Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Uxmal Part 2: The Governor's Palace, Ball Court, and Great Pyramid

Governor's Palace is one of the finest examples of Puuc-style Maya architecture. The Governor's Palace took immense effort to build, in part because of the platforms on which it sits. The Palace was built around 987 AD, one of the last major edifices raised at Uxmal at the end of the Late Classic Period. This Puuc-style building incorporated, or was constructed over, some earlier buildings in the Chenes style. But first, before putting up any buildings, the Uxmal Maya raised and leveled an immense earth and stone platform a couple of hundred yards long and at least a hundred yards across. Using this as a base, they then raised a second long platform. The Palace itself was then erected on top of the second platform, as seen above. This was a huge public works project for a city whose population, including farmers in surrounding settlements, probably never exceeded 25,000 people. In addition to the Governor's Palace, a second, smaller structure called the Turtle House (out of sight to the right of the photo) was built on the broad platform below the Palace. To help you place the various edifices at Uxmal in their proper relationship with each other, here is a site map.

Rear of Governor's Palace, from a Turtle House window. As you can see, the rear of the Palace displays a high level of decoration on its frieze. The slender triangular opening in the middle of the Palace wall was an entrance to a hallway through which, at one time, you could walk through to the front side of the building. At some point in the misty past, this hallway was closed by large stone blocks. The outside of the Turtle House is decorated with stone sculptures of turtles, a creature closely associated in the Maya mythology with water, an ever present Maya concern.

Entrance to the Governor's Palace was by way of this grand stairway. A 16th Century Spanish priest named Fray Diego Lopez de Cogullado gave the name "Governor's Palace" because it reminded him of similar palaces back home. The Spanish often gave fanciful names to Maya ruins, but Fray Cogullado may have been right this time. The Governor's Palace may have actually been the chief administrative center of Uxmal at the time it was built.

At the top of the grand stairway, the Palace stands on its long platform. The mosaic facade stretches 320 feet. Over 100 masks of Chac, the rain god, decorate the frieze on the upper half of the building, ending in stacks of Chac masks on the corners. The Uxmal Maya literally left no stone unturned to curry favor with the god who ensured adequate rain. In another fascinating twist to Uxmal's story, the new science of archaeoastronomy may have answered a question archaeologists have long wondered about. No one could understand why the Palace did not conform to the general direction of other buildings in Uxmal. Recently, archaeoastronomers discovered that the central doorway of the Palace perfectly aligns with the planet Venus, a powerful symbol of death and re-birth to the Maya and many other ancient Mesoamerican civilizations.

Detail of the Governor's Palace facade. The highly skilled stone masons of Uxmal created unbelievably intricate abstract designs, and then added beautifully carved representations of gods, snakes and birds. The central element in the design above, which appears above one of the doorways, seems to be a bird with wings outstretched.

Snake head decorates the tall triangular entrance of a now-blocked hallway. This snake head resembles one I saw on the facade of the Quadrangle of the Nuns (scroll down to see Uxmal Part 1). The snake head there represented Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent god of the Toltecs, who invaded Yucatan around 1000 AD. The Toltecs often added their own design elements to the existing Puuc-style buildings, and the snake head above may have been a Toltec "upgrade."

Even the humblest parts of the Governor's Palace were highly decorated. The photo above shows one of the bottom corners of the platform upon which the Palace sits. Almost every stone has a language symbol or design.

Double-headed jaguar throne may have once been graced by the rump of a ruler. The jaguar was a major symbol of power to the Maya and other Mesoamerican civilizations. This sculpture, clearly intended as a seat, was placed on a low platform immediately in front of the Palace, at the base of the grand staircase. A ruler seated here could survey a gathering of hundreds of nobles in the wide open space provided by the huge base platform.

Columned building provided me with an additional mystery. This beautifully proportioned little temple is completely unidentified in any material I have found on Uxmal. It sits between the Sorcerer's Pyramid (seen in the background) and the Governor's Palace. In spite of its beauty and excellent state of repair, there was no sign at the site identifying it. I have searched every site map I can find and none of them show it, although they often show lesser structures. If any viewer has information about this structure, please leave a message in the comments section at the end of this posting, including your source.

Closeup of the mystery temple. Columns like this may be an element introduced by Toltecs or possibly the later Xiú, a central Mexico tribe who conquered Uxmal after the Toltecs, and ruled it until the Spanish arrived. The Temple of the Warriors in Chichen Itza, built by the Toltecs, and upgraded by the Xiú, contains hundreds of columns similar in design. However, this is all speculation on my part.

