"Close your eyes."
Her tour group huddled in front of her. Peeking through half-closed eyes at the immense pyramid in front of them.
"Feel the waves of the power of the god Chac wash over you from his home. Feel his loving power."
I almost turned in my crystal.
We were in Uxmal -- one of the major Mayan sites.
Most of the Yucatán is flat. So flat that some of my blogger pals in Mérida joke about driving out to an overpass to get a mountain experience.
Uxmal is not flat. It is on the edge of Mayan hill country. And it takes full advantage of its position.
Approaching Uxmal from the north, I almost confused it with a resort hotel. It appears that immense -- even from a distance.
At its height in the late Classic period (850-925 AD) (Now, I warned you we were going to be using those few facts we learned two posts ago.), Uxmal dominated the region around it. It was the Chicago of the hill country. A massive administrative and f religious center that allowed the city elite to control the local rural folk.
Much of the city was still visible (and lightly inhabited) when the Spanish arrived in the mid-1500s. Most of the population had dispersed around 1000 AD. But the buildings were so well constructed from cut stone, they had not seriously deteriorated.
The Spanish immediately went about slapping fanciful names on the structures. The Magician's Pyramid. The Nunnery. The Governor's House. Not knowing the purpose of any of the buildings.
The grand round-sided Magician's Pyramid is the focal point of the sight. The name is understandable. It looks as if Saruman could walk out of the mouth of the god Chac near the top of the pyramid.
The pyramid is the stuff of legend. Literally. A less skeptical world believed a magician dwarf (probably related to the mummies at Santa Elena) built the place in one night. Anyone living in Mexico knows that would not be merely magic; it would be a miracle.
Less-imaginative scientists tell us the pyramid was built between 500 and 900 AD in five separate stages. One temple building on top of the next. Something of a deity condo.
The fourth temple can be seen near the top of the pyramid. Its facade is the face of Chac (the rain god) -- complete with froggy eyes, a Simon Legree mustache, and a gaping mouth entrance lined with teeth. All the better to eat you, I suppose.
The structure must have been quite a sight in its prime. Painted red with details in yellow, blue, and black. Now, it is merely naked ivory-hued limestone.
But Uxmal is much more than a Wagnerian opera set for human sacrifice.
The complex has two more major pyramids, additional temples, palaces, a ball court, and administrative buildings. All of them designed to show that Uxmal was a place of refined power. But power, nonetheless.
While Europe was stuck in an era of representational art, the Mayans were developing a cross between cubism and expressionism. To great effect. And that form reached an artistic height on the walls of Uxmal.
The complex has enough layers of interest that a multiple-day stop would not be excessive. I could have spent a full day cataloging the intricate designs on the walls of the Nunnery. I may want to schedule a return visit to do just that.
The bejeweled tour guide can have her Chac talk.
Give me the people -- and how they lived.