For many centuries before the Spanish conquest, the Mayans dominated the southern region of modern day Mexico. In particular, the Yucatan Peninsula was a vast network of connected cities and towns that today tell a fascinating tale of a Mayan civilization that rose to great prominence, that fell into decline and was subdued by foreign invaders, and that today is a vibrant culture in transition vividly blending both old and new.
One of these great vestiges, and certainly one of the most attractive because of its very particular architectural style, is the ancient city of Uxmal, located some 50 miles south of the charming colonial city of Merida, capital of the state of Yucatan. Founded somewhere around 700 A.D., archaeological investigations and radiocarbon dating suggest that the main structures in the complex, including a series of hydraulic works, such as reservoirs for storing rainwater (called “chultunoob” in Maya), were built between the 8th and 10th century A.D.
During these very few centuries Uxmal grew from a peasant town into a political and administrative center with up to 20,000 estimated inhabitants. Conflict with other centers was the probable cause for Uxmal’s decline and the city was abandoned sometime after the 10th century A.D., becoming only a place of pilgrimage until the arrival of the Spanish.
Visitors can admire the unique “Puuc” architectural style, differing significantly from other styles evident in cities like Chichen Itza and Tulum, and which is characterized by monumental buildings, stone veneers on walls and vaults, geometric designs, columns within doorway frames, lattice ornaments and Chaac (the Mayan god of rain) masks.
The most visibly important of this building style is the division of the facades of buildings into two horizontal elements. The lower sections of the buildings are plain, have rounded corners, and are composed of carefully dressed blocks broken only by doorways. Upper sections are highly decorated with ornate carvings that include serpents, lattice work, and pillars.
Uxmal forms part of the Puuc region, an area of almost 3,000 square miles that includes other important Mayan ruins like the ancient cities of Kabah, Sayil, Oxkintok, Chacmultun and Labna. A visit to this region then will be an unforgettable experience for anyone who loves to discover and explore the rich history of our indigenous ancestors, one that definitely requires some time with which to appreciate the many opportunities that are available here on the Yucatan Peninsula.