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13-05-2015, 14:29


The ruins at Palenque are considered by some to belong to the ancient period of Maya architecture; those we are now to examine are regarded as of more modern date. This is at least true with respect to the time of their abandonment. Though the efforts of explorers in Yucatan have been attended with rich results, still few places have been fully described. The country is fairly dotted with sites of aboriginal settlements. In all probability there are many that are yet unknown. Hidden in tropical jungles, they are fast falling into meaningless mounds of debris. The early Spanish explorers, skirting the coasts of Yucatan, gazed in astonishment at the views they occasionally obtained of pyramids crowned with temples and imposing buildings. But this gleam of historic light was but momentary in duration. It served but to throw a sunset glow over the doomed tribes and civilization of the Mayas. By the aid of that dim, uncertain light, we are asked to recognize a form of government and society which, under the clearer light of modern researches is seen to bear an equally strong resemblance to institutions more in keeping with the genius of the New World.

The few travelers who visit the country are generally content to revisit and describe places already known. This is not strange, considering the difficulties that have to be overcome. The country swarms with savage Indians, who are jealous of the intrusions of strangers. We have, however, this consolation: those ruins already brought to light show such a uniformity of detail, that it is not probable that any new developments are to be expected. The ruins that are already known are sufficient to illustrate all the points of their architecture; and we can draw from them, doubtless, all that can be drawn from ruins, throwing light on the civil organization of the Mayas of Yucatan.

We can not do better than to describe some of the more important ruins, and then notice wherein others differ. Examining the map, we see that Uxmal44 is one of the first ruins that would meet us on arriving, in the country. It is more fully described than any other, though perhaps not of greater importance than those of some other localities. As at Palenque, while the principal ruins are said to be situated in a small area, the whole section abounds in mounds and heaps of debris, and it may well be said that buildings as imposing as those already described are concealed in the forest not far removed from the present ruins. A plat of ground seventeen hundred feet long by twelve hundred feet wide would include the principal structures now known.

The most imposing single edifice here is that called the Governor's House. The only reason for giving it this name is its size. Being of large size, and located on a terraced pyramid, it has received a name which may be very inappropriate. We will first notice the pyramid on which the building stands. At Palenque the pyramid rises regularly from the ground. Here the pyramid is terraced. In order to understand clearly the arrangement of these various terraces, we introduce this drawing. The base is a somewhat irregular figure, though nearly a square. Another pyramid cuts into one corner of the terrace. The first terrace is about three feet high, fifteen feet broad, and five hundred and seventy-five feet long. The second terrace is twenty feet high, two hundred and fifty feet wide, and five hundred and forty-five feet in length. The third terrace, on which the building stands, is nineteen feet high, and its summit platform is one hundred by three hundred and sixty feet. The height of this platform above the general surface is a little over forty feet.45

The material of which the pyramid is composed, is rough fragments of limestone, thrown together without order; but the terraces were all faced with substantial stone work. At the time of Mr. Stephens's visit the facing of the second terrace was still in a good state of preservation. Charney believes the platform was paved with square blocks. This pyramid was not entirely artificial—they took advantage of a natural hill, as far as it went. No stairway or other means of ascent to the first terrace is mentioned. From its low height, probably none was needed. The second terrace being twenty feet high, some means of ascent was required. This was afforded, as seen in the drawing, by an inclined plane, at the south side one hundred feet broad. From the second terrace a grand staircase, one hundred and thirty feet wide, containing thirty-five steps, led up to the summit of the third terrace.

No buildings or other ornaments are mentioned as having been found on the lower terrace. The wide promenade of the second one supported some structures of its own, but they were in too dilapidated a condition to furnish a clear idea of their original nature, except in one instance—that is of the building at A of the drawing. This building was ninety-four feet long, thirty-four feet wide, and about twenty feet high.

The roof had fallen in, so that we do not know the arrangement of the rooms in the interior. The simplicity of ornaments on the outer wall is commented on. Instead of the complicated ornaments, so apparent on the buildings of Yucatan, the only ornament in this case was a simple and elegant line of round columns, standing close together, and encircling the whole edifice. At regular intervals on the upper cornice appeared a sculptured turtle. From this circumstance, the building was named "The House of Turtles." No steps lead to the terrace below or to the one above. "It stands isolated and alone, seeming to mourn over its own desolate and ruinous condition."

At B, along the south end of the terrace, there was a long, low mound of ruins, and arranged along its base was a row of broken columns about five feet high and nearly five feet in circumference. Some have supposed, from this, that columns extended along the entire promenade of the second terrace. This would indeed give it a very grand appearance; but there is no foundation for such a view. East of the central stairway at C, was a low, square inclosure. This contained a standing pillar, now in a slanting position, as if an effort had been made to throw it over. It was about eight feet above the surface of the ground and five below. The Indians called it a whipping-post. Mr. Stephens thinks it was connected with the ceremonial rites of an ancient worship. He found a similarly shaped stone in connection with other buildings at Uxmal, and at other places in Yucatan.

