Mexico

The 31 states and Federal District of Mexico abound in historical sites, some are the oldest in the Americas, dating from close to 20,000 years before present.  My journeys to Mexico have taken me to the states of Chihuahua (several times), Oaxaca (once), Sinaloa (once), Jalisco (twice), Campeche (once), Chiapas (once), Yucatán (once), Quintana Roo (once), and Colima (twice).  During December 2014 and January 2015 I made the grand circuit of the Yucatán Peninsula, visting the Mexican States of Quintana Roo, Campeche, and Yucatán. During those three weeks we visited the following Mayan ruins (in order of visit);  Chicanná, Becán, Calakmul, Xpujil, El Hormiguero, Balamkú, (all in the state of Campeche), Palenque, Bonampak (both in the state of Chiapas), Edzná (back in the state of Campeche), Uxmal (including a night-time light show), Chichén Itzá (both in the state of Yucatán), and Cobá (in the state of Quintana Roo).  We also visited several archaeological museums.  State and location names are links to photographs taken at those sites or in those states.

The British Museum, London, England has an excellent collection of artifacts from this part of the world.  Even though they are physically located in London, virtually they are reunited with their heritage at this page.  The El Paso Museum of Archaeology has a small collection of votives from Mexico and a substantial collection of pottery from Casas Grandes in Chihuahua.

Campeche

In the state of Campeche we visited the Mayan ruins at Chicanná, Becán, Calakmul, Xpujil, El Hormiguero, and Balamkú.  In my mind, these ruins were the absolute highlight of our trip when it comes to ruins.  The first ruins we visited were at Chicanná, west of the village of Xpujil on Mexico 186.  Chicanná was inhabited from about 2300 before present to about 1000 before present.  Its name translates to “House of the Serpent Mouth”, a reference to Structure II.  Chicanná is from the Mayan Classic period and is closely associated with (dominated by) Becán which is less than two miles away.  The viewable structures, which were built between 600 CE and 830 CE, are primarily of the Río Bec style, especially Structure I.  However, they also include elements of the Chenes and Puuc styles, especially structure VI.  Across the top of the doorway of Structure II (photo below) are a series of teeth, mirrored on the steps leading to the door.  It most likely represents the Mayan god Itzmaná.  Chicanná was not discovered until 1966 when Jack Eaton discovered its location just prior to his work at Becán with the National Geographic/Tulane University study of that site.

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Becán was found and named by Karl Ruppert and John Denison in 1934.  Becán is a word constructed from Yukatek Maya meaning either “ravine formed by water” or “the way of the serpent” such is what happens when you make up words (“Be” means a roadway and “Cán” or “Kán” means serpent).  In any case, Ruppert and Denison chose the name in recognition of the moat  which surrounds the reservoirs and core complex of structures.  Several internet sites claim that this moat is unique in Mayan city planning.  This may be true; but the Mayan site at Cerros in northern Belize has an extensive canal system associated with it, there is a extensive canal system at Edzná (which was used for flood control, defense, transport, and irrigation), and El Mirador had canals for rain collection and probably defense.  There is no clear evidence that the “moat” at Becán was anything more than a version of these other canal systems.  The moat is no longer as deep as it was when first constructed (100 CE to 250 CE).  At the entrance, the moat is still, at 12 feet deep and 45 feet wide, very dramatic.  The material excavated from the moat as it was being dug was piled on the inside, making a much more significant barrier than that which is viewable today.  The moat is more than a mile long and, even today, is as deep as 21 feet.  There are seven bridges across the moat.  The entry way into the main complex is shown below.  This area was first settled (at least) 3,000 years ago and there was a village at this site by 550 BCE.  The oldest viewable structure at Becán dates from about 50 BCE.  Becán was a major political power between 600 and 1000 CE.  The Rio Bec style of Mayan architecture is prevalent at the site.  The entry way into the main complex is shown below. 

