What’s Uxmal?

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Uxmal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Mexico, built by the Maya around 500 AD. It was a major center of power and ruled over a large territory with Chichen Itza. The Xiu family ruled Uxmal for most of its history. The Pyramid of the Magician is the most famous site, and other structures include the Great Pyramid, Nuns Quadrilateral, and Governor’s Palace. Uxmal is accessible by bus or taxi and offers a light and sound show at night.

Uxmal is a large ruined city in the Yucatan region of Mexico. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1996. Uxmal was a city built and inhabited by pre-Columbian Maya.

The city appears to have been founded around the year 500 by the Hun ruler Uitzil Chac Tutul Xiu. Uxmal was allied for some time with the great and powerful city of Chichen Itza, and together they ruled over a large swath of territory within the Maya civilization. Most of the construction took place between the 8th and 12th centuries, towards the end of the Maya period.

The specific history of Uxmal is not fully known, as not much excavation and scholarly research has been conducted on the site. It is thought to have had a population of around 25,000 at its peak, and its occupation appears to have continued into the Spanish period. A single family, the Xiu, ruled Uxmal for most of its history, dominating the Mayan political landscape.

Uxmal was a major center of power in the Maya world, and with its allies at Chichen Itza they were one of the largest kingdoms in the region. At their best, they ruled over all the northern lands. When Chichen Itza fell in the early 13th century, Uxmal also seems to have declined in power, with no new construction taking place and the population apparently declining slightly.

However, it appears that unlike most other Mayan sites, Uxmal was never completely abandoned. When the Spanish arrived in the region in the 16th century, the Xiu were still in power, and indeed joined the Spanish in subduing the Yucatan. Following Spanish contact, however, the site was eventually abandoned and the ruling dynasty appears to have disappeared.

Uxmal is highly respected as one of the most impressive Mayan sites. While not as large as many other sites, such as Palenque, the skill of its craftsmanship has resulted in beautifully preserved buildings that offer much for visitors. The site today appears largely the same as it would have during the height of the Mayan occupation, offering a unique glimpse into life centuries ago in the heart of the Yucatan.

The Pyramid of the Magician is probably the most famous site in Uxmal. This step pyramid is quite unique in its use of roughly oval shaped steps, rather than the normal rectangular steps. The pyramid was also built slightly offset from an older pyramid, allowing parts of the older pyramid to still peek over the west side.
Other sites in Uxmal include: the Great Pyramid, a classic example of a Mayan step pyramid; the Nuns Quadrilateral, which features intricate carvings both inside and out; a traditional ball court, built for the ritualistic Mesoamerican ball game; the Governor’s Palace; the House of Birds; the House of the Turtles; and the House of Doves.

Uxmal is about 50 miles from Merida and can be reached by bus or taxi. The site is accessible on foot and there is a small museum at the entrance to get some information on the various structures present. Like Chichen Itza, Uxmal also offers a light and sound show once the sun goes down, which offers a fascinating and unique view of the ruins.

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