Still further east, at D, he found a rude, circular mound of rough stones. On excavating this, he was rewarded by the discovery of a double-headed monument. It was carved out of a single block of stone. The probabilities are that it was purposely buried when the natives abandoned Uxmal, to prevent the Spaniards from destroying it. Scattered about over this platform were found excavations much like well-made cisterns in shape. As it is something of a mystery where the inhabitants obtained water, it is a reasonable supposition that these were really cisterns. Similar excavations were discovered all over the area of the ruins.

Leaving the second terrace, and passing up the ruined stairway, we find ourselves on the summit platform of the third terrace, and see before us one of the long, low, richly ornamented buildings of Yucatan. This cut presents us an end view, but gives us a good idea of the building as a whole. It does not occupy the entire summit; there is a wide promenade all around it. Its length is three hundred and twenty-two feet; its width, thirty-nine feet, and its height twenty-six feet.

In order to understand clearly the arrangement of the rooms, we will here give the ground-plan. The two end portions may have been additions to the original structure. There are, at any rate, reasons for supposing the small rooms in the two recesses of later construction. We must notice that we have here the usual three parallel walls and two rows of rooms. All the walls are massive, the rear wall especially so. It is nine feet thick throughout, and so are the transverse walls of the two recesses. Supposing the rear wall might contain rooms, Mr. Stephens made an opening through it. He found it to be solid.

The stones facing the walls and rooms are smooth and square, and the mass of the masonry consists of rough, irregular fragments of stone and mortar. This cross-section makes this meaning plain. We can but notice what an immense amount of useless labor was bestowed on the walls and ceilings of this building. We gather more the idea of galleries excavated in a rocky mass, than of rooms inclosed by walls. The rooms are very plain; no attempt at decoration was observed. In one or two instances the remains of a fine coat of plastering was noticed. "The floors were of cement, in some places hard, but by long exposure broken, and now crumbling under foot." The arches supporting the roof are of the same style as those at Palenque—that is, triangular,—though, in this case, the ends of the projecting stones were beveled off so as to form a smooth surface. At Palenque, we remember, the inequalities were filled with cement. Across the arches were still to be observed beams of wood, the ends buried in the wall at both sides. The supposition is that they served to support the arches while building, and afterwards for the suspension of hammocks.46

There are no openings for light and ventilation, consequently some of the rear rooms are both damp and dark. The lintels over each doorway were of wood. This was the common and ordinary material employed for lintels in Yucatan, though in one or two instances stone was used. They used for this purpose beams of zapote, a wood noted for its strength and durability. Some inner lintels still remain in place. The one over the central doorway of the outer wall was elaborately carved, the others were plain.

The outside of the building is also of interest to us. By a careful examination, we notice a cornice just above the doorway. The wall below the cornice presents a smooth surface of limestone, no traces of plaster or paint appearing; above the cornice the facade is one solid mass of rich, complicated, and elaborately sculptured ornaments. This is not stucco work, as at Palenque, but the ornaments are carved on stone. Mr Stephens tells us, "Every ornament or combination is made up of separate stones, each of which had carved on it part of the subject, and was then set in its place in the wall. Each stone, by itself, is an unmeaning fractional portion, but placed by the side of others, makes, part of a whole which, without it, would be incomplete."

It is not possible to give a verbal description of all of the ornaments; we can notice but few. Over each doorway was represented a person apparently seated on a sort of throne, having a lofty head-dress, with enormous plumes of feathers falling symmetrically on each side. Though the figures varied in each case, in general characteristics they were the same as the one here represented, which was the figure over the central doorway of the building.

Among the most commonly reappearing ornaments at Uxmal, and at other places, is one that has received the name of the "Elephant's Trunk," and has given rise to no little discussion. One occurs immediately above the figure. Part of this ornament is represented in this plate. The central part of this figure, which appears as a plain band, is in reality a curved projecting stone, which, when looked at sideways, has the appearance given in this cut. Though requiring a little imagination, the majority of travelers see in this some monster's face. The eyes and teeth are seen in the first engraving. This projecting stone is the nose.

We stand in amazement before this sculptured facade. We must reflect that its builders were not possessed of metallic tools. It extends entirely around the building, though the end and rear walls are not as elaborately decorated as the front. A little calculation shows that it contains over ten thousand square feet of carved stone. The roof of the building was flat. It had been covered with cement. But vegetation had somehow acquired a foothold, and the whole is now overgrown with grass and bushes. Such is a brief description of this "casa." Hastening to ruins, it appeals powerfully to the imagination. It is a memorial of vanished times. We wonder what of the strange people that pressed up these stairs and entered these rooms? For many years it has been abandoned to the elements. Year by year portions of the ornamented facade fall. Though the walls are massive and the roof is strong, it is but a question of time when a low mound of ruins will alone mark its site.

Like the palace at Palenque, this structure has given rise to conflicting theories as to its use. While many of the writers on this subject claim that it was the residence of royalty, there are, on the other hand, those who think it is simply a communal house of village Indians, or the official house of the tribe. In whatever light we shall ultimately view it, it is surely an interesting monument of native American culture. The labor necessary to rear the terraced pyramid, even though advantage was taken of a natural eminence, must have been great. The building itself, though not of great dimensions, except in length, must have required the labor of a large number of Indians for a long time. For purposes of defense, the location, from an Indian point of view, was an excellent one, since with them elevation constitutes the principal means of defense. The terraces could be easily ascended from but one point, where an enemy could be easily resisted. In a general way, it may be regarded as a representative of Yucatan buildings, and so we will be able to more rapidly describe the remaining structures.