The Ball Court. Virtually every Maya city contained a ball court. This one was originally built in the year 649 AD, according to an inscription found at the court. That would put the construction at the beginning of the great flowering of Uxmal, and northern Yucatan Maya civilization in general. A later inscription, dated with the Maya equivalent of 901 AD, indicates Toltec influence. This later inscription commemorates the addition of a huge coiled stone snake to the Ball Court, representing Kukulkan, the Maya word for the plumed serpent, Quetzalcoatl. Apparently the influence of the Toltecs was powerful in the area at least 100 years before they invaded. The playing field extended from one vertical wall to the other, and included the low grass-covered benches on either side. About 1/2 way down the court, set in the vertical walls on either side, were 2 large stone rings.

The object of the game was to project a hard rubble ball through this ring. There was another ring like this on the opposite side of the court. The playing ball, made of hard rubber and very heavy, was slightly larger than a modern basketball. As far as archaeologists can tell, the game may have been a little like soccer, in which the hands cannot be used. However, the Maya ball apparently could not be kicked either. The waist, forearms, and thighs were all that players were allowed to use. This was in no sense an easy game. The players, of which there may have been 12 to a side, were heavily padded and wore protective helmets. The game symbolizes the creation of the world, and held deep religious significance. This was true not only of the Maya, but to nearly all other Mesoamerican civilizations. The ball game dates all the way back to the Olmecs, more than 1000 years before Uxmal was founded. Ball courts have been found from Nicaragua to northern Arizona in the United States.

The Dove Cote, or Pigeon's House. The niches in the roof comb, seen in the background of the photo above, appeared to European eyes as a nesting area for doves or pigeons. Roof combs, so common in Palenque, are absent in the Puuc style of Uxmal except for this outstanding example. The effect is light and lacy, difficult to achieve with a stone building.

View of the Dove Cote from the top of the Great Pyramid. There is very little left of this structure other than the roof comb, and the function of the building is still unclear. It sits immediately to the right of the Great Pyramid.

Front view of the Great Pyramid from a window of the Turtle House. Visible are the grand staircase up the front, and the Temple of the Guacamayas (parrots) on top. A single door leads into the temple. The Great Pyramid is just under 100 feet tall, making it slightly lower than the Sorcerer's Pyramid. However, the ancient Maya appear to have partially dismantled the pyramid, in preparation for covering it over with a much larger structure, but the work was abandoned at about the time all other architectural work in Uxmal came to an end.

The grand staircase gives a hint of the Great Pyramid's ancient majesty. The sides and back are still covered by rubble and brush, but these beautiful stairs probably saw many a great procession of feather-bedecked priests and noble. The precision and alignment of the stairs and the supporting portions on each side are impressive.

At the top of the grand staircase, the ubiquitous face of Chac. Adorned with their staring eyes and elephant-like trunk, the Chac masks gaze into distance and eternity.

Abstract designs or hieroglyphics? I wasn't able to determine which these were. The Maya used designs of various sorts, all no doubt fraught with meaning to them, but unintelligible to me.

Much of Uxmal is still undiscovered. Lying between the Governor's Palace and the Great Pyramid, these recent excavations reveal more passageways, stairs, and intriguing doors with every spadeful of turned earth.

In an out-of-the-way niche, more abstract designs. I found this niche near the new excavations. The Puuc style tends toward balance and repetitive designs. The more I explore Mexico's ancient ruins, the more I realize how much there is still to be learned, after more than 150 years of archaeological digs. In my research for this blog, I found almost all previous notions about the ancient Maya undergoing challenge and revision, based on new evidence and reinterpretations of old material during the last few years. With each new piece of evidence and new theory, the mystery deepens. But then, 2000 years from now, what will archaeologists think about the ruins of Yankee Stadium, the Lincoln Memorial, and a McDonald's fast-food restaurant?

This concludes the second of my 2-part series on Uxmal. If you enjoyed it, I invite you to leave a comment in the section below, or email me directly. If you leave a question in the comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can answer you.

