Mexico / Classic Mexico / Yucatán
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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Uxmal, Merida & Chichén Itzá

The Yucatan peninsula impresses visitors with turquoise beaches along the Caribbean coast, but not less with fascinating cultural treasures.

Uxmal breathes the history of the Mayan Late Classic Period.  The Puuc architecture prevails here and has resulted in one of the most beautiful and interesting ruined towns in the world. The significance of Uxmal had already been grasped by Catherwood, who left us much valuable information in his drawings of 1841. Uxmal means “the town built three times.” The meaning of many buildings, which were erected between about 600 and 950 AD, has not yet been completely unraveled. As in other places, the ruins date from different building phases and impress the visitors with beautifully decorated façades, huge terraces and squares, columns and archways. What researchers know for certain, however, is that Chac – the Mayan rain god – was worshipped as the ruler of the settlement. But there are also distinct signs of Central Mexican influence. The technique of mosaic ornamentation, the use of columnar architecture, and the presence of the feathered snake, called Kukulkán in the Mayan language, are indicative of intense contacts with the civilizations to the north.

The colonial capital of Yucatan – Mérida – was founded by Spanish Francisco de Montejo near the Mayan settlement of T’Ho in 1542. Mérida has continued to be an economic and cultural center of Yucatan up to our times. The oldest buildings of the town are architectural witnesses of the economic upswing, which was at first based on the exploitation of the rural population and the exportation of sisal to Europe. Apart from the huge cathedral, which was finished in 1598 and is the largest church in Yucatan, the episcopal see and the Palacio Municipal are worth mentioning, as is the Casa de Montejo with its figures decorating the doorways – the premises where the founder of the town once lived. Mérida captivates the visitor with its colonial charm, narrow streets and romantic horse-drawn cabs. The influence of Spain and France is noticed everywhere in the town. The Champs-Elysees, for instance, was the model of the Paseo de Montejo boulevard.

And now Chichén Itzá – the freshly chosen wonder of the world. The Mayan civilization, also influenced and advanced by the Toltecs from Central Mexico, is expressed in its full splendor in Chichén-Itzá. These ruins alone would merit a visit of several days. Of the many buildings buried in the ground or overgrown by the rain forest, nearly 30 have by now been uncovered and restored. The earliest ones date from the heyday of the Classic Period around 600 AD, but most of them were erected and enlarged by the Toltecs.

In our mind, we see a procession passing in festive decoration. Ribbons in many colors flutter before the gentle wind, regular drumbeats resound high up to the top of the temple, where the high priest, overlooking the scene, is about to begin his ceremony – for Chac Mool, the rain god.

El Castillo, the most impressive building with a height of 30 m (98 ft.), affords a magnificent view far beyond the town and to the horizon. We continue to the largest ball court in Yucatan. Afterwards we take a tree-shaded path to saunter to the sacrificial well – and wonder how all the treasures of jade, copper and gold could have rested in the depth undiscovered for centuries. “El Caracol” reminds us of a snail house; explorer Frederick Catherwood discovered and drew this building as early as 1842. The Maya used the observatory, among other, to observe Venus and its orbit. They believed that Venus was passing the realm of the underworld when it had disappeared from the sky in the evening and that it might come into contact with the evil of the underworld, while invisible. For this reason, the Maya always feared that one day, the morning star would fail to rise again.