On the general plan we see, to the north of the structure we have just described, a group of ruins marked "C." This is regarded as the most wonderful collection of edifices in Yucatan, and as exhibiting the highest state of ancient architecture and sculpture in North America. They are known as the "Nunnery," which we think is a very absurd name. The pyramid on which they stood is also terraced, though on one side only. We give a drawing showing the position on the summit platform of the four buildings forming this group. Since we have so many ruined structures to describe, we must avoid such details as will prove tiresome. We will give in a note the dimensions of these buildings, and of the pyramid, and pass at once to some points of special interest.47

Traces of stairways are mentioned as leading up to the terrace, but none of the steps remained in place. The southern building is seen to have doors in both the court and terrace walls, but in this case the middle wall is unbroken. All the rooms of this building are single. In the plan it appears divided into two buildings; the opening is, however, but a triangular arched doorway, through which access was had to the court.

There is no one to dispute our right of way, and so, climbing up the ruined stairs, and passing through the deserted gateway, we emerge into a courtyard, now silent and deserted and overgrown with bushes and grass. It was once paved and covered with cement, and in the center are the remains of a stone pillar, similar to that in front of the governor's house. When the houses were all occupied this court must have presented an animated scene. But, now that the buildings are tenantless and going to ruin, it must impress all beholders with a sense of the changes wrought by time.

It will be noticed that the northern building does not stand in quite the same direction as the southern one, which detracts from the symmetry of the whole. It stands on a fourth terrace, twenty feet higher than the others. A grand, but ruined, staircase leads up the center of the terrace. At each end of this staircase built against the terrace, could be distinguished the ruins of a small building. There is one unusual feature about the ruins in the eastern building. In general, only two rooms open into each other. In this building, however, six rooms form one suite, and, furthermore, all the doorways of this suite are decorated with sculpture. As this suite of rooms was evidently a place of interest, we will introduce this illustration, which gives us a good idea of the appearance of the rooms on the inside. We would do well to compare this cut with that of the room in Pueblo Bonito. The arched roof is not a true arch but simply the triangular arch we have already spoken of.

The principal attraction about these buildings is the beautiful facades which overlook the court-yard. They are pronounced by all to be the finest examples of native American art. With one exception, they are neither complicated nor grotesque, but chaste and artistic. As in the Governor's House, the part below the cornice is plain, but the remaining part, both front and rear, is covered with sculpture. On entering the court-yard from the arched gateway of the southern building, we notice that its facade is composed of diamond lattice-work and vertical columns, while over each doorway is something that resembles a house, with a human figure seated in a doorway. This cut represents but a small portion of this facade, but it gives us an idea of the whole.

The facade of the eastern building was in the best state of preservation of any. We give a section of this also. The ornaments over the doorway, shown in the cut, consist of three of those mysterious masks, with the projecting curved stone, already described. "The ornaments over the other doorways are less striking, more simple, and more pleasing. In all of them there is, in the center, a masked face, with the tongue hanging out, surmounted by an elaborate head-dress. Between the horizontal bars is a range of diamond-shaped ornaments, in which the remains of red paint are still distinctly visible, and at each end of these bars is a serpent's head, with the mouth wide open." It is necessary to examine the drawing attentively, to distinguish these features. Some think the masked face represents the sun.

The western facade is known as the Serpent Facade. It was very much in ruins at the time of Mr. Stephens's visit. When entire, it must have been of great beauty. Two serpents are trailed along the whole front, and by the interlacing of their bodies divide the surface into square panels. In the open mouth of these serpents is sculptured a human head. The panels are filled with ornaments similar in design to those of the "Governor's House," and among the ornaments of each panel are found one or more human faces, while full-sized figures are not entirely absent. This cut represents but a small portion of the facade. It gives us, however, an idea of the whole. We notice, over the doorway again, the elephant's trunk ornament.

The northern building, standing high above the rest, on its own terrace, was doubtless intended to have the grandest front of all. It was, however, in such a ruined state, and the few remaining fragments so complicated, that no drawings have been given us. Human figures are represented in several places; two are apparently playing on musical instruments. We recall that at Palenque, the roof of some of the temples bears a curious two-storied work, erected apparently for ornamental purposes. The same instinct reappears in this building. At regular intervals along the front they carried the wall above the cornice, forming thirteen turret-like elevations ten feet wide, and seventeen feet high. These turrets were also loaded with ornaments. Another curious feature about this building is, that it was erected over, and completely inclosed, a smaller building of an older date. Wherever the outer walls have fallen, the ornamented cornice of the inner building is visible.

When we reflect on the patient labor that must have been expended on this pyramid and these buildings, we are filled with admiration for their perseverance and ingenuity. They had neither domestic animals or metallic tools. The buildings were massively built and richly ornamented. The sculptured portion covers over twenty-four thousand square feet.48 The terraced mound supporting the house contained over sixty thousand cubic yards of materials, though this may not be wholly artificial. To our eyes, as these rooms had neither windows nor fire-places, they are not very desirable. But we may be sure that the builders considered them as models of their kind.

