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Monday, January 05, 2015

Museum Review: Uxmal Archaeological Zone, Yucatan Mexico

The Ruins at Uxmal: The so-called "Governor's Palace" is one of the finest examples of large-scale Puuc Hills Mayan architecture.

Museum Review:
Uxmal Archaeological Zone, Yucatan Mexico

        I am a huge fan of ancient civilizations- not in a crazy, ufo, alien kind of way, but just in the things we can learn from their rise and fall.  The more the merrier is what I say and if I have a legitimate shot to go and see those places I'm going to take it. Uxmal is probably the number two Mayan site, behind Chichen Itza. Both sites benefit from being accessible by modern transportation and fairly near standard tourist destinations (Cancun, Tulum and Merida.)  The so called Classic Maya period happened further south, mostly in Guatemala  and Belize and those sites are less served by the modern travel-industrial complex.
The "Temple of the Magician/Soothsayer" is the second of the well known structures in the Uxmal archaeological zone.  You can't climb this one.

           Chichen Itza is generally regarded to be more sophisticated, though with an obvious central Mexican influence.  Uxmal represents an extension of the purer Mayan "Puuc" style, and seemingly represents a continuance of the Classic period groups into the 10th century. Uxmal is very much a developed, modern tourist attraction, with a hefty-ish admission fee, and bus loads of tourists being brought to the entrance.  After a hellish, unshaded wait in a line that took us the better part of an hour and can obviously take longer at busier times, the actual park was relatively uncrowded.
The Nunnery/Quadrangle is the third of the major attractions at the Uxmal archaeological zone.

          The major sites at Uxmal are "The Nunnery"/Quadrangle, the pyramid of the soothsayer/magician, the governor's palace, a secondary temple, and a ball court.  They are in a well preserved, shaded landscape.  Compared to the rough undergrowth that permeates the countryside for a hundred miles in all directions, the Uxmal park is a comparative garden of Eden.  It is also waaaaayyyy out in the middle of nowhere. Uxmal is about an hour and a half from the cruise-ship port of Progreso and an hour from Merida.  Merida is the standard point of departure for a visit to Uxmal, it is about an hour south of the city on decently maintained but largely empty roads.  We visited from our hotel- the Hacienda Santa Rosa, a Starwood Luxury Collection resort that is midway between Merida and Campeche.

       If you are going, I would very much recommend driving yourself vs taking one of the hellish looking giant tour buses. The crowd there over New Years was very much a mix of Mexican and American/Europeans- almost no "Asian" tourists- whether Chinese, Japanese or Korean.  Americans seemed to predominate among the non-Mexican tourists.  You have to buy not one but two tickets for entrance- one from the local state and one from the feds- the ticket booths are next to one another- one person working each booth.  It almost boggles the mind that the government would only have one ticket taker working, but it does manage the flow into the park quite nicely so that there is no rush of people in or out.

  The story of Mayan architecture is the gradual usurpation of native Mayan techniques with a fusion architecture that integrated later Central Mexican influences picked up as the Mayans migrated north after the Classic period disruption.  Thus, Uxmal is a late example of the "Classic" style, and the standard cluster of ruins doesn't feature any Toltec influence.  Despite the lines and tour buses, Uxmal is a must for anyone visiting Merida or Campeche.

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