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Uxmal - Ruin Merida - Mexico

Maya legend tells of a dwarf in the ancient city of Uxmal, who claimed to have magical powers. Uxmal’s ruler, confident that the dwarf was a fraud, made a foolish wager that if the dwarf could construct a pyramid overnight he could take over rule of the city. By the next morning, the ambitious dwarf had created the great Pyramid of the Magician, and became ruler of Uxmal.

The Pyramid of the Magician, with its distinctive rounded corners and unique and controversial elliptical base (drawing the accuracy of its reconstruction into question) possesses an organic quality, as though it naturally sprang from the earth. There is no other structure with its shape or design in all of Mesoamerica. Also known as Adivino, its near-vertical stairway, the steepest on any Mesoamerican structure, rises sharply, 37 meters above the ground. At the summit, the waiting mouth of a serpent is open and ready to swallow any who dare enter the temple.

The stonework at Uxmal is grand in scale and exceptionally ornate in design. Its architects and stonemasons, working in what today is known as the Puuc style (named for the region in which Uxmal is located), achieved a height of artistry unrivaled anywhere else in Mesoamerica. John Lloyd Stevens, the American explorer who visited the ruins in the 1840s, likened its scale and grandeur to Egypt’s Thebes, but lamented that Uxmal sadly languished in obscurity.

Besides Adivino, two other structures at Uxmal are considered among the most significant in Maya architecture: the Governor’s Palace and the Nunnery Quadrangle. The Governor’s Palace, renowned for its symmetry and ornamentation, is a massive rectangular structure that covers five acres. The Nunnery Quadrangle, jaw-dropping in the intricacy and complexity of its stonework, consists of four buildings surrounding a vast plaza in the shadow of the Pyramid of the Magician.

It remains a mystery why the ancient Maya would have selected such a location for this grand and important city, which was at its height from the seventh to tenth centuries. The Maya typically settled near cenotes, natural sinkholes that pepper most of the Yucatán terrain and that, even today, serve them well, given the absence of surface rivers. Oddly, Uxmal has no nearby cenotes. Its architects solved their water problem by constructing large underground cisterns to catch rain water. Their worst enemy was drought.

Uxmal is a pleasant one-hour drive into the Puuc hills from Yucatán’s capital city of Mérida, and a visit to the ruins makes an easy half-day excursion from the city. The entrance to the ruins has an excellent visitor center with a good restaurant, gift shop and bookstore A pleasant aspect of Uxmal is that it draws fewer visitors than the more famous site of Chichén Itzá, but certainly not because it is less remarkable; the difference simply lies in Uxmal’s unwieldy distance from the mega-resorts of Cancún and Playa del Carmen.


At night, there is an impressive sound and light show at the ruins. Open daily 8:00 to 6:00.


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