The Ancient Maya City of Uxmal

In Cancún, Culture, Play, Play, Playa del Carmen & Tulum by Belen Molina

Forty eight miles south of Merida, the capital city of the state of Yucatán, is the ancient Maya city of Uxmal. Considered one of the most magnificent pre-Columbian ruins in all of Mexico, and the ultimate symbol of late Maya architecture, Uxmal was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Uxmal, which means “three times built,” referring to the city’s antiquity and the times it had to be rebuilt, was the capital of the Late Classic Maya state around 850-925 AD, and was home to approximately 25,000 inhabitants.

For the people of Uxmal, agriculture and trade were the basis of their civilization, along with other important activities such as astronomy, architecture, art, and spirituality. The main buildings in the city of Uxmal are the Pyramid of Soothsayer, the great esplanade –known as the Quadrangle of the Nuns, and the House of Doves. The location of these buildings reveals a great knowledge of astronomy, and their decoration, a profound adoration of Chac, the rain God. The ancient inhabitant’s devotion to this god can be explained by the lack of a natural water source for the city. With no rivers, lakes, or cenotes nearby, “the inhabitants were forced to collect rainwater in cisterns dug in the ground.

For those adventure-seeking travelers who are particularly interested in learning more about the ancient Mayan civilization, Uxmal is the perfect starting point along the famous Puuc route –a trip that extends over Southwestern Yucatán and that includes the Maya settlements of Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil, Oxkintok, Chacmultun, and Labna.

The ancient city of Uxmal, along with all the other Maya sites in the region, share a unique architectural style known as Puuc architecture. Puuc architecture is characterized by the division of their façades into two horizontal elements. The lower part, which is composed of block and doorways, is austere; meanwhile, the upper part is richly decorated with stone mosaics. Many Puuc buildings are decorated with masks of Chac, the rain god, as well as hieroglyphics and other symbolic motifs.



Travel Tip: If you are staying in Cancun or in the Playa del Carmen/Tulum area, check with your hotel concierge or local travel agency for tour packages to Uxmal. Most of these packages include transportation and a guide. If you are interested in doing the Puuc route, we recommend that you rent a car and be prepared to spend the night in Mérida.

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