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The Puuc Route

The Puuc Route is located in the southwestern part of the Yucatán below Mérida. It consists of a number of ruins: Kabah, Sayil, Labná and the famous Uxmal. The Puuc style is recognizable by its sophisticated architecture made up of clean lines, rounded walls, ornate stone frescoes with intricate patterns, rows of columns and high vaulted arches. Many of the buildings are flat, low elongated built on artificial platforms and laid out in quadrangles. They are perhaps the most elegant ruins in the Maya world. 

Uxmal (thrice built) is the largest ruin. As one of the largest Maya cities, Uxmal was an important economic and political power in ancient Mesoamerica. Its most important period was during the Classic Period (AD 200 – 900) when many of its structures were completed or renovated. Although one of the most important Maya cities in the area, most of the site is un-restored but there are three main buildings that should not be missed. Píramide del Adivino o Enano (Pyramid of the Magician or Dwarf) is an unusual Mayan pyramid because of its distinct rounded corners and elliptical shape. It is also the tallest building: 38 meters high with a central staircase that has a steep 60° angle making it a challenge to climb. At the summit are a series of small temples; Temple Four has a giant mask of the water god Chaac with his mouth open against the backdrop of the majestic Puuc Hills. According to legend, a dwarf magician built the pyramid in one night. 

La Monjas (the Nunnery) received its name from the Spanish conquistadors who thought this series of buildings resembled a convent. Archaeologists have determined it was actually the living quarters of Uxmal’s king, Chaan Chak, whose name means “abundance of rain”. His carved figure on Stela No 14 can be seen in the museum located at the entrance. The Nunnery is made up of four main buildings in a square formation with an inner courtyard. Each buildings has a series of small chambers divided by carved columns and are interconnected by passageways looking out onto the private courtyard. The nunnery is the most representative of the Puuc architectural style with smooth lower walls in contrast to the limestone facades carved into elaborate geometric designs.

The Palacio del Gobernador (Governor’s Palace) covers 5 acres and rises over an immense acropolis. It is thought to have been the administrative center for Uxmal and is the only building facing east. There are 11 entrances and three arrow shaped arches create a series of passageways and chambers. Arrow-shaped arches add to the elegance of the building. The whole palace is 12 meters across and eight meters high resting on a platform base 320 feet long. The lower walls are typically smooth but the upper section is one long continuous mosaic of ornate carvings, geometric patterns and Chaac masks in a façade using over 20,000 individually cut and carved stones. Many considered it one of the most magnificent building erected in the Americas on par with the cathedral of Cologne and the great pyramids of Egypt. 

Other highlights at Uxmal include the Casa de las Tortugas (House of the Turtles), Casa de las Palomars (House of the Pigeons) and the Juego de Pelota (Ballcourt). At night there is a Light and Sound show that explains the various legends and history of Uxmal. The Puuc route begins on highway 261, 2 hours drive south of Mérida, four hours west of Cancun. The ruins are open daily 8 AM – 5 PM. Admission: $5 for entrance to ruins and museum, sound and light show $5, use of video cameras $8. Free Sundays and holidays. 

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