The ruins at Xpujil, also Xpuhil, are located on the northwest edge of the town of Xpujil in the southern part of Campeche.  The name means “cat’s tail” in reference to Typha domingensis which is the dominate plant in the adjacent marshes.  Settlement in this area began about 2,400 years ago.  Xpuhil was most important between 500 CE and 750 CE.  This population center went into decline in the early post-classic period, about 1150 CE.  Xpuhil was rediscovered (by archeologists) in 1938.  

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Experts quibble about whether or not Structure I, pictured above, is of the Rio Bec architectural style or not.  The Rio Bec style is defined by two end cones and a long (lower) structure which connects them.  Since this structure has a large central cone some argue that it is not Rio Bec.  Others argue that it is simply a unique version of the Rio Bec style.  The site generally, and the two end cones in particular, is certainly in the Rio Bec style.  Note the false door ways in the southern end cone, picture above.  These end cones are tapered, giving the appearance of greater height.  The end cones are also graced with false staircases and are solid, they do not contain rooms.  All of these structural elements are typical of the Rio Bec architectural style.  As are the rounded corners on temples.

This was far and away my favorite Mayan site on this trip to the Yucatán.  Perhaps because there was a pair of nesting Bat Falcons at the site.  Listening to them call in the trees and watching their aerial antics as they darted about Structure I was a memorable event for me. 

El Hormiguero, or more typically Hormiguero, means ant hill - reminding me of the one I stood in at Chicanná and the suffering that ensued.  The Hormiguero site is located south of Xuphil in southern Campeche, Mexico.  The main road south from Xuphil is sealed with a standard allotment of topes, turning west off of this road on to a secondary sealed road you travel through sub-tropical forest of mahogany, cedar, and sapodilla.  Eventually this access road becomes dirt and is quite rutted in places, we had no difficulty driving into the site in our rented VW Gol but during the rainy season access may be more problematic.  For once, and probably for the only time on this trip, I felt like an adventure might ensue.  Driving through the forest on a dirt track heightened the impression that Structure II made on me as we entered the site.  Of the structures I saw on this trip - including the mega pyramids at Uxmal and Chichén Itzá - Structure II (photo below) was easily the most impressive.

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Structure II literally screams Rio Bec.  Want to know what Rio Bec architecture looks like?  Look at Structure II.  On each end of the structure there are cones, tapered to appear taller and with false doors and staircases.  These cones are joined by a lower and very elaborately decorated structure.  The rounded edges of many structural elements are clearly visible above.  In addition to the monster mouth motif, the central part of the structure is adorned with elaborate carvings.

The other major structure at the site is number V (photo below), it is not Rio Bec in style but rather Chenes.  Structure V is much smaller than Structure II.  It, too, has a representation of a monster mouth.  Each corner of the building is adorned with Chaac masks.  Chaac is the Mayan god of rain.

Hormiguero was most important between 600 CE and 800 CE.

El Hormiguero was identified by Ruppert and Dennison in 1933 when they explored the area as part of a Carnegie expedition.   The site was reported to them by the expedition’s cook who had camped at the site several years earlier.  They visited the site from the 9th until the 14th of April.  However, (authorized) excavations did not start at the site until 1979.

Like most of the sites in this area, Balamku was settled in about 300 BCE and reached its “height” between 300 CE and 600 CE.  The frieze for which it is known is from about 600 CE.  

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There were four other tourists at the ruins when we visited.  I asked if we could see the frieze and an employee opened the door for us.  The frieze is in an enclosed room, with locked door.  It is one of the two most significant works of art which we saw on our trip.  And, I might add, we had it to ourselves for as long as we wished.

Edzná is one of four large Mayan sites which I visited on this trip.   The other large Campeche site was Calakmul, in the southern part of the state.  

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Edzná was inhabited by 600 BCE, was a major city by 200, and was abandoned in about 1500 - having been in general decline since about 1000.  It was closely associated with Calakmul during the height of its influence.  

Edzná came onto the archeological radar in 1907, structured exploration began at the site in 1928, organized excavations began in 1958, and Guatemalan refugees were being used to excavate and restore the ruins by 1986.

The Edzná site is located in a valley which is subject to flooding.  The Maya developed an extensive network of canals which radiated from the center of the site outward to farmlands and reservoirs.  The canals were also used for transport and are thought to have served defensive purposes as well.  

