Temple of the Phallus (and other sights at Uxmal, Yucatan)

Contrary to what I write below, I was able to persuade the guide to take me to the Temple of the Phallus in the archeological zone of Uxmal about one hour south of Merida, Yucatan. Guiders (and guidebooks) say that it´s impossible to visit the temple. I told Demetrio, my guide, that I had been to the principal sites and didn´t need to revisit them. So he tested me by first taking me to the accessible but off the beaten track Temple of the Old Woman, which included plowing behind it through headhigh blooming chamomile bushes and drawing my own blood (and not crying) on some thorny vine.

I guess I must have passed the test because, without saying a word, he was soon hacking a path with his machete through dense, intense bushes. After about a 20 minute trudge uphill through an insect-filled  forest we reached the site. Jutting from the side of the building was the one remaining penis waterspout on the roof…when the rain would flow through it and fall onto the ground, the earth was fertilized.

Yep, too cool!

Here’s a sneak peek at what will be published at VivaTravel Guides.com about the majestic Mayan ruined city of Uxmal (pronounced Oosh-Mall).


The Archeological site of Uxmal, Yucatan, Mexico

While not as well known as Chichén Itzá, the Mayan archeological site of Uxmal was named a World Heritage Site in 1996 because it represented “…the pinnacle of late Mayan art and architecture.” Uxmal enchants the visitor with graceful, refined pyramids, temples, and palaces and a dramatic location in the Puuc Hills south of Mérida.

Uxmal means “‘built three times” in the Mayan language, but it took the Maya many centuries to design and construct this harmonious city. From Uxmal came the Puuc Style of Mayan architecture. It is highly ornamental, featuring exterior surfaces coated with fabulous, intricately patterned mosaics, each fashioned from thousands of precisely cut stones.

Whether as a day trip from Mérida or part of a longer stay in southern Yucatán state, the splendor of Uxmal is not to be missed.

The founding of Uxmal has been attributed to Hun Uitzil Chac Tutul Xiu in 500 AD, although the area may have been inhabited as early as 800 BC. Major construction dates from 600 to 1000 AD. While almost all Mayan cities were built on cenotes, the watering holes that are Yucatán’s main source of water, Uxmal is unusual because it is not. It relied on countless cisterns to capture rainwater, evidence of highly evolved engineering. The city was the powerful capital of western Yucatán from 850-950, dominating the region in an alliance with Chichén Itzá. A series of kings from the Xiu family ruled over a city of 25,000, with thousands more living in Uxmal’s vassal territory including a Gulf Coast port on the island of Uaymil. Stone roads connected the empire like the one leading from Uxmal to Kabah, 18 km (11 miles) long. Around 1200 the Xiu moved its capital to Maní and construction at Uxmal ceased. The Maya continued to live in Uxmal as late as 1550 when the site was abandoned and became part of a Spanish hacienda.

First noted in European annals in 1588 by Antonio de Ciudad Real, Uxmal has attracted serious archeologists since the intrepid John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood chronicled its many beauties in the 1840s. A who’s who of archeologists have examined, documented and reconstructed Uxmal beginning with Sylvanus Morley in 1909.

Pyramid of the Magician (Pirámide del Adivino) The most famous structure at Uxmal is the Pirámide del Adivino, variously translated as the pyramid of the magician, soothsayer or sorcerer. A beloved and oft-told Mayan legend relates that the adevino had to construct the pyramid in only one night, or face execution by Uxmal’s king. But this was no ordinary magician, but a dwarf who was hatched from an egg and raised by a witch, reaching adulthood in only one day! The magician did build the pyramid and became king.

The Pyramid of the Magician towers over Uxmal, with steep sides rising 35 m (115 ft). Visitors familiar with square, stepped Mayan pyramids may be surprised to find that that this one features an oval base and rounded sides, which slope at a steep angle. The pyramid looks like one structure but is actually five separate pyramids, built one on top of the other. A massive Chenes-style snake’s mouth doorway pierces the building near the top, which is surmounted by an ornate temple.

During the summer solstice, the western staircase aligns with the setting sun. Unfortunately, visitors may no longer climb the 150 steps to the top to witness this spellbinding event.

Governor’s Palace (Palacio del Gobernador) The Governor’s Palace is majestic, a dwelling truly fit for kings. Completed in 987 AD it is the architectural opposite of the Pyramid of the Magician: rectangular rather than oval, a residence rather than a place of worship, and low-slung rather than soaring.  The palace’s vast manmade platform rises from a terrace containing a double-headed jaguar throne. Smaller wings flank a central structure embroidered by a frieze that is the architect’s masterstroke, a complex, geometric mosaic. It boggles the mind to think that it contains about 20,000 stone blocks, each weighing 20 to 80 kg (44 to 176 lbs).

