The Quadrangle of the Nuns

Uxmal is the most heavily decorated and unique site in the Yucatan. It is located in the region of Puuc, which means small hill. The surrounding terrain did not possess any naturally occurring bodies of water, making it one of the most arid regions on the peninsula. Civilization existed in the region due to the reliance on rainfall and the creation of chultuns, which were artificial rain basins that acted as reservoirs for the local populace. This dependence on the fickle trends of rainfall caused the people of Uxmal to place great significance behind the rain god Chaak (also known as Tlaloc to people such as the Mexica in the north), who can be seen on the majority of major temples and buildings in Uxmal. The site has a vast array of opulent constructions such as the Pyramid of the Magician, the House of the Governor, and, most notable, the Nunnery Quadrangle.

The Quadrangle was originally created in the years of 900- 910 AD during the Post Classic Period. The origin of the structure’s name comes from the group of maidens that originally inhabited the Quadrangle. The women that lived in these buildings were held in high esteem in the Uxmal social system, comparable to that of the “Vestal Virgins” that lived in Rome (Emily Davis, The Science-News Letter, 298). They wore garb that was heavily ornamented, like the surrounding architecture, with precious stones and other decorations. The theocratic system of the Mayans held the maidens in a position that is similar to that of the native priests. Their original purpose for these maidens was to tend to the state of the temple and maintain it. If any of them failed to meet their goals, they would be summarily executed. The maidens lived in all four of the structure on the Quadrangle. Though their total number is not known, the number of rooms and cells in all four structures is around 88.

The decoration of the Quadrangle is exuberant and offers insight to the political and religious attitudes of the area and time. The buildings have a massive amalgamation of different architectural techniques, including lattice designs, visages of Chaak, serpents, Venus, etc. These various decorations all allude to certain stories. The most notable of these would be the Mayan creation mythos. These varied styles connect the site of Uxmal to Chichen Itza with its use of non-Classic imagery. This imagery also shows the importance of religion in Uxmal, and how the native leadership sought to establish the site as one of great importance. The structure also shows a certain amount of political authority, due to the presence of a decorated capstone. This stone is decorated with the name and image of “Lord Chac”, full name being Chan-Chak-K’ak’nal’Ahaw (Jeff Kowalski, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures, Uxmal). He is the most well-known ruler of Uxmal. Chac ordered the construction of the Quadrangle during his reign. It is suggested that Chac himself ruled over the majority of the Eastern Puuc region and likely had an alliance with Chichen. This was possible through the creation of numerous sakbes, raised limestone roads, in the region.

Images

Chaak

Chaak

A sculpture found on the base of the Pyramid of the Magician at the Uxmal ruins. These particular carvings rotated outward to different direction as they ascended toward the top of the temple. These visages are of the rain god of the Mayans named Chaak, also known as Tlaloc. His figure is easily spotted around the Puuc ruins. The rain god is set apart by his unique snout that is present in all of his carvings. Chaak held a great importance to the locals, since the native populace associated him with rainfall. | Creator: Photo by Andrew Eckhoff View File Details Page

Puuc Style

Puuc Style

This example of the exuberant Puuc style comes from the Quadrangle of the Birds. This Quadrangle is located in front of the site's Pyramid of the Magician. It is heavily ornamented, with several layered tiles, birds, and visages of Chaak on the corners. This quadrangle, though certainly not as massive, shares some design concepts with the Nunnery Quadrangle. These are the presence of the lattice work and the superficial sculptures located on the sides of the walls. This example is a perfect representation of Uxmal's exuberance. | Creator: Photo by Andrew Eckhoff View File Details Page

Snakes at the Quadrangle

Snakes at the Quadrangle

These snakes are located on one of the four buildings in the Nunnery Quadrangle. This photo shows an example of the lattice style architecture, associated with native royalty, and the mythos that these carvings allude to. Snakes are represented in Mesoamerican culture as vicious and mystical entities. In stories, these snakes represent the possibility of revival, the underworld, and the sky. This is evident in the Mayan version of the feathered serpent, Kukulkan. | Creator: Photo by Andrew Eckhoff View File Details Page

The Nunnery Housing

The Nunnery Housing

This picture shows the actual housing quarters in the Nunnery. In total, there were around 88 rooms that the temple's maidens would have lived in. These quarters were built into three of the Quadrangle's sides, excluding the entrance. These quarters were, in contrast to the living conditions of the peasantry, comparable to that of the Mayan nobility. Further evidence that the maidens were held to the high standards that were typically reserved to the nobles and high priests. | Creator: Photo by Andrew Eckhoff View File Details Page

Entrance to the Nunnery

Entrance to the Nunnery

This photo shows the entrance that leads to the Quadrangle. It consists of a solid decorated wall and the false archway that is its only opening. These arches, called in layman's terms as false arches, are an example of the Corbel vault style of construction. This architectural style, though impressive, has also been seen in civilizations such as Southwest Asia. These arches can be seen in places like Uxmal, Palenque, and even at sites in Honduras. In the background of this photo is also the Palace of the Governor and a temple that is still undergoing the process of being uncovered. | Creator: Photo by Andrew Eckhoff View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Andrew Eckhoff, “The Quadrangle of the Nuns,” HistoricalMX, accessed November 24, 2017, http://historicalmx.org/items/show/15.

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