Leaving this interesting ruin, we will now visit one of the temples. This is east of the Nunnery, and is marked "D" on the plan. The mound on which this building stands is high enough to overlook the entire field of ruins. This cut represents the eastern side of the mound, up which a flight of stone steps lead to the building on the summit. There are some grounds for supposing a grander staircase, supported on triangular arches, led up the western side.

The building on the top is not large—only seventy-two feet long, and twelve feet wide—and consists of but three rooms, none opening into each other. The front of the building, though much ruined, presented an elegant and tasteful appearance. There seems to be no doubt that this temple was the scene of idolatrous worship; perhaps of human sacrifices. In a legal paper which Mr. Stephens saw at Meridia, containing a grant of the lands on which these ruins stand, bearing date 1673, it is expressly stated that the Indians at that time had idols in these ancient buildings, to which, every day, openly and publicly, they burned copal. Nor is there any doubt that this was the continuation of an old custom. In the end room of this temple are engraved two circular figures which, by some, are considered as proofs of the presence of Phallic worship.49

The buildings we have described will give us a very good idea of the structures of this ancient city. We have described but a few of them, but we have now only space to make some general observations. We wish to point out some resemblances to the ruins at Palenque. In both, buildings that served as temples were not large, but of small dimensions, and contained but few rooms. They occupy the summits of high pyramids. Such was probably the building on the summit of the pyramid at "F" (see plan). The buildings on the top of this pyramid, like that just described, had but three rooms. A very large pyramid is seen at "E." Our information in regard to it is very meager. A square platform was found on the summit. It is not unreasonable to suppose that this platform was intended to support a temple. But, before it was erected, the presence of the Spaniards put an end to all native building. There are, however, no proofs to be advanced in support of this statement; it is a mere suggestion.

We think the House of the Nuns illustrates the general plan of building employed at both places. That is as follows: They first erected a rectangular pyramid or mounds often terraced. Buildings were then put up parallel to the four sides, thus inclosing a court. At Palenque this court, as we have seen, was built over. Besides the House of Nuns, there are several other instances at Uxmal of courts with buildings on their sides. Looking at the plan, we see one at "G," and a still more ruined one between that and "F." Such a court, with traces of ruined buildings, also exists between the nunnery and the temple, at "D." It is not improbable that groups of low ruins existing to the westward of the structures described would be found, on examination, to reveal the same arrangements.

As for the grand terraced pyramid supporting the Governor's House, it may well be that other buildings would have been added in process of time, as population increased. It is not necessary to suppose they erected all the buildings around a court at once. It seems very reasonable to suppose the northern building of the House of Nuns the oldest. The direction is not quite the same as the others; it stands on a higher terrace; and, furthermore, the present exterior walls are simply built around the older building. It may be, however, that the great terraced mound of the Governor's House was intended to support but one building. As there is the best of reason for supposing that Uxmal was inhabited at the time of the conquest, there is nothing to forbid the conclusion that the erection of pyramids, temples, and buildings was still going on.

Hieroglyphics, which formed such an interesting feature at Palenque, are here almost entirely wanting. A few rows occur around the head of the figure over the principal doorway of the Governor's House. They are of the same general character as those already described, but are "more rich, elaborate, and complicated." As to the probable antiquity of these ruins, we must defer consideration until we become more acquainted with the ruins of Yucatan.

The places we have now described will make us acquainted with the general character of the ruins scattered all over Yucatan. We do not feel as if we would be justified in dwelling at any great length over the remainder, though one or two important places must be mentioned. A word as to the frequency with which the ruins occur. We want to repeat that Yucatan, even to this day, is far from being thoroughly explored. Almost our only source of information is the writings of Mr. Stephens. But he only described a few places. In a trip of thirty-nine miles he took in a westerly direction from Uxmal he saw no less than seven different groups of ruins. Some of these, though in a very dilapidated state, presented points of great interest. When he started he knew of but few of those ruins. Some he heard of quite by accident while on his way, and some he first saw as he journeyed along the road. We must suppose the whole country equally well supplied.

After he had left Uxmal for good, at the village of Nochahab (see map), a little inquiry brought him information of so many ruins that he did not have time to visit them all. As to the question of use to which these buildings were applied, we must either suppose they had an immense number of temples and palaces—one or the other every few miles—or else they were the residences of the people themselves. And, though it may seem very strange that an imperfectly developed people should ornament so profusely and delicately their ordinary places of abode,50 yet it is difficult to understand why they should rear such an abundance of temples and palaces.

At Kabah (see map) Mr. Stephens found a most interesting field of ruins, rivaling Uxmal in extent, if not surpassing it. One group of buildings, arranged much like the House of Nuns, has some interesting features about it. The highest terrace in this case is nearly square, and the building on its summit is nearly the same shape. We have here two rows of double rooms, separated by a middle wall, very massive, as if two of the typical Maya buildings had been placed back to back. The front of this building was elaborately ornamented. In all the buildings at Uxmal the part above the cornice only was ornamented. Here the entire front was covered with carved stone. To make room for further ornaments the roof bore an additional appendage, like the second story of the Palenque temples. This building must have presented a wonderful appearance when entire.