Campeche City is located on the west coast of the Yucatán Peninsula.  The old city fronts on the bay and is a lovely and relaxing place to spend time.

Campeche, Campeche, Mexico

The Museo Arqueológico de Campeche & Fuerte de San Miguel are located on the southwest outskirts of Campeche, Campeche, Mexico.  The fort (see pages Campeche City 1 & 2 in the photo gallery) was completed in 1801 and is a focal point of Mexican history in the area.  Not only was it one of the fortifications built to protect the city of Campeche from the English but it served as Santa Ana’s headquarters when he attacked the city in 1842.  The fort which reminds me of the fort at St. Augustine, Florida, USA (as old St. Augustine reminds me of old Campeche) now houses the Museum of Mayan Culture (Museo Arqueológico de Campeche).  The fort, itself, was a nice change from Mayan ruins. 

I thought the museum (see pages 3 to 20 in the photo gallery) compared well with the museum at Palenque and those in Oaxaca City.  It is not a large venue and the collection is not immense but it is very good.  The museum was one of the high points of the trip.  Not only because of its displays and artifacts but because when a guard saw me struggling with the reflections on the glass protecting a display as I attempted to photograph an artifact he closed the shutters of a nearby window and brought his newspaper over, holding it to block ambient light so I could get my photo.  It was a courtesy which was missing at the large sites we visited.

The museum houses a collection of artifacts collected from Mayan sites in the state of Campeche.  Mostly from Calakmul and Edzná, the artifacts were also from the Isla de Jaina, a reportedly wonderful site which we were not able to visit.

There were few people at the fort/museum when we were wandering about, making for a visit which was not hectic or hurried.

The Bastion of Solitude in Campeche City houses the Roman Piña Chan Museum (Museum of Mayan Architecture - see pages 21 to 23 in the photo gallery) which has an excellent display of stone carvings and stelae collected from Mayan sites in the state of Campeche.  The collection is small but easily represents the best stone carvings that we saw on the trip.  A visit here will only take a few minutes and is well worth the time.  And if this isn’t proof that the Borg were here before, I don’t know what is!

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The museum and the The Bastion of Solitude (Baluarte de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad) were both uncrowded - in fact we may have been the only ones there.  Just outside the door to the museum is a ramp which leads up to the top of a section of the walls which previously encircled the city (don’t miss the stelae which are in the alcoves under the ramp - facing the small courtyard).   Campeche was a walled city and segments of the old walls can be found along the perimeter of the old city.

The works on display at this museum are essential to a full understanding of what it was like at the Mayan ruins.  They were not just lego pyramids, they were wonderfully adorned with stunning works of art.

Campeche was once a walled city.  Now the urban sprawl of modern Latin America surrounds the enclave of the old city - which is still bordered by walls at many points.  A bronze replica of the old city and walls is, appropriately enough, visible from the top of one of the remaining wall sections (See Campeche City - 26 page).  

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Chiapas

The two historical sites which I have visited in Chiapas are Palenque and Bonampak.  Palenque is a major tourist attraction and is often overrun with tourists and tourist buses.  Palenque dates from about 226 BCE to about 800 CE.  It is a huge sprawling site and well worth the time it takes to absorb what it must have been like and get away from the people.  The observation tower at the palace is shown here.

Bonampak is justly known for its murals and stele.  After learning the history of color, how difficult it is to make and use, I was doubly impressed with the murals. By 600 CE, Bonampak had become a well established, but perhaps minor site.  The murals, dating from 791 CE, are painted in vivid colors and are awe inspiring.  

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The Chiapas photo gallery includes well over 200 photographs from these sites.


Chihuahua

My trips to Chihuahua have been divided between the Casas Grande area (where a good part of the focus was on the early people) and the Copper Canyon area.  My “early people” trips to Casas Grandes are presented on this page, the Copper Canyon area is presented on a page of its own.

I have ventured south to the Casas Grandes area of Chihuahua on several occasions - not counting the trips through the area to and from Copper Canyon.  On each of these trips we have used Luis Benavidez of the Pink Store in Palomas as our guide/driver and have been completely satisfied with the results.  

