gods lived. The Maya played the game to re-enact the moment when the third creation ended and the fourth (the one we live in today) began. The entire motifs of the structures that make up a Mayan Ball Court are all related to the moment of this fourth creation. Most key cities in Mesoamerica had a Ball Court as part of their ceremonial center.

Originally nine levels high, The Great Pyramid has been partially restored. It seems that another temple was to be superimposed on the existing structure and some demolition had taken place before the plans were halted, leaving the pyramid in bad condition. However, you can still see Puuc style stonework on the façade. The Great Pyramid was used as the center of many ceremonies by the occupants of Uxmal.

Located in the southern portion of the city, it is located in an area that seems to mimic the main religious center surrounding The Pyramid of the Dwarf. As in the main Nunnery Quadrangle, there is a pyramid in proximity to a four part quadrangle, in this case, The Pigeon Quadrangle. And, as can be found at the top of The Dwarf's Pyramid, The Great Pyramid also has a huge Chaac mask in the upper temple.

Located just north of The Palace of the Governor, and on the same raised platform, the house of the turtles is a small, simple structure with a unique feature, so called because of a frieze of turtles carved around the cornice. It was believed that turtles suffered with man at times of drought and would also pray to Chaac for rain. The upper frieze has a ring of stone turtles the surround the entire building, as turtles had a significant role in Mayan mythology and in the Mayan Myth of Creation. Turtles held special significance in Mayan mythology.

In the Mayan Myth of Creation, the paddlers’ gods transported the Maize Gods in a huge canoe that corresponded to the Milky Way until they arrived at the place of creation that we know as the belt of the constellation Orion. The Maya saw Orion's belt as a huge cosmic turtle. The god Chaac cracked open the back of the cosmic turtle with a lightning stone. Watered and nurtured by the Hero Twins, the Maize Gods grew from the crack in the back of the turtle, which is now represented by the Ball Court all across the Yucatán. This structure is a representation and homage to the great cosmic turtle.

Follow the signs to more areas of interest outside the central section; the beautiful, but sadly ruined House of the Doves, the House of the Old Woman (the adoptive mother of the dwarf in the legend of The Pyramid of the Magician), the Temple of the Phalli, the Dovecote, a building with many separate chambers and the Cemetery Group.

In "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatán" John Stevens recounts stories of the human sacrifices performed at the highest temple of The Pyramid of the Magician. With the victim still alive, the priest would rip out the heart with a flint knife, and throw the body (allegedly still moving) down the steep steps.

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Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, Pyramid of The Magician 4 - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405

The Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal

Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, Nunnery Quadrangle 1 - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405
The Nunnery Quadrangle at Uxmal
Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, Arch at The Nunnery Quadrangle - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405
Arch at The Nunnery Quadrangle at Uxmal
Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, Ball Court, Ring  - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405
The Ball Court's Ring at Uxmal
Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, Great Pyramide - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405
The Great Pyramid at Uxmal
Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, House of the Turtles 1 - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405
The House of The Turtles at Uxmal
Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, Governor's Palace 2 - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405
The Governor's Palace at Uxmal
Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, Pigeon's Quadrangle - Photo by Uxmal
The Pigeon's Quadrangle at Uxmal
Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, Nunnery Quadrangle, Aerial view 1 - Photo by Uxmal
Aerial view of The Nunnery Quadrangle at Uxmal
Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, Nunnery Quadrangle, East Building - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405
East Building of The Nunnery Quadrangle at Uxmal
Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, Nunnery Quadrangle, South Building - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405
South Building of The Nunnery Quadrangle at Uxmal
Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, Nunnery Quadrangle 1 - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405
North Building of The Nunnery Quadrangle at Uxmal
Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, Nunnery Quadrangle, West Building - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405
West Building of The Nunnery Quadrangle at Uxmal
Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, Pyramid of The Magician 3 - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405
The Pyramid of The Magician at Uxmal
Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, Phallic Symbol - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405
Phallic Symbol at Uxmal
Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, Nunnery Quadrangle, Stone Chair - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405
Stone Chair at The Nunnery Quadrangle at Uxmal
Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, Grounds 1 - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405
Grounds at Uxmal
Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, Governor's Palace - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405
The Governor's Palace at Uxmal
Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, Pigeon's Quadrangle - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405
The Pigeon's Quadrangle at Uxmal
Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, House of the Turtles - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405
The House of The Turtles at Uxmal
Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, Pyramid of The Magician 4 - Photo by German Murillo-Echavarria 0405
The Pyramid of The Magician at Uxmal
Yucatan, Uxmal, Archeological zone, Light and Sound Show - Photo by Uxmal
Light and Sound Show at Uxmal