The palace, which is 98 m (322 ft) long, 12 m (39 ft) wide and 8 m (26 ft) high, also honors the rain god Chac whose image appears 103 times in the frieze. The alignment of the central doorway hints at a reverence for the planet Venus and points to the spot where the planet rises only once every eight years.

Nunnery Quadrangle (Cuadrángulo de las Monjas) To the Spanish this perfectly proportioned complex resembled a convent and so they called it a nunnery. Warriors might have studied here, or perhaps astronomers and astrologers. John Stephens captured the Nunnery’s grace in 1841: “…we enter a noble courtyard, with four great façades looking down upon it, each ornamented from one end to the other with the richest and most intricate carving known in the art of the builders of Uxmal; presenting a scene of strange magnificence.” (Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Yucatán, vol. 1, p. 177-178)

Ballcourt (Juego de Pelota) The ballcourt, 34 meters long (110 feet) and 10 meters wide (32 feet), is notable because it bears a Late Classic Period inscription: Dedicated by King Chan Chak K’ak’nal Ajaw in 901 AD

House of the Turtles (La Casa de las Tortugas) A parade of stone turtles crawl across the cornice of this elegant little structure. Turtles were an important link to the rain god Chac, the crucial one at water-starved Uxmal.

House of the Doves (El Palomar) The crumbling roof “comb” on top of this unreconstructed building reminded Spaniards of a dovecote, or pigeon house, but the Maya did not house birds here. The comb is delicate and haunting, one of the prettiest sights at Uxmal.

The Great Pyramid (Gran Pyrámide) Originally nine stories tall, the summit of the Great Pyramid provides an amazing view over Uxmal.

House of the Old Woman (Casa de la Vieja) It’s unlikely this was the house of the dwarf magician’s mother, but it might be a temple of the fertility goddess Ixchel, and built around 700 AD.

Temple of the Phallus (Templo de los Falos) Not accessible, but the temple’s enormous fertility sculptures of penises are displayed in the Old Woman complex.

Accommodations

Hacienda Uxmal The Hacienda Uxmal retains the colonial elegance that has attracted illustrious visitors such as Jacqueline Kennedy, Princess Grace and Queen Elizabeth. Want to stay in Jackie’s room? Write ahead to reserve it, but if you can’t, there’s a plaque on the door showing which one she stayed in.

Address: Carretera Mérida-Campeche, Km 78, Uxmal, 97899

Tel: +52 (997) 976-2012

Toll free (Mexico): 01 (800) 719-5465

Toll free (US and Canada): 1 (800) 235-4079

Fax: +52 (997) 976-2011

Email: info@mayaland.com

Web: mayaland.com

Accommodations: 80 rooms (Superior, Bungalow, Suite), MX$2080/US$164 to MX$3425/US$270

Services: AC, ceiling fan, swimming pool, restaurant, bar, satellite television, in-room safes, wireless internet, laundry service, horseback riding, private balconies or terraces, tennis and volleyball courts, free parking

The Lodge at Uxmal The next best thing to staying in the Governor’s Palace is spending the night at The Lodge at Uxmal. The 330-acre property is across the street from the archeological zone entrance and has won a horde of well-deserved international travel awards.

Address: Carretera Mérida-Campeche, Km 78, Uxmal, 97899

Tel: +52 (997) 976-2010

Fax: +52 (997) 976-2102

Toll free (Mexico): 01 (800) 719-5465

Toll free (US and Canada): 1 (800) 235-4079

Fax: +52 (9797) 976-2011

Email: info@mayaland.com

Web: mayaland.com

Accommodations: 40 rooms (suites, junior suites, master bedrooms), MX$4,745/US$374 to MX$5,494/US$433

Services: AC, ceiling fan, swimming pool, restaurant, bar, spa, outdoor massage, satellite television, in-room safes, wireless internet, laundry service, horseback riding, private jacuzzis, king size beds, full access to other amenities at Hacienda Uxmal, free parking

Additional Information: No groups accepted. Individuals and families only.

Villas Arqueológicas Uxmal Built in 1972 and remodeled in 2000, the five Villas Arqueológicas in Mexico are similar in layout. The rooms are small with the beds tucked into niches, but you can walk to the archeological site.