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Macaw Pens at Paquimé

In mid-April, 2014, we joined friends for a trip to Paquimé in northwestern Chihuahua.  Paquimé, which is also referred to as Casas Grandes, is a site that I have wanted to visit since I first started to study the Mogollon culture.  The Mogollon, in general, and the Mimbres, in particular, are the ancestral people of the Black Range, New Mexico.  

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The structures at Paquimé are made of adobe (see photo above) with key hole doorways typical of the Mogollon and Pueblo cultures.  The doorway shown to the left is a monolithic keyhole cut in stone, it was found at the site and is on display in the museum.

During the last few years we have been reluctant to travel in northern Mexico because of the drug and gun running.  We had a chance to set up a tour with Luis Benavidez, who is associated with the Pink Store in Palomas, and jumped at the opportunity.  Luis leads monthly tours to Juan Mata Ortiz and Paquimé but because we were able to get enough people together we went on an unscheduled tour.  We enjoyed the tour very much and at no time felt uneasy about security.

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Paquimé was the center of the macaw trade from Central America into the American Southwest (and other trade as well) from about 1040 to about 1400 CE.  I had long wanted to see the Macaw pens (pictured above) where the birds were kept and raised.  Seeing the small pens filled out my overall impression of the trade of what was effectively a high value commodity.  Images of Macaws are found in pottery found at the site, photo left, and in petroglyphs throughout northern Mexico and the American Southwest.  Trade during that era had to involve high value commodity goods because of the time, distance, and effort involved in transport.  Bulk transport of goods over long distances was rare to non-existent.  This was the context of the trade - there was not a massive infusion of material from one area to the next.

Paquimé had a sophisticated water control system which accessed a spring that was about five kilometers away and river water.  Underground drains, above ground reservoirs, and an elaborate fresh water distribution system supported the population of about 2,500 which lived in the city proper.  A sewage system also existed.  In many ways the water distribution system at Paquimé reminded me of that at Guayabo in Costa Rica.

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The story of how Juan Quezada came to develop the pottery style known as Mata Ortiz is well known.  The excellent museum at the site is full of early pottery (photos left) which served as his inspiration.

The glyph (below left), from the Pony Hills site in the southwestern portion of the Black Range, New Mexico probably represents a Scarlet Macaw but it is not possible to identify the glyph to species).  Macaws were an important trade item between Mesoamerica and the American Southwest.  Macaws are also depicted on Mimbres pottery.  It appears that the people at the site at Paquimé and the Mimbres people had a strong and continuing cultural and trade relationship.

There is some evidence that in the 900's juvenile birds were transported into the Mimbres area from Mesoamerica.  The Mimbres raised the birds to adulthood and then traded them farther north to Chaco and other ceremonial centers.  By the 1200's Paquimé had been built - quite possibly by Mimbres peoples moving out of the Mimbres Valley during the reorganization period, and others, and it became the intermediate stop in the trade of Macaws.

There is an excellent discussion of the Macaw trade by Richard D. Fisher in "Ancient Knowledge of the Chaco Canyon Anasazi”.  (Please note that the “Anasazi” is a term the Navajo people used to describe the Ancestral Puebloan people, it meant [roughly] “ancient enemy” and was derogatory. The appropriate term for the people discussed here is Ancestral Puebloans.)  In "Scarlet Macaws and Their Kin in the Desert Southwest”, Tom Leskiw (work originally from the Shatter College Journal of Multidisciplinary Studies) discusses the trade history of the Scarlet Macaw and the Thick-billed Parrot in the southwest, he also discusses the natural range of the Thick-billed Parrot.  The Macaw Feather Project seeks to meet the cultural need, of southwest indigenous peoples, for Macaw feathers in a legal manner.  Their site describes how such feathers are used and how they fit into the worldview of the indigenous peoples of the southwest.