Hasta luego.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Uxmal Part 1: The Sorcerer's Pyramid and the Nun's Quadrangle

The Sorcerer's Pyramid is one of the most striking of Uxmal's ruins. Between visiting Campeche and Merida, we stopped for several hours at Uxmal (pronounced Oosh-Maal). The ruined city's name means "the thrice built city." This posting is Part 1 of a 2-part series on Uxmal. In this part, I will focus on two of Uxmal's most famous ruins: the Sorcerer's Pyramid (see above) and the Quadrangle of the Nuns. While the Yucatan Peninsula is thick with Maya ruins, many of them extensive, the two most famous are Uxmal and Chichen Itza (which I will post later). These two ancient cities were contemporaneous and in fact were allies for several centuries. Next to Palenque, I liked Uxmal the best of all the ruins we visited. It was not overrun with tourists, at least when we visited, and the ruins seemed to be in better shape than in some of the other locations. For a map of the Yucatan Peninsula and the general Uxmal area, click here.

The base of the Sorcerer's (or Magician's) Pyramid is oval rather than rectilinear making it very unusual. The structure, seen above in side view, is over 100 feet tall, giving it a commanding view of the area. According to Maya legend, the pyramid was created over-night by a dwarf who was hatched out of an egg. Thus, it is also called the Pyramid of the Dwarf. In reality, what you see is the last of 5 pyramids, built one on top of the other, each larger than the last. The site of Uxmal was settled as early as 500 BC, but the Maya culture and architecture didn't reach its peak until what is called the Classic Period (325 AD-925 AD). For site map showing the ruins highlighted in this posting, click here.

Front view of the Sorcerer's Pyramid. On either side of the steep, majestic staircase are a line of masks representing Chac, the rain god. He would have been very important because there are almost no above-ground rivers in the Yucatan Peninsula. All water must come from rain or from one of the cenotes, which are deep limestone ponds like the famous one found at Chichen Itza. There are few cenotes in the Puucs Hills area, so the Maya of Uxmal cleverly devised chiltuns, which are man-made stone cisterns used to collect and store rainwater. With this extensive system, Uxmal was able to sustain an extensive population in a hot, relatively dry climate. When the American-English archaeological team of Stephenson and Catherwood visited Uxmal in the 1840s, they stumbled across chiltuns everywhere.

Top of the Socerer's Pyramid. Temple V is found at the very top of the pyramid, above the grand entrance at the top of the main staircase. Built about 1200 AD, this was the last area of construction on the pyramid. The smooth, rounded corners on the Sorcerer's Pyramid below Temple V set it apart. Other pyramids in the Maya area are generally square or rectangular with sharp corners. The Pyramid is over 100 feet tall. Although some other pyramids around Mexico may be higher, the steepness of the walls of the Sorcerer's Pyramid give it the appearance of great height, as well as a serene majesty.

The mouth of the jaguar. Faces of Chac line the right and left corners of this entrance. Overall, the entrance is supposed to represent the face of a jaguar, with the opening forming the mouth. This highly ornate style of entrance is called Chenes, and especially catches the eye as it sits near the top of the generally smooth and unadorned walls. The Classic Maya period was one in which there were few outside influences. Although the great city of Teotihuacan (near present-day Mexico City) established trading relationships with many Maya cities, there don't seem to have been any great invasions and takeovers such as occurred in later centuries. This is known as the "pure" Maya period.

An archaeological jigsaw puzzle. I noticed something odd on the sloping wall of the pyramid leading up beside the staircase. Many of the rocks had numbers and letters painted on them. It seems that these stones had been removed by archaeologists to view the multiple earlier pyramids in the interior. In order to make sure they replaced the rocks correctly, the scientists marked them carefully.

Entrance to the Quadrangle of the Nuns. One enters the Quadrangle through a towering corbel or "false arch." Architecturally speaking, this is the last step before the invention of the "true" or Roman arch, which the Maya never achieved. Still, it is an impressive entrance to a large quadrangle of of one-story buildings set on platforms around the sides. While not as tall or massive as some of the other structures at Uxmal, it contains a sense of balance and openness which set it apart. The architectural style is called Puuc, after the low hills in the area, which are the closest thing that pancake-flat Yucatan has to mountains. The Puuc style evolved from the Chenes style, seen previously on the Sorcerer's Pyramid. Although the name of the Sorcerer's Pyramid is derived from Maya legend, the names by which we call the other structures of Uxmal came from the Spanish or later archaeologists.

Northeast corner of the Quadrangle of the Nuns. The four long buildings which form the Quadrangle don't meet at the corners. They were each constructed at different times. The structure of the Quadrangle reminded the Spanish of a nunnery. It may actually have been some sort of training academy for the sons of the Maya nobility. On the left is the North Building, and on the right is the East Building. All four buildings in the Quadrangle are single-story, with a series of doors along the front which open into one or more interior rooms. Three of the buildings sit on a low platforms, and are entered by way of broad staircases running most of the length of the buildings. The North Building has low, columned temples on each end, one of which you can see above.

