Thursday, March 28, 2013

2 - Incidents of Travel: Mayan Ruins

Part 2: Uxmal, featuring incidents of Travel by Rhondda Hartman

John Lloyd Stephens 1836

The last city visited by John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood in their monumental trip to Central America in 1839 and the first site revisited on their return was Uxmal.  Stephens described the ruins as follows:

“The hacienda of Uxmal was built of dark gray stone, ruder in appearance than any of the others [cities visited].  … In the afternoon, [I] set out for a walk to the ruins.  The path led through a noble piece of woods, in which there were many tracks, and [my] Indian guide lost his way.  We took another road, and, emerging suddenly from the woods, to my astonishment came at once upon a large open field strewed with mounds of ruins, and vast buildings on terraces, and pyramidal structures, grand and in good preservation, richly ornamented, without a bush to obstruct the view, and in picturesque effect almost equal to the ruins of Thebes.
Uxmal by Frederick Catherwood

“The place of which I am now speaking was beyond all doubt once a large, populous, and highly civilized city.  Who built it, why it was located away from water or any of those natural advantages which have determined the sites of cities whose histories are known, what led to its abandonment and destruction, no man can tell.

Uxmal today
“… The first object that arrests the eye on emerging from the forest is the building [House of the Dwarf, see below].  From its front doorway I counted sixteen elevations, with broken walls and mounds of stones, and vast, magnificent edifices, which seemed untouched by time.

“… The other building is called Casa de las Monjas, or House of the Nuns, or the Convent.  It is situated on an artificial elevation about fifteen feet high.  Its form is quadrangular, and one side, according to my measurement, is ninety-five paces in length.  … Like the House of the Dwarf, it is built entirely of cut stone, and the whole exterior is filled with the same rich, elaborate, and incomprehensible sculptured ornaments.”

Uxmal "The Nunnery"
“While I was making the circuit of these ruins, Mr. Catherwood proceeded to the Casa del Gobernador.  It is the grandest in position, the most stately in architecture and proportions, and the most perfect in preservation of all the structures remaining at Uxmal. … There is no rudeness or barbarity in the design or proportions; on the contrary, the whole wears an air of architectural symmetry and grandeur; and as the stranger ascends the steps and casts a bewildered eye along its open and desolate doors, it is hard to believe that he sees before him the work of a race in whose epitaph, as written by historians, they are called ignorant of art, and said to have perished in the rudeness of savage life.  If it stood at this day on its grand artificial terrace in Hyde Park or the Garden of the Tuileries, it would form a new order, I do not say equaling, but not unworthy to stand side by side with the remains of Egyptian, Grecian, and Roman art.”

Compare Stephen’s  impression of Uxmal to this visit by Rhondda Hartman:
Rhondda Hartman
“We went in the early 1970s and took our 2 oldest girls with us; they were about 12 & 14.  Uxmal is the most delightful of all the pyramids I have visited, and the first.   It is 'soft' and architecturally beautiful with its rounded walls and elliptical shape.   I would call it a boutique archaeological site! Chichen Itsa, by comparison, is harsh and sharp and a military compound.   Uxmal is more like a palace.
“My belief is that the sacrificial rituals that are attributed to the Mayans were introduced by other civilizations of Toltec and Aztec!   As in Chichen Itsa,  Mayans are a peaceful culture, I think, at least Uxmal feels that way to me!  We were on a tour and our hotel was nearby.  One of my daughters and I could not wait for the guide.  We went on our own and climbed all over the pyramid and surrounding areas and felt so comfortable.   [House of the Dwarf pictured below]
“We also joined the tour at the established time, but when that was done, we wandered off by ourselves again and found the un-restored area of the park.  A kind worker saw our interest and gave us a tour of the jungle-covered part of the Mayan city and outside the walls where the commoners lived.  We were so comfortable and felt as though it was familiar territory for us. We seemed to know where we were and where to go!  Well, do I need to tell you that it sparked an interest in the Mayan civilization for both of us?  And you can be sure that if there is reincarnation, my daughter and I lived there!
“It was about that time that I went to UCD to get a Masters and I took several courses on the culture.  I have an interest in a trip to see the more important Mayan cities of Tikal , Palenque , Copan and Bonampak.  I cannot revisit Uxmal since the first time was so magical I could probably never achieve that experience again!”

-- Rhondda Hartman is an expert on natural childbirth, renowned speaker and is the author of “Exercises For True Natural Childbirth”.  Rhondda has travelled all over the world and says that one of her favorite places in the world is Uxmal.
Have you travelled to see the Mayan ruins? I would like to hear your story. If you are willing to share your story, please submit it by clicking here. Throughout this series, I will be posting stories from readers and comparing their experiences with those of Stephens and Catherwood.

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