An archway leads out of the Nunnery Quadrangle across a grassy esplanade and past Uxmal’s modest Ball Court. Bearing left, you’ll climb a large platform to the Governor’s Palace. At the top of the steps, pause a moment to appreciate the scope of this complex, considered by some to be the height of Puuc architecture.
The platform you just climbed is artificial—it was built by hand out of piled stone, and measures a mind-boggling 187 meters (613.5 feet) long, 170 meters (558 feet) wide, and 8–10 meters (26.3–33 feet) high. On top of it are a number of structures, the most notable being the Governor’s Palace, which measures 98 meters (321.5 feet) long and 12 meters 40 feet) wide (and it’s built on still another 7-meter/23-foot high platform).
The upper frieze has lattice patterns, feathered serpents, and over 100 Chac masks; in all, it took some 15,000 individual stone pieces to create it. Over the center door was the face—now gone—of a god, probably Lord Chac, surrounded by feather headdress, featuring Chac masks. Two arrow-shaped corbel arches originally allowed passage from one side to the other, but were later plugged, perhaps to create more rooms or to stabilize the structure. The high-vaulted interior rooms are musty and unpleasant, but do walk around the north end, where, at the corners, near the ground, some excellent carved pieces can be examined close-up.
On the small platform in front of the palace, a throne in the shape of a two-headed jaguar was uncovered by John Stephens in 1841, and remains today. Such thrones were a common symbol of Maya authority—a similar one was found in Palenque and a single-headed one deep inside El Castillo at Chichén Itzá. Stephens tried to take the artifact with him but, lucky for us, found it “too heavy to carry away.” He evidently never thought to look beneath it—there, archaeologists found a cache of nearly a thousand extremely fine jade, obsidian, and ceramic items.
Also on this platform is the House of the Turtles, a simple but elegant structure measuring 11- by 30-meters (36- by 100-feet). The lower half is very plain, but the upper part is decorated with a frieze of columns, topped by a cornice adorned by a series of turtles. The Maya associated turtles and other wetland creatures with rain and fertility, and this structure, like so much else in Uxmal, was probably used for ceremonies to bring rain. Inside is a sunny courtyard, and from the north side is a fine view of the ball court, with the Nunnery Quadrangle and the Pyramid of the Magician beyond.
© Gary Chandler & Liza Prado from Moon Yucatán Peninsula, 9th edition