The East Building is elegant in its simplicity. The lower half is smooth and unadorned. Probably this part was covered by plaster and painted. There are five doors along the wall. Above the smooth lower facade, the top half of the wall is decorated in typical "pure" Puuc style, with lattice-work and abstract geometrical designs.

The North Building is the most elaborate of the four buildings comprising the Quadrangle. In addition to some of the features seen on the East Building, the North Building has the remains of a roof comb along the top, as well as the columned temples on each end of the grand staircase. There are eleven doorways, some still supported by their original wooden lintels. This is the building first seen when emerging from the corbel arch entrance of the Quadrangle, and it was obviously a palace of great importance.

Faces of Chac, the rain god. On the frieze of the North Building, above some of the doors, you will find 3 faces of Chac, in column. The open, toothy mouths are surrounded by thick oval lips. The indented eyes glare out menacingly. The long, crooked noses can't be seen clearly in this frontal view. In other places on this frieze, you can find sculptures of Tlaloc, the Teotihuacan rain god, demonstrating the influence that great civilization had, even this far from central Mexico. Apparently, the inhabitants of Uxmal were hedging their bets to ensure adequate rain. Evidence of Teotihuacan influence can be found in Maya sites as far south as Guatamala, the result of its extensive trade networks.

The West Building. This building is located on the west side of the Quadrangle. The middle door, the largest of 7 opening, looks straight through the building onto the jungle on the back side.

The frieze on the upper half of the West Building is elaborately decorated. Here you can see additions by invaders from central Mexico, called the Xiu, who arrived at the end of the Classical Period. Superimposed on the elegant simplicity of the Puuc panel you can see the body of a plumed serpent twisting in and out of the lattice work. Plumes of feathers can be seen on the tail above, while an elaborate head and face appears on the lower section. The plumed serpent, called Quetzalcoatl, is the main deity of the Toltecs, a highly militaristic society to which the Xiu were related. The Xiu and another branch of Toltecs called the Cocom invaded Yucatan around 1000 AD and seized Uxmal and Mayapan. They allied themselves with the Itza tribe of Chichen Itza, and together dominated the whole northern area of the Yucantan Peninsula.

Standing warrior on the West Building frieze. The warrior figure, who is missing his left leg, clutches a weapon across his chest. It is also possible that this is a representation of a ball player. In recent years, archaeologists have begun to wonder whether much of the warrior imagery they have found in various ruined civilizations may actually be related to the cult of the ball game. Still, the ball game itself is a representation of warfare between the gods, so the discussion seems somewhat circular. It is also a fact that the Toltecs were a warrior society, motivated by a grim militarism.

Another warrior/ball player on the West Building. This one stands in profile, right arm across his chest, left arm and fist upraised. He may be about to throw something, or be raising his arm in defiance. So much about these ancient civilizations is murky or simply unknown. Theories of Maya civilization have changed and evolved many times. In earlier times, it was thought the Maya people themselves had nothing to do with the great ruins; that they were built by dispaced Greeks or Egyptians or one of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Until the 1970s, many archaeologists thought the Maya had been a peaceful civilization of artists and astronomers. Then the hieroglyphs were deciphered, telling stories of intense warfare and human sacrifice. The Spanish found the Maya much more difficult to conquer than the Aztecs. Probably the only way the Toltecs succeeded was that Maya civilization was in a period of decline.

The South Building contains the grand entrance with the corbelled arch. It is the only one of the four sides that does not sit on a platform or have a grand staircase leading up to it. Still, it maintains the elegantly simple Puuc style of plain wall on the lower half, and decorated frieze above.

The South Building is decorated with designs showing Maya huts. This is unusual, since Maya decorations are usually devoted to elite themes. The Maya hut, called a nah, is walled with mud and sticks and roofed by palm fronds. Huts like this are still in use throughout Maya territory, an architectural style that has lasted perhaps 5,000 years.

Another view of the North Building showing the Temple of Venus. The low, columned structure at the left end of the North Building palace was named the Temple of Venus because of a mistaken interpretation of some of the symbols on the upper frieze of the temple. Although small, it is a balanced and elegant little structure.

Closeup of the Temple of Venus. It is not hard to see why early archaeologists and explorer/adventurers thought they saw a Greek influence in these ruins. I have often wondered at the capacity of different groups of human beings to arrive at the same conclusions, even though separated by vast distances with no possibility of communications. The use of rows of columns and of the corbelled arch are only two examples. Perhaps it has to do with the principles of physics on building materials. Maybe there are only so many ways of building large stone structures.