In early October, 2016,  we visited the Sierra Madre Occidental of Chihuahua, Mexico.  The primary purpose of our trip was to visit the Cueva de la Olla archaeological site which dates from 5500 BCE.  In particular, I wanted to see the Olla at the site (the large jars or pots) which was used to store grain.  The remaining olla dates from about 950 to 1060 CE and is pictured below.  

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There are a few sites in this region which have granaries like the “jar” which is found here, but they are rare.  There are other “prehistoric” dwelling sites in the area as well.  For those interested in visiting this archaeological site, I recommend contacting Luis Benavidez who does tours out of the “Pink Store” in Palomas, Chihuahua, Mexico.  He is an excellent guide and can provide transport (van), lodging, and guide, from Palomas.


Ciudad de México

The City of Mexico, or more popularly Mexico City is a huge metropolitan complex.  It has more museums than any other city in the world, several are dedicated (or have works from) the early peoples of Mexico.  Most of the material on this website is from the Museo Nacional de Antropología, which is the largest and most visited museum in Mexico.  There are also ruins from the pre-contact period in the city area.


Jalisco

I have been to the state of Jalisco twice, both were birding trips.  I did take some time out to visit the Naval Museum in Puerto Vallarta where there are a handful of pre-Columbian ceramics on display.


Mexico

One of the premier sites within the State of Mexico is Teotihuacán.  The two major pyramids at Teotihuacán are the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Moon (photo below).  The ruins are extensive and include a number of complexes like the Temple of Quetzacoatl.  Many of the artifacts excavated at Teotihuacán are housed at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.  The photo gallery for the state is focused on Teotihuacán.

Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan


Oaxaca

During a month in Oaxaca I went birding, soaked up the old part of the city, visited several archaeological sites, and spent time in two of the cities excellent museums.  The monastery (Ex-Convento de Santo Domingo de Guzmán) is now the venue of the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca, a nice museum in a setting which adds to its prestige.  The museum has displays which cover more than two thousand years of local history.  The major exhibit is a collection of artifacts from Tomb 7 at Monte Albán.  The exhibit displays only a small portion of the artifacts, perhaps the more important ones.  One of the most famous is a human skull covered in a mosaic of turquoise, very beautiful, pictured below.  And it is that artifact that is emblematic of Tomb 7, but there are other amazing pieces on exhibit as well.  The types of art which were found in Tomb 7 are extraordinary, colorful, and intricate.  There are also stone carvings which are quite elegant and unusual, and striking pottery.  The Tomb is from the Classic Zapotec period but was used by Mixtec elites at a later date.

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The Rufino Tamayo Museum of Pre-Colombian Art is the crown jewel of Oaxaca, in my opinion, and I almost missed it.  Not much is to be said about this small museum, at Morelos 503 between Porfirio Diaz and Tinoco y Palacios, in the Oaxacan tourist information.  After visiting the museum at the Santo Domingo complex and its Tomb 7 artifacts, I was sure that I had seen most of the Mexican art from before 1500 which was publicly viewable in Oaxaca.  I was wrong.  The collection in the Rufino Tamayo museum is from the central and southern states of Mexico and is exquisite.

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Rufino Tamayo (1899-1991) was a painter who was born and lived in Oaxaca.  In 1948, Tamayo began collecting Mexican artifacts, starting with Olmec pieces which he found in Veracruz.  He continued collecting for at least 20 years and left his entire collection to the state of Oaxaca when he died.  It is an impressive collection of quality art arranged and displayed with taste and elegance.

The collection is composed of 1,059 pieces, most of which are on display and range in date of origin from about 1600 BC to 1521 AD.  They are displayed in rough chronological order without regard to the culture of origin.  The building it which they are displayed was built in the 18th century and passed through various hands until it was given to Tamayo by the State of Oaxaca in 1971.  The museum was opened in 1974.  The background colors for the displays were picked by Tamayo and are those which he typically used in his art.  The works vary greatly in subject, from the classic Mayan image from 700 - 800 AD (above), to the small turkey from the Veracruz region dated between 250 - 700 AD, and the scene below of a common sporting event from Nayarit dated between 1250 BC and 200 AD.  The artifact below has become my favorite piece from Mexican history.  Many of the works are dated imprecisely, I assume because of the method of collection.

