Pyramid of the (Dwarf) Magician
The Magic of Uxmal
A blog post by Lady Felicity
Back in February 2019 Greg and I went to Mexico on our honeymoon. If you have read some of our previous blog posts you will likely already know this. We chose Mexico as our destination as I was desperate to see the grey whales of Magdalena Bay and Greg favors any excuse to act like Indiana Jones (just look at the hat I got for him!).
Our honeymoon therefore had two parts. The first half of our adventure saw us climbing ancient Aztec and Mayan Pyramids in deserts and Jungles while the second half involved our quest for marine life and water based activities. (If you look back through our past blog entries we go into a few of these things in more detail.)
It is usually Greg who writes about the ancient ruins and Pyramids we have explored on our travels, him being the human history enthusiast while I either go for the prehistoric history or, more often, the nature and wildlife we have been fortunate enough to encounter. On this blog post, however, I am actually going to combine the two.
Uxmal is an ancient Maya city of great significance. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is considered (along with Palenque, Chichen Itza and Calakmul- all of which we visited during our time in Mexico) one of the best examples of the regions dominant architectural style. The buildings are noted for their size and decoration. They are typical of the Puuc style and you can often find decorative serpents and masks to represent the rain god, Chaac. There are also skull carvings, geometric patterns, lattice-like stone work, as well as carved birds and jaguars. One particular building attracted me- it is a temple known as ‘House of the Turtles’ and was adorned with decorative stone carved turtles – an instant hit with me!
The name of the site, Uxmal, likely derives from Oxmal (meaning three times built) or Uchmal (meaning ‘what is to come, the future’).
What really resonated with Greg at this site was its link to the Dwarf King. A magician. It is actually said by tradition that Uxmal was meant to be an invisible city, built in one night by the magic of the Dwarf King. (Perhaps the magician-god named Itzamna)
One of the popular legends about Uxmal is told beautifully by Greg in our video ‘Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty’ which you can watch in our video here:
There are various legends told by the indigenous Mayan people. A lot of them talk of a boy (or dwarf) born from the Iguana egg, cared for by a witch. The ruler feared this boy and in some stories the boy had to complete various tasks (such as building the pyramid later dedicated to him) or be executed. In some versions he was in competition with the King and through the clever sorcery of the witch the Dwarf defeats the ruler and takes his place. We enjoyed researching these folk legends, but in truth I suspect my vertically challenged magician, juggler and escapologist entertainer of a husband most enjoyed the fact we had found a pyramid which could have been named after him…
One of the most impressive structures in Uxmal is the Pyramid of the Magician (In Spanish it is Piramide del Adivino, the Pyramid of the Foreteller). It is also referred to as the Pyramid of the Dwarf or the Pyramid of the Soothsayer. Sanding taller than any other building in Uxmal, it is the most recognizable and famous structure in Uxmal and considered unique because of its rounded sides, great height, steep slope and elliptical base. It stands at about 115 ft tall and 166 ft wide. The building of this incredible pyramid was completed in several phases over three centuries.
Uxmal was once home to about 25,000 Maya and flourished from 600-1000 AD. The first pyramid temple was constructed in the 6th Century AD and it was expanded over the next 400 years. It fell into disrepair after 1000 AD and was later looted during the Spanish Conquest. It was rediscovered in about 1838 and restoration efforts began in the mid-19th century.
The site of Uxmal is amazing. We had hours to explore it before we had to get back on the road and move on to our next destination, but we both agreed that the hours we had there just didn’t feel long enough. It was the one ruin where we felt pushed for time, we could have happily spent hours more exploring and admiring the place. The buildings and their decorative carvings are beautifully preserved, there is so much to see. While some sites (like the famous Chichen Itza) have the buildings roped off so you can see them but not interact with them, Uxmal was one of the more interactive places. You can go inside many of the buildings and properly explore. You can immerse yourself in the history and feel like you are part of the site while you explore it. You can almost imagine yourself as one of the citizens who once inhabited Uxmal all those centuries ago or one of the archaeologists who worked on restoring it all those years later.
I am fascinated by the history. My imagination often runs wild with me and I truly end up getting immersed in places like Uxmal. Greg’s knowledge and enthusiasm for these places adds to and fuels my own and the hours just disappear as we explore them together. With the right company, sites like these feel truly magical to me. Uxmal had an extra layer of magic though, all its own.
When we explored Teotihuacan (you can read Greg’s blog about that site HERE) we felt that the stray dogs who now inhabit the site felt, to us, as though they could have been guardian spirits, watching over and protecting the site.
When we visited Xel-Ha there is actually a legend about the gods creating Xel-Ha and appointing three guardians, an Iguana, a Pelican and a Parrotfish, to watch over their beautiful creation.
We discovered Uxmal has its own guardians too. Uxmal is teeming with lizards and alive with birds. As the buildings are largely open to the public, they are open for the wildlife too. In many of the rooms we discovered swallow nests high up in the walls and Iguana (as well as a few other species of lizards) lying on the sun-kissed stone floors.
The birds create a beautiful, undulating, dancing cloud above the main square which is mesmerizing to watch. As we walked around the site it almost became a game of spot the wildlife! The lizards really were everywhere. Not just on the ruins or inside the rooms, they were running across the grass and land between the buildings and basking in the sun just about everywhere we looked. They were fantastic! The Uxmal swallows are guardians of the air while the Iguana were guardians of the land. It felt wonderful to me that Uxmal is inhabited still. What a stunning place these creatures call home.
If you are scared of birds or lizards, it would be a real shame but you should probably skip Uxmal. Otherwise, if you find yourself visiting Mexico and the Yucatan region, make sure you visit Uxmal. It really was a magical place, dwarf or no dwarf.
Thanks for reading, stay safe,