The House of Birds lies between the Quadrangle of the Nuns and the Sorcerer's Pyramid. It once formed part of a small quadrangle of buildings, some of which have been reconstructed, stone by stone. The House of Birds got its name from the numerous small stone sculptures of various kinds of birds which line its roof.

Quetzel bird quietly surveys eternity on the roof of the House of Birds. The bird shown above may be a Quetzal bird, which is found throughout the jungles of the Maya territory. The Toltec deity, Quetzalcoatl, was part Quetzal bird, part snake, which together formed the famed "plumed serpent."

Stacked faces of Chac line the corner of the East Building's frieze. Here you can see the upraised, elephant-trunk-like snout of the Maya rain god. The snout of the top face has broken off. The snarling, toothy mouth, and deeply inset, glaring eyes are very typical of Chac faces not only at Uxmal but also at Chichen Itza and other sites. To the right of the Chac faces, you can see a double column of Maya hieroglyphics.

Frontal view of Chac faces on East Building frieze. Chac appears, to me at least, as an angry god who would need considerable propitiating, probably with human blood. In fact, the sacrificial altar on which a living victim's heart was cut out by a Maya priest wielding a sharp obsidian blade was called a Chac Mool. While the Maya culture did spawn artists and astronomers, it had another, darker side.

This concludes Part 1 of my 2-part Uxmal series. Thank you for joining us on this journey to a distant time and place. If you would like to leave a comment, please do so either in the comments section below, or by emailing me directly. If you leave a question in the comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Mérida: Yucatan's graceful old colonial capital

Palace of Don Francisco de Montejo occupies one side of Mérida's Plaza. Another city we visited on our Caravan Tour was Mérida, capital of Yucatan State. Because of its geography, Yucatan has always been isolated from the rest Mexico. For centuries, it had more of a relationship with Old Spain than with the rest of New Spain. Carole and I loved Mérida's old colonial architecture. Much of it has fallen into disrepair, but some of it is undergoing rehabilitation as people, many of them foreigners, rediscover Mérida. Because of the odd weather found all over Mexico in February of 2010, Mérida was cool rather than hot and muggy as we had expected. The Palace above was originally built by the son of the conquistador who attempted to conquer the Maya of Yucatan in the 1540s. Members of the de Montejo family lived in it until the early 1980s. For an interactive map of Mérida and the Yucatan Peninsula, click here.

We stayed in The House of the Jaguar. Casa del Balam was one of the beautifully restored old colonial hotels which at one point was the home of one of Merida's most distinguished families, that of Fernando Barbachano Peon. Casa del Balam is one of the few original Art Deco houses left in Mérida. It is located in the heart of El Centro, near the University of Merida and the Jose Peón Contréras Theatre.

Casa del Balam is built around a cool and jungly atrium courtyard. Above, a fountain quietly gurgles in the courtyard. A vine-entangled tree rises several stories in one corner. I half expected the namesake jaguar to poke its head through the greenery. The hotel is decorated with the large, old-fashioned, hacienda-style wooden furniture, and even the bathroom sinks have hand-painted designs.

"Hop aboard!" When we stopped on the street a block or two from Casa Balam, the carriage driver motioned for us to jump on. To his disappointment, we declined, since we had ridden all day in the bus and wanted to explore Merida's El Centro on foot. Photography is also more difficult from a moving vehicle. Behind the carriage, you can see some of the wonderful old colonial architecture in El Centro.

Merida's Cathedral at twilight. The carriage driver found another set of passengers and was just in front of the church when I took this photo. The Cathedral was built between 1561 and 1598 by Pedro de Aulestia and Miguel de Auguero. It stands on the site of an Maya temple. Under a policy established by Hernan Cortés, the Spanish built churches on top of pagan temples to graphically demonstrate who was in control. Inside the church is an Indian woodcarving. Legend has it that the Indians took the wood from a tree that burned all night without showing any signs of damage. It has been in the church since 1645 and is especially venerated in October of each year.

A massive, iron-studded wooden door guards the entrance of the Cathedral. The Cathedral of San Ildefonso in Merida is one of the oldest in the Americas. It was built on the orders of Phillip II of Spain, the same king who sent the Armada to disastrous defeat against Queen Elizabeth I.