Another feature at this place has reference to the pyramid. We are familiar with the idea of a terraced mound supporting buildings. In one of these Kabah structures the buildings are arranged in a different and suggestive way. That is, the pyramid was terraced off. There were three ranges of buildings, the roof of one range forming a promenade in front of the other. In another of the Kabah structures was found a wooden lintel, elegantly carved. Mr. Stephens tells us the lines were clear and distinct, and the cutting, under any test, and without any reference to the people by whom it was executed, would be considered as indicating great skill and proficiency in the art of carving on wood. At the expense of a great deal of hard work, he succeeded in getting this lintel out and removed to New York, where it was unfortunately destroyed by fire.

They worked stone to better advantage at Kabah than at Uxmal. For the first time we meet with lintels of stone and a doorway with carved jambs. The lintels were supported in the center by a pillar. The pillars were rude and unpolished, but they were not out of proportion, and, in fact, were adapted to the lowness of the building. We will only mention one more structure. This is a lonely arch, of the same form as all the rest, having a span of fourteen feet. It stands on a ruined mound, disconnected from every other structure, in solitary grandeur. "Darkness rests upon its history, but in that desolation and solitude, among the ruins around, it stood like the proud memorial of a Roman triumph." There was the usual pyramid with a temple. In a plan given of the field of ruins seventeen groups are seen, and, without a doubt, many more exist in the immediate forest.

M. Charney has of late years made a discovery which conclusively shows that this was an inhabited place at the time of the conquest. In a room as ruined as the rest he discovered the stucco-figure of a horse and its rider. They are formed after the Indian manner by an inexperienced hand guided by an over-excited imagination. Both figures are easily recognized. The horse has on its trappings. We can see the stirrups. The man wears his cuirass. We all know what astonishment the appearance of men on horseback produced among the Indians, and so we are not at a loss to divine the cause which led to the construction of this figure. We must remember Mr. Stephens was hurried for time. Portions of this figure were mutilated, and other portions had been covered over by a layer of stucco, which Charney had to remove before the figure could be distinctly made out.51

Within a radius of ten miles from Kabah are located no less than six so-called cities. The general appearance of all is the same—low ranges of buildings on terraced mounds, and ornamented facades. One of these places, by the name of Zayi, is of interest to us, because it gives us a hint as to how these people constructed their buildings. Amongst other buildings they found one large terraced mound, with buildings arranged on it in a very significant manner. There were three ranges of buildings, one over the other—the roof of one range on a level with the foundation of the range above. A grand stair-way led up the mound. This feature is illustrated in the plate above. We can imagine what a grand appearance must have been presented by this great terraced mound, when its buildings were all perfect.

The plan of this mound and buildings is shown in the last cut. Ten rooms on the north side of the second range presented a curious feature. They were all filled up with a solid mass of stone and mortar, and this filling up must have gone on as fast as the walls rose, and the arched ceiling must have closed over a solid mass. A very reasonable explanation is given of this state of things by Mr. Morgan.52 He considers that such was the rudeness of mechanical knowledge among these people that the only way they could construct their peculiar arched roof was to build it over an internal core of masonry. Once put together over such a core, and carried up several feet, the down weight of the arch would articulate and hold the mass together. Then the core of masonry would be cleaned out, and the room was ready for use. If this be true, it follows that these rooms were the last erected. They were not yet cleared out when the operations of the Spaniards put an end to all native building. We must notice the structures at Zayi are in as ruined a condition as the others—thus strengthening the conviction that their abandonment was at about the time of the conquest of the peninsula.

We have not space to follow Mr. Stephens in all his journey. Every few miles he came across one of these peculiar structures. A common design is apparent in all; but all are alike enveloped in mystery. At Labna he found an extensive field of ruins, equal in importance to any in Yucatan. The next illustration represents an arched gateway, which reminds us of that in the "House of Nuns." Passing through this he found himself in a ruined court-yard, fronting which were the remains of buildings; but this was only one of many groups of ruins, and Labna was but one of many places visited. At Labphak Mr. Stephens found "the tottering remains of the grandest structure that now rears its ruined head in the forests of Yucatan." This was a terraced mound, faced by buildings on three sides, leaving an immense stair-way occupying the fourth side.

Small interior stair-ways are mentioned in this building, but no particular description is given of them. At two places sculptured tablets were found. These tablets are worthy of notice. They were the only ones Mr. Stephens found, except at Palenque. It will be seen, on the map, that this ruin is nearer Palenque than any of the places in Yucatan yet described. Stucco ornaments, so apparent at the latter place, were now becoming numerous again. At Uxmal stone for building could be had in the greatest abundance—it was not as plenty here. The builders, apparently, adapted their ornamentation to the material at hand; and, while at Palenque they employed stucco in ornament, at Uxmal they carved stone.53

We must now leave this interesting section of Yucatan, though only a few places have been mentioned. The reader is well aware of the difference of opinion with which these ruins are viewed. Some of them are unquestionably temples. If we regard the others as palaces and the public buildings of great cities, we are at once puzzled to account for their great numbers. If we look on the majority of them as communal residences of the inhabitants, we are amazed at the mass of decorations with which they are adorned. But our admiration stops there—we are accustomed to speak of them as stately edifices. This is owing to their exterior ornaments, and their position on terraced mounds. The houses are often of great length, but not striking in other regards. The rooms, in the majority of cases, are small, low, dark, and ill ventilated. A great amount of useless labor was bestowed upon the walls, which were unnecessarily massive.

