Uxmal: 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.