Ancient Capital of the Western Yucatan

[history] [site description] [location & directions]

The Pyramid of the Magician, Uxmal

photo: Raymond Ostertag

Click here to see a six minute video "Images of Uxmal"


The origns of Uxmal ("thrice built" in Mayan) are uncertain, but apparently the city was founded around 500 AD, though traces of settlement in the Pre Classic (prior to 250AD) have been found on the site. According to legend, the city's founded was King Hun Uitzil Chac Tutul Xiu and, ever after, Uxmal remained the dynastic seat of the Xiu family. More certain, thanks to dates on stelae found at the site, the city rose to preeminence in the Late and Terminal Classic periods, between 800AD and 1000AD.

At its height, the city held sway over a wide region of the western Yucatan, its power reinforced and maintained through an alliance with Chichen-Itza about 100 miles east-northeast.

The city began its decline with the overthrow of Chichen-Itza and the rising power of Mayapan. In the 13th century, Uxmal was itself finally abandoned and the capital was moved to Mani some 40 miles to the west.

Uxmal was twice visited by John Lloyd Stevens in the 1840's who with artist Frederick Catherwood waslargely responsible for bringing the site to the attention of the outside world.


Site Description

Uxmal's most impressive buildings have been cleared and restored, more perhaps for the benefit of tourism than science. In any case, the site is very manageable: simple to get to and easy to get around.

The central group of buildings is organized around a plaza with a ball court in the center. On the north side of the plaza there is a structure known as El Adivino 600 feet or so from the site entrance. This building is also variously known as the Temple or House of the Magician or Soothsayer or Dwarf. The structure went through a series of construction phases beginning around 800 AD and ending between 950 and 1000, rising finally to a height of 100 feet.

Nunnery Complex at Uxmal, Mexico

The next building to the west, also overlooking the plaza and ball court, is the Nunnery or Nunnery Quadrangle. This is actually a collection of structures grouped around a central courtyard. In one of these building, archeologists discovered an inscription with dates the building's construction to the reign of Lord Chac, a prominent early 10 century king who appears to have been responsible for the construction of some of the most important buildings at Uxmal.

Many of the facades in the group are highly decorated, with some motifs from central Mexico (such as a feathered serpent) which show the influence of Toltecs who arrived in the area around 900AD.

Beyond the Nunnery, about 300 feet to the west is the Platform of the Stelae, where archeologist discovered the Mayan historical records carved into stone stela which provided the information needed to accurately date the site.

On the west side of the plaza is the Cemetary Group. The buildings in this group, arranged around a small temple, are in relatively poor shape.

Casa del Gobernador

source: Régis Lachaume

Along the south of the central plaza and opposite the Nunnery Quadrangle lies the magnificent Casa del Gobernador, or Governor's House. This long narrow rectangular structure rests atop the largest platform ever discovered in Mesoamerica. The building is faced with smooth stone blocks on all sides, with a wide and highly decorated cornice or freize around the entire perimeter.

This same group of buildings includes the Great Pyramid, striking but less impressive than the Pyramid of the Magician, the House of the Doves and the South Temple.

On the outlying perimeter is the North Group of Buildings, the House of the Old Woman to the southeast, and the Temple of the Phalli to the south.

Puuc style frieze, Casa del Gobernador, Uxmal

The architecture of Uxmal shows the predominant influence of the Puuc stlye which featured walls with a cement core faced with smooth stones, corbelled arches and elaborate friezes.

The Puuc style was common throughout this region of the Yucatan though we also see the later influence of the Toltecs from Central Mexico who invaded the Yucatan at the end of the 11th century.    (photo: Tato Grasso)



Uxmal is located in the northwest quadrant of the Yucatan peninsula, 50 miles (80km) south of Merida.



From Merida, take Highway 261 (Muna-Uxmal) south through the town of Lazaro Cardenas. The site lies just a few miles beyond the town.

From Cancun Follow toll highway 180 across the peninsula into Merida where it becomes the Merida-Campeche highway. Outside of the city, the road intersects Highway 261 (Muna-Uxmal). Follow the directions above.

From Campeche Take highway 180 (Campeche-Merida) to the intersection with Highway 261. Follow the directions above.


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