Near the center of the northern part of the peninsula is seen a place marked Chichen, to which is generally added the word Itza, making the entire name of the place Chichen-Itza. In this case the ancient Maya name has come down to us with the ruins—Chichen meaning the "mouth of wells," having reference to two springs which supplied the place with water. Itza is the name of a branch of the Maya people. This place is of interest to us in several ways. It was, unquestionably, a renowned city in aboriginal times. Here the Spaniards met with a very severe repulse. As a ruin it attracted the attention of early writers, and it has been the subject of antiquarian research in recent times. The description of the buildings will not detain us long. They are, evidently, the work of the same people as those whose structures we have already described.

One of the most important buildings is known as the Nunnery, reminding us at once of the collection of buildings of that name at Uxmal. In this case, however, the pyramid is represented by a solid mass of masonry one hundred and twelve by one hundred and sixty feet, rising with perpendicular sides to the height of thirty-two feet. This is seen to be a departure from the method of constructing pyramids hitherto described. The proprietor of the estate on whose grounds these ruins are located used this mound as a stone-quarry. An excavation of thirty feet revealed no secret chambers.

The probabilities are that it is solid throughout. A grand staircase, fifty-six feet wide, leads up to the top of this mound. Mr. Stephens tells us that three ranges of buildings occupied the summit, and his drawings represent the same. The roof of the one forms a promenade in front of the one above. So each range of buildings rests on a foundation solid from the ground. Mr. Bancroft describes this mound as having but two ranges of buildings on the summit. Of these buildings the second range was, seemingly, the most important. Several of its rooms contained niches in the back wall, extending from floor to ceiling. From traces still visible, they were once covered with painted ornaments. One of the rooms was fifty-seven feet long and nine wide.

In the rear wall of this room were nine of these niches. "All of the walls of this room, from the floor to the peak of the arch, had been covered with painted designs, now wantonly defaced, but the remains of which present colors, in some places, still bright and vivid; and among these remains detached portions of human figures continually reappear, well drawn, the heads adorned with plumes of feathers and the hands bearing shields and spears." To this pile of masonry, at one end, a wing had been attached. This building was similar in design to other buildings in Yucatan. Theoretically we would expect this wing to be much later in time than the buildings on the mound. That it is so, is proven by the fact that in two rooms the internal core of masonry, as described at Zayi, had not been wholly removed.

We have noticed in all these structures, the builders first threw up a mound or pyramid to support the building. In one of the Chichen edifices the earth had been excavated from all around it, so as to still present the appearance of a mound. Perhaps the most prominent object at this place is a stately pyramid, with an imposing building, represented in the plate below. The mound itself is nearly two hundred feet square, and rises to the height of seventy-five feet. On the west and north sides are ruined staircases.

On the ground, at the foot of the stairway on the north side, "forming a bold, striking, and well conceive commencement to this lofty range, are two colossal serpents' heads, ten feet in length, with mouths wide open, and tongues protruding. No doubt they were emblematic of some religious belief, and, in the mind of an imaginative people passing between them, to ascend the steps, must have excited feelings of solemn awe." The temple on the summit of this pyramid has some peculiar features about it. It is nearly square—forty-three by forty-nine feet—only one door in each side. In the room within, instead of partition walls supporting arches, were two immense beams, resting on square pillars, and supporting two arches—the only instance in the ruins of Yucatan of such use of beams.

We now wish to speak of one class of ruins which are present at Uxmal, but which we did not describe. They are two parallel walls. On the plan of Uxmal they are noticed between the Governor's House and the House of Nuns. This illustration represents this feature. These walls are each two hundred and seventy-four feet long, thirty feet thick, and twenty-six feet high. The distance separating them is one hundred and twenty feet. About one hundred feet from the north end, is seen a building fronting the open space between the walls. A building stood in a like position at the south end. In the cut a stone ring is seen projecting from each side. On the rim and border of these rings were sculptured two serpents, represented below. The general supposition is that this structure was used in the celebration of public games. Mr. Stephens refers us to the writings of Herrera, an early historian, for a description of a game of ball played at Mexico, where the surroundings must have been much the same as is here represented.

Most of the structures in Yucatan have been left in undisturbed quiet since the visit of Mr. Stephens. Five years after his visit, the Indians rose in revolt, and a large portion of country through which he traveled in perfect safety has, since then, been shunned by cautious travelers. As he says, "For a brief space the stillness that reigned around them was broken, and they were again left to solitude and silence." At Uxmal, and some places near the coast, more recent travelers have investigated the ruins, wondered over them, and passed on, without materially adding to our knowledge respecting them. In 1873 a French scientists Dr. A. Le Plongon, accompanied by his wife, visited Yucatan for the purpose of exploring the ruins. They spent a year in Meridia, thoroughly studying the customs of the country, and preparing for work.