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The collection is composed of 1,059 pieces, most of which are on display and range in date of origin from about 1600 BC to 1521 AD.  They are displayed in rough chronological order without regard to the culture of origin.  The building it which they are displayed was built in the 18th century and passed through various hands until it was given to Tamayo by the State of Oaxaca in 1971.  The museum was opened in 1974.  The background colors for the displays were picked by Tamayo and are those which he typically used in his art.  

Monte Alban is a Zapotec site which was inhabited from about 500 BC to about 800 AD.  Today it is inhabited by tourists and people wanting to sell, sometimes pretty aggressively, trinkets.  

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Building IV (above) dates from about 450-500 AD, although some of its components predate that time by several hundred years.  Some of its building elements are similar to structural motifs found at Teotihuacán.

At the other end of the western side of the complex are Building M and the Danzantes.  Buildings M and IV are close to identical in style and shape.  The Danzantes are a series of stelas with carved figures.  The current thinking is that they represent the rulers of conquered towns or states being tortured or killed.

Monte Alban is a large site and appears to have a layout which is more planned than sites like Tikal.  Tikal with its high structures is more dramatic than Monte Alban, but it is not possible to see most of the site at one time at Tikal, which you can do at Monte Alban.

There are two major archaeological sites east of Oaxaca City, Mitla and Yagul.  Mitla is a beautiful site with intricate stonework, some of which is seen below.  The stone mosaics at Mitla are unique in Mesoamerica.  The fretwork is made up of thousands of individual cut stones.  None of the fretwork panels is exactly the same as any other.  The mosaic fretwork shown here is located in the Columns Group at the north end of the site.  Mitla is a Zapotec center which originated around 900 BCE.  It was still populated when the Spanish arrived in 1521.  The Mixtec entered the area in about 1000 CE.  Mitla was most prestigious from about 750 CE to 1521.

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The archaeological site at Yagul was first inhabited around 500 BCE, and like Mitla it was still inhabited when the Spanish occupation began.  The ball court at Yagul is the largest in Oaxaca at 47 meters long (compared to the one at Chichen Itza which is 96 meters long and the one at El Tajin which is 126 meters long).  It was originally built in about 500 CE, but the last work on it occurred in about 900 CE when it was enlarged.  For me it is not the physical site of what is now Yagul which creates awe.  Less than a mile away there are pictographs which date to at least 3,000 BCE.  It was in the caves nearby where the earliest evidence of domesticated corn has been found.  To be near the site of such a historical event, an event which far surpasses any of the nationalistic events which have occurred since, carried great significance for me.  The groundbreaking technological and scientific breakthroughs which occur periodically are the historical events which have the most significant historical implications.  They far outweigh the political and social events of the cultures of that time or of any since.


Puebla

In October 2019 I took a quick one-day trip to the state of Puebla, to visit the pyramid at Cholula.  A few photographs on the www.birdtrips.org website and the following video of a walk through the pyramid (not great video but it gives you a feel for the experience).  The video is embedded below or can viewed in larger format at the link above.


Sinaloa

My time in Sinaloa has been very limited, just a two night stay at the end of a Copper Canyon train ride.  That time was spent in El Fuerte, which has a nice little museum and nice hotels.


Yucatán

The state of Yucatán takes up roughly 1/3 of the Yucatán Peninsula.  It borders the ocean on the west and north.  In our great loop of the Yucatán Peninsula in December 2014 - January 2015 we visited several sites in Yucatán.  Photographs of the Mayan ruins we visited in this state are found here.

On the day that we left Campeche we visited the Museum and Fort outside of the city, traveled on to and visited Edzná, traveled to Uxmal and saw the evening light show.  Those who saw the light show seemed to enjoy it and at the very least reported that it highlighted for them various features that they might have missed.  I asked the guards if I could wander down by the Nunnery facing the pyramid and video the light play on the Adivino Pyramid (Pyramid of the Magician).  I recorded some good video for a Yucatán travel piece but I did not see the light show, as such.  Most of the light show is conducted on the structures in the Nunnery Quadrangle, the photo below is of one one the structures of the quadrangle - on the side facing the Adivino.  The Nunnery Quadrangle, a name given to it by the Spanish, was actually an administrative center.