Address: Carretera Mérida-Campeche, Km 76, Uxmal, 97890

Tel: +52 (997) 974-6020

Fax: +52 (997) 976-2040

Email: gerenciauxmal@villasarqueologicas.com.mx

Web: villasarquelogicas.com.mx

Accommodations: 40 standard rooms (MX$600/US$59), 3 suites (MX$1500/US$145)

Services: tennis court, swimming pool, billiards, library, television salon, restaurants, bar, free parking

Misión Uxmal If you want a spectacular view of Uxmal then stay at Misión Uxmal, which is large enough to host big groups. Order room service then watch the sound and light show from your own private balcony.

Address: Carretera Mérida–Campeche, Km 78, Uxmal, 97840

Tel: +52 (997) 976-2022

Fax: +52 (997) 976-2028

Toll free USA: 1 (877) 475-1945

Email: reservauxmal@prodigy.net.mx

Web: Hotelesmision.com

Accommodations: 113 rooms (MX$750/US$75, two suites (MX$1,050/US$105)

Services: free parking, restaurant, room service, laundry, swimming pool, gift shop, recreation activities, temezcal (Mayan steam bath), spa, taxi service, wireless internet in public areas, private tours, meeting rooms

Getting There and Away

The Archeological Zone and Museum of Uxmal are located 80 km (50 miles) south of Mérida at Km 78 on Highway 261 between the towns of Muna and Santa Elena. The entrance complex is 300 meters off the highway.

Uxmal and other Mayan sites are located on what is called the Ruta Puuc by tourism authorities. You can visit Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak and Labna in one day, but you would likely feel very hurried. Better to stay overnight in Uxmal or in the picturesque towns of Santa Elena, Oxkutxcab or Ticul.

By Air: The airport closest to Uxmal is Manuel Crescencio Rejón International Airport (MID), which is served by Continental, Aeromexico, Mexicana and Aviacsa.

By Car: From Mérida, drive about one hour southwest on Highway 261 toward Muna and follow the signs to Uxmal. The road continues into the state of Campeche and the town of Hopelchen, from which you can reach Campeche city or return to the main highway that leads northwest along the coast to Ciudad del Carmen, Villahermosa and Veracruz.

By Bus:

ATS Ruta Puuc bus: A convenient but brisk way to travel to Uxmal from Mérida is to take the daily Autotransportes del Sur (ATS) Ruta Puuc bus. It departs the 2nd class TAME station (Calle 68, between 70 and 72) at 8:00am and stops for one half hour at Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak, Labná, and two hours at Uxmal. To Mérida: The return bus leaves Uxmal at 2:30pm. Round Trip: MX$141/US$14.

Numerous ATS or CINTLA 2nd class buses depart TAME (1 ½ hours, 8 daily, 6:00am to 6:00pm, MX$41/US$4). From Uxmal: ATS (5 daily, 9:20am, 12:45, 3:20, 5:50, 8:20pm, MX$41/US$4). Northbound buses stop in front of the Hotel Hacienda Chichen. Buses also continue south on Highway 261 into the state of Campeche. Flag one down on the highway at the intersection with the road leading to the ruins.

By Shared Van: Catch a colectivo bound for Santa Elena at Mérida’s Parque San Juan and ask to get off at Uxmal. For the return trip, on the highway you can flag down a colectivo headed for Mérida.

Site Information

Hours of Operation:

Site: Daily, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm

Parking: 8:00 am to 10:00pm

Visitors Center: 8:00 am to 10:00 pm (shops close around 7:00 pm)

Admission: MX$111/US$10, includes site, museum and sound and light show. Children under 13 free. Discounted price available for students, teachers and seniors. Video camera use: MX$36/US$3.

Services: museum, restaurant, bookstore, ATM, artisan crafts, restrooms, lockers.

Parking: MX$20/US$2.40 per car. MX$30/US$3.60 per bus. Guided Tours: Available at entrance costing MX$450/US$45 for 90 minutes in Spanish. MX$550/US$50 for English, French, German or Italian.

Museum: Before you visit the site tour the excellent museum, included in the price of admission.

Sound and Light: If you saw the old Sound and Light show that dated back to 1972, make sure that you see the new version, updated in 2009. Winter, 7:00pm. Summer: 8:00pm. Sound and Light only: MX$40/US$4.80. In Spanish, with headphones offering narration in English, French, German and Italian available for MX$35/US$3.50.

Additional information: When touring any archeological site in Yucatán, wear sturdy walking shoes and be careful when climbing stairs. Take your time if it’s hot, as it’s likely to be, and carry water. Wear a hat and use plenty of sunscreen and insect repellent.

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