Uxmal – Merida

The next day we decided to go to Uxmal, another Maya ruin close to Yucatan’s capital Merida. It has slightly less visitors and the little guide book we bought describes it as the most beautiful ruin city in Yucatan. The little book did like to use a lot of superlatives. To quote “It possesses some of the best examples of Classic architecture. […] A few of these monuments have been skilfully reconstructed by expert archaeologists to […] how they looked in their day of glory.” It did however contain a lot of useful information about the ruins itself and their history and was a great buy. Unfortunately it hasn’t been reworked in a while, so it ended up being quite a teaser, describing in exhaustive detail the amazing things to be observed inside the pyramid of the Magician, which is no longer accessible to tourists. The pyramid of the Magician remains an interesting building as it is the only pyramid with rounded corners.

The next stop was the nunnery. Mayan nunneries are like khmer liberaries: Nobody knows what the use of the buildings were and they just picked a word and stuck with it. Therefore any Mayan building with a larger number of rooms is called a nunnery. In this particular case there were four such buildings arranged around a square with absolutely stupendous and well preserved decorations on every front.

The little booklet helped us understand that while these buildings are typical Puuc style, some foreign elements were introduced later. The decorations included the traditional references to the rain god with it’s elephant-nose, geometric decorations and some minor figurines. Later on, after the cult of the feathered serpent reached also Uxmal, some things were added to the Puuc decorations, like a big serpent or, apparently the “sexual features” on some of the figures which are not Maya.

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The book went also into details on how to separate the two different Maya building styles present in Uxmal: Chenes and Puuc, but to be perfectly honest we were not quite able to make out the difference. The only ‘pure’ Chenes building we saw in Uxmal was the entrance door on top of the Pyramid of the magician. Maybe some of it wa also lost in translation.. The Puuc style completely covered the building in decorations while the Chenes style adorned the building in decorations entirely.. We weren’t quite sure where the difference is. In either case oth were very pretty and often they were mixed in the same building, which didn’t facilitate the differentiation.

From the nunnery we walked out to see the standard buildings that seem to exist in almost every Mayan ruin: The mandatory ball court, the second pyramid, the emperor’s palace and what was announced as a second nunnery but really turned out to be just a single wall left standing.. There was supposedly a second wall on the opposite side. But we couldn’t figure out which direction it was supposed to be in. I suppose there wasn’t much left of it.

We happened to be in Merida at the right time to watch a game of Pok-ta-pok in the city center. It’s on every Friday evening if you want to see it too. It was nice to get an idea of how the game would usually be played, even though I suspect that the life or death games the Mayas used to (probably) play had people that were a bit more accustomed to playing the game. Because the game wasn’t fascinating enough, they decided to light the ball on fire after a while. But, to even things out, you were then allowed to touch it with your hands.. As if you would want to!

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