King Phillip II left his mark in Mérida. The coat-of-arms above was awarded to the Cathedral by King Phillip. The church was built in a variety of styles, including Moorish, Renaissance, and Baroque. Some of the stones used in construction came from the old Maya temple.

Mérida was old when the Spanish arrived. The original Maya name for what became Mérida was T'hó, or Ichkanzihóo, which means "city of the five hills", referring to five pyramids. The Maya community had existed long before Francisco de Montejo conquered the Yucatan Peninsula. His son Francisco de Montejo "el Mozo" (the boy) founded the colonial city of Mérida in 1542. Because the site had been a center of Maya culture and activity for hundreds of years prior to the Spanish arrival, some historians consider it to be the oldest continually occupied city in the Americas. The Mayan statue above is a reproduction of one found in one of the many ancient ruined Maya cities within a couple of hours of Mérida.

Graceful living in old Mérida's El Centro. We found many sidewalk restaurants like the one above in the streets around the main plaza. Places like this are among my favorites in Mexico. I love to "people watch" while sipping a cup of delicious Yucatan coffee, or sampling some of the local cuisine. There's always something interesting going on in a Mexican plaza, and Mérida's was no exception.

Tribute to Motherhood. While wandering a side street, I stumbled across this little monument in a tiny plaza. The statue celebrates "Maternidad," or motherhood. The family is an extremely important institution in Mexico.

Old Gothic church towered over the Maternidad statue. It was probably no coincidence that the monument to motherhood was built adjacent to this church.

Palacio Gobierno occupies one side of Mérida's main plaza. Mexican plazas are very predictable in design. One side will be dominated by a church, in Mérida's case the Cathedral, another side will be occupied by the state, in this case the municipal government (equivalent to a county seat in the US). Originally built by Spanish Governor Santiago Aguirre between 1734-36, it has undergone numerous changes over the centuries. The present building is marked "1821," which was the year Mexico won its independence from Spain. The arches and columns, called "portales" are another very typical feature of a Mexican plaza. King Phillip II decreed that such portales should be built in every plaza of New Spain in order that those seeking to do business in a plaza should be sheltered from the hot sun and rain.

Detail above the entrance to the palace of Francisco de Montejo, "el Mozo." The Spanish first landed on the Yucatan peninsula in 1517, even before Cortés arrived on the scene. They were driven off by the Maya in 1517 and 1519. Francisco de Montejo, the father of "el Mozo," made the first real attempt to conquer the Yucatan Maya in the 1528, but once again met bitter resistance. De Montejo (senior) kept at it and seemed to win but was driven out in 1535. He later went on to become Governor of Honduras.

Junior wins the day. It fell to the son, Francisco de Montejo, "el Mozo", to finish the job. Maya resistance finally ended in 1542, more than 20 years after the Aztecs collapsed. Historians have speculated that a centralized state like that of the Aztecs was much easier to conquer, because one had only to take its capital and kill the king. In Yucatan, the Maya were much more decentralized and dispersed, and engaged in guerrilla warfare for decades. The detail shown above, from his palace's entrance, may display "el Mozo's" attitude toward those he conquered. A Spanish conquistador stands on two heads crying out in pain and horror. A similar statue stands on the other side of the balcony, also treading on the heads of "el Mozo's" victims. Whether or not these are actually intended to represent Maya heads (some people disagree), "el Mozo" conquered the fiercely resistant Maya with great brutality.

Window of "el Mozo's" palace also displays interesting sculptures. The palace was built in a style known as "plateresque." Francisco de Montejo's home is considered by architectural historians as the finest example of this style in Mexico or even the New World. According to an inscription, the palace was completed in 1549. Plateresque drew on Gothic, Moorish, and late Renaissance styles.

A more peaceful view of the Maya. This detail is from the right side of the window shown in the previous photo. The male Indian wears a feathered head dress and the skin of a wild animal, possibly a jaguar. The statue is covered by chicken wire to fend off pigeons, the bane of statuary.

A day in the park. A young mother looks on indulgently as her small daughter feeds hundreds of pigeons in the main plaza of Mérida. I enjoyed quiet vignettes like this, to be found all around the park and the surrounding streets, as the citizens of Mérida went about enjoying their beautiful city.

Next week, I will begin a 2-part series on Uxmal, one of the great Maya ruins of the northern Yucatan plains. Like Palenque, I got so many wonderful shots that I couldn't use them all in just one posting. If you would like to respond to this posting, you can either use the comments section below, or email me directly. If you leave a question in the comments section, PLEASE leave you email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego! Jim