Their first field of work was this ancient city, Chichen-Itza. As a result, he lays before us a picture of life and times not only vastly remote from us, but surpassing in wonder any thing hitherto presented. In the field of American antiquities we need scarcely be surprised at whatever conclusions are presented to us. We believe, however, we are not too harsh in saying that scholars, as a rule, consider Le Plongon as too much carried away by enthusiasm to judge coolly of his discoveries.54 The most important part of his discoveries seem to have been in the buildings in connection with the Gymnasium last described.

At the time of the Spanish conquest, a very common tradition among the natives was that, in ancient times, three brothers governed the country. This legend of three rulers in olden times, was not peculiar to the Mayas, but was found among all the Indian nations of Central America.55 In our opinion this last statement at once shows we have here to deal with a question belonging to mythology and not to history. But M. Le Plongon considers the buildings at Chichen, especially those of the Gymnasium, illustrative of the lives of the three brothers, and of the queen of one of them. In brief, he tells us the names of these three brothers were, Chaac-mol, Huuncay, and Aac. The first of these, Chaac-mol, means Tiger King. It was he who raised Chichen-Itza to the height of its glory. M. Le Plongon would have us believe that the merchants of Asia and Africa traded in its marts, and that the wise men of the world came hither to consult with the H-men,56 whose convent, together with their astronomical laboratory, is still to be seen. Aac was the younger brother of the three. He conspired against the life of Chaac-mol, and finally killed him. The queen of Chaac-mol then erected the buildings around the Gymnasium as his memorial.

At the south end of the eastern wall Mr. Stephens noticed two ruined buildings, an upper and a lower one, of which our next cut is a representation. He was struck with the remains of painting, which entirely covered the walls. He tells us the walls were everywhere covered with designs in painting, representing, in bright and vivid colors, human figures, battles, houses, trees, and scenes of domestic life. We give, in a plate, detached portions of these figures. We must understand that, in the original, these were beautifully colored. The colors used were "green, yellow, red, blue, and reddish brown, the last being invariably the color given to human flesh."

M. Le Plongon contends that these paintings represent scenes in the lives of the three brothers and the Queen of Chaac-mol, "in the funeral chamber." Says he: "The terrible altercation between Aac and Chaac-mol, which had its termination in the murder of the latter by his brother, is represented by large figures three-fourths life size."57 And in another place he tells us: "The scenes of his death is impressively portrayed on the walls, which the queen caused to be raised to the memory of her husband, in the two exquisite rooms, the ruins of which are yet to be seen upon the south end of the east wall of the Gymnasium. The rooms were a shrine where the conjugal love of the queen worshiped the memory of her departed lover. She adorned the outer walls with his effigies, his totem-tiger, and his shield and coat-of-arms between tiger and tiger;58 whilst on the admirably polished stucco, that covers the stones in the interior of the rooms, she had his deeds—his and her own life, in fact—painted in beautiful, life-like designs, superbly drawn, and sweetly colored."59

He tells us further, that Aac, after the commission of his crime, fled to Uxmal for protection, where he built the edifice described as the "Governor's House." The seated figures over the central "images/Ch14_image/Doorway.jpg">door-way, he says, represents Aac. In the hieroglyphics around the head he finds the name. Although neither Mr. Stephens nor the other travelers mention any thing of the kind, he says that, under the feet of this figure, "are to be seen the bodies of three figures, two men and one woman, flayed."60 Though the figures are headless, he has no doubt but that they represent Huuncay, Chaae-Mol, and the queen, his wife. We are further told that the ruined structure on the second terrace, called the "House of Turtles," was Aac's private residence.

This wonderful story of the lives and adventures of the three brothers was revealed to the doctor by a careful study of the detached painting mentioned by Mr. Stephens. One of the paintings which served him so good a turn is shown in the cut above, which he considers represents the queen, when a child, consulting one of the wise men as to her future destiny.61

Perhaps as interesting a portion of his discoveries as any, is finding sculptured figures of bearded white men on the pillars of the temple, and painted on the walls of Chaac-mol's chambers. He thinks they have Assyrian features. He also claims to have discovered figures having true Negro features.

As to the antiquity of this city he readily figures up nineteen thousand years; but this did not take him to the beginning. He arrives at this estimate in this way: To the north-east of the pyramid, we have described, are to be seen rows of small columns, which have excited the curiosity of all who have seen them. Mr. Stephens represents them in four rows, inclosing a rectangular area. M. Le Plongon says they surrounded three sides of a terraced pyramid, which once supported the main temple of the city. Mr. Stephens has no suggestions to offer as to their use.

Le Plongon claims they were used to measure time, and quotes from old authors to the effect, that each stone in them stands for twenty years; and, as there is always just eight stones in a column, each column means one hundred and sixty years. He counted one hundred and twenty of these columns—and then, as he says: "Got tired of pushing my way through the nearly impenetrable thicket, where I could see many more among the shrubs." From this number he computes nineteen thousand two hundred years.

