Astronomy and religion were important to the ancient Mayans, and that shows in the arrangement of Uxmal. At the top of the Pyramid of the Soothsayer sits a temple dedicated to the rain god Chac. One of the doorways of the temple is even designed to look like Chac’s face. Even though Mayans began building the pyramid in the 6th century and added to it until nearly the time when they abandoned Uxmal, legend has it that a dwarf, who was also a magician, magically erected the pyramid in a single night. Because of the legend, the pyramid also has the name House of the Dwarf.
The rest of the buildings in the central area were placed based on the astronomical knowledge and phenomenons that were meaningful to the Mayans. For example, the Governor’s Palace, near the pyramid, appears to be set up in alignment with the rising and setting of Venus. It’s surprising to some people in our current time to realize just how much knowledge and understanding the Mayans had of astronomy.
Another structure in Uxmal has a name that has nothing to do with its use during the Mayan times. It’s a set of four buildings, containing a total of about 74 rooms, built in a quadrangle shape. Originally, it was most likely intended as a palace for the town’s ruler, or a place where the town’s government met and perhaps lived. But when the Spanish conquered the region and discovered Uxmal, they named the palace the Nunnery Quadrangle.
In addition to the buildings, which include temples in addition to the one at the top of the Pyramid of the Soothsayer, Uxmal has a ball court similar to what we saw at Chichen Itza. Apparently that ball game was very important to the Mayans.
Seeing the entirety of Uxmal can take a large part of the day if you want to look at all of the buildings. In addition to the structures mentioned above, Uxmal includes several smaller temples. There is also a building called the House of Turtles, which is named for its stone frieze depicting turtles, just past the Governor’s Palace, and a number of monuments, as well as a large open area that might have been an arena.
Uxmal is established as a historical park, and it has some things designed for modern visitors in addition to the ancient buildings and other things the Mayans included in the town. There’s a museum, an auditorium, and a cafeteria, as well as souvenir shops and local vendors. At night, Uxmal hosts a light show. We didn’t stay to see that.
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