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The next morning I managed an hour of video south of Uxmal before the group set off for the ruins.  The ruins are magnificent and in places it is possible to get away from the masses of people which smother the place.

Uxmal is built in the Puuc style of Mayan architecture, columns, snakes curling through the motifs, and lots of Chaac (the Mayan god of rain) adorn the place (photo below).  Although significant restoration has occurred in the tourist areas of the site, relatively little serious archeology has been done.  According to the chronicles the city was founded around the year 500.  It was most important in about 900.  The Toltec conquered the city in about 1000, much of the population dispersed, building more or less ceased by 1200.  The site was still inhabited when the Spanish conquered the area but declined thereafter.

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The Adivino (also known as the Pyramid of the Dwarf or the Pyramid of the Magician) is one of the most frequently photographed features in the Mayan world.  Its rounded shape is reminiscent of the rounded corners of structures in the Rio Bec style. 

When we were in Mérida we took a walk down to the Frederick Catherwood museum.  Catherwood is famous for his lithographs of Mayan ruins from the early 1840’s.  The museum is a row house in Merida, the upstairs has two rooms where a collection of his lithographs are displayed, nothing more.  He traveled about southern Mexico and Central America at a time when the ruins were not well known in Europe or North America (which includes Mexico).  His major works on the Mayan culture are: Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan Vol. 1;  Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan Vol. 2; Incidents of Travel in Yucatan Vol. 1; and Incidents of Travel in Yucatan Vol. 2.  They were all written by John L. Stevens, Catherwood did the drawings.  These books brought the Mayan civilization to the attention of Europe and the United States/Canada.

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The photograph (above) is of a lithograph (all photos taken from the original lithographs at the museum) of the Well at Bolonchen.  It is one of his most famous works and depicts a place that I would like to see some day.  The  photograph directly below is a detail from the Well and Building at Sabactsche.  While at the museum I tended to photograph details from the works rather than the entire work.  Catherwood was depicting what he was seeing, not what the Mayan world might have looked like when the ruins were intact.  The juxtaposition of the Maya of the mid-1800’s and the ruins was fascinating to me.  

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The photograph is of a lithograph of the Idol of Copán.  Copán is a site I have not been to.  If you have been diligent in following links, you now know that Smith College Libraries has a nice section on the Mayan works of Catherwood - with some explanatory material. 

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My First Impression of Chichén Itzá:  Swarms of Cancún tourists wearing beach attire.  Second Impression:  Modules of tourists defined by language.  Third Impression:  A good right elbow is the best way to view one of the wonderful carvings.  Fourth Impression:  A worthwhile endeavor but not enjoyable.

From Mérida we traveled east on our way to winding up our trip.  The last set of ruins which I visited on the trip was the iconic site of Chichén Itzá.  As you might surmise from my “impressions” there were a lot of people at this site, mostly arriving on tour buses from the coast.  It is easy for me to be dismissive of the crowds of people but the international flavor of the crowd could not be missed.  Russian was, perhaps, the biggest surprise for me as far as languages go - explained, I was told by the Mayan owner of a small eatery at Cobá, by the fact that Aeroflot now has regular flights between Moscow and Cancún.

Chichén Itzá is a majestic site with wonderful structures and incredible carvings and stone work.  I especially liked the Las Monjas Complex and the Observatory (El Caracol), photo above.  In truth, as you wander away from The Kukulkan Pyramid, Chichén Itzá’s centerfold (photo below), it is possible to take photographs without people in them.  

chichen itza 4

I will probably want to visit some of the other major Mayan sites in the future but I will need to take them in small doses.  I enjoyed many of the small sites immensely, places to wander and ponder unharassed.  On reflection, I am happy to have visited the mega-sites - they provide context for the smaller ones and often are the places to go for bodacious architecture.  They are the places that make you consider the ethical questions associated with economic and religious might and slave labor.


© Robert Barnes 2019