What shall we say to this story that M. Le Plongon brings us of ancient Maya civilization? It is unquestioned that he has expended a great amount of patient labor in his work, has braved many dangers, and is thoroughly in earnest. He has also spent years in the field, and ought to be well qualified to judge of the ruins. We believe, however, he is altogether wrong in his conclusions. The keystone of his discoveries—the one on which he relies to prove the accuracy of his methods—fails him. This was the discovery of the statue of Chaac-mol himself, which is here represented. He claims to have found it as the result of successfully rendering certain mural tablets in the funeral chamber, but a careful reading of his own account of the affair leaves us under the impression that the "instincts of the arch?ologist" had as much to do with it as any thing else.62

Be that as it may, he certainly did find this statue buried in the ground. He is very positive it is Chaac-mol, claiming to have read the name readily in hieroglyphics on the ear-tablets. He says: "It is not an idol, but a true portrait of a man who has lived an earthly life. I have seen him represented in battle, in council, and in court receptions. I am well acquainted with his life, and the manner of his death." This statue was seized by the Mexican Government, and taken to Mexico. Here a curious discovery was made. Another statue similar to this was already in the museum. This latter had been found not far from Mexico. Since then, still a third, smaller than the others, but evidently representing the same personage, has been discovered. In short, it has been shown that this is an idol, worshiped as well by the Aztecs as by the Mayas, and, instead of being buried, as Le Plongon asserts, five thousand years ago, we have not much doubt it was buried to prevent its falling in to the hands of the Spaniards.63

As to the antiquity with which Le Plongon would clothe Chichen, if his method be right, he has not more than made a beginning. Mr. Stephens counted three hundred and eighty of these same columns, and tells us there were many more.64 We know no good reason for supposing Chichen was not inhabited at the time of the conquest. The wooden beams and lintels in the temples have not yet decayed, and the masonry had not been cleaned out of some of the rooms. On this point we wish to make a suggestion, a mere hint. The pillars that supported the arches in the temple mentioned some pages back were covered with sculpture. Amongst some others, but very faintly represented, was the preceding figure of a bearded man. May it not be that it represents a Spaniard? We must recall the stucco figure of the horse and its rider at Kabah. It seems to us a reasonable suggestion that they should carve on the pillars of their temples representations of the Spaniards, for the Spaniards were twenty-five years in gaining a permanent foothold in Yucatan, and during that time the Indians would continue to build and ornament as before.


  1. Bancroft: "Native Races," Vol. V, p. 78.

  2. Stephens's "Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas,
    and Yucatan," Vol. I, p. 113, et seq.

  3. Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 95.

  4. "Report of Bureau of Ethnology," Vol. I. Mr. Holden's

  5. Fourteen years later, these ruins were visited and described
    by an Austrian traveler, Dr. Scherzer. His account, though much
    more complete than Mr. Stephens's, has not yet appeared in
    English. Mr. Bancroft, in "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 118, et
    gives a résumé of all information
    known as to these ruins.

  6. "Central America," Vol II, p. 122. We are not sure about this
    inclosure. But Mr. Catherwood mentions a wall, and we are told
    the ruins are, in all respects, similar to those of Copan.

  7. For full information consult Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol.
    IV, pp. 115 to 139.

  8. "Central America," Vol. II, pp. 152-3.

  9. Brasseur De Bourbourg styles Fuentes's description of Copan
    "La description menteuse de Fuentes." Bancroft: "Native Races,"
    Vol. IV, p. 80, note.

  10. Charney, in North American Review, 1881.

  11. "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 300, et seq.

  12. Morgan's "Contribution to N.A. Ethnology," Vol. IV, p.

  13. Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 319.

  14. Armin: "Das Heute Mexico."

  15. "Native Races," Vol. IV.

  16. Bancroft's "Native Races," p. 326.

  17. Short's "North Americans of Antiquity," p. 389.

  18. Holden, in "First Annual Report of the Bureau of

  19. Brasseur De Bourbourg.

  20. "Myths of the New World."

  21. Holden, in "First Annual Report Bureau of Ethnology."

  22. This tablet is named after its discoverer. The building in
    which it is situated was but a short distance from the others;
    yet, owing to the density of the forest, neither Waldeck nor
    Stephens discovered it. A cast of it is now in the National
    Museum at Washington.

  23. Rau, in "Smithsonian Contribution to Knowledge," Vol. XXII,
    p. 40.

  24. "Myths of the New World," p. 95.

  25. Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol. V, p. 506.

  26. See, also, "American Encyclopedia," Art. "Cross."

  27. "Conquest of Mexico," p. 160.

  28. "Smithsonian Contribution to Knowledge," Vol. XXII.

  29. Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol. III, p. 470.

  30. "Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology," Vol. I.

  31. Mr. Holden uses, as an important link in his arguments, a
    figure engraved on a chalchiute (a sacred stone). He concludes it
    to be a representative of Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, or
    rather the Maya representative of the Mexican god of that name.
    It is unfortunate that Prof. Valentine gives to this same figure
    a different significance. In the "Proceedings of the American
    Antiquarian Society," for April, 1884, in a paper on that
    subject, he concludes it to be a representation of a victorious
    warrior giving sacrifice to his god. The only persons entitled to
    speak on such subjects are those thoroughly acquainted with Maya

  32. Huitzilopochtli.

  33. Tlaloc.

  34. Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol. III, p. 324.

  35. While such seem to us to be the results of Mr. Holden's
    labors, it must not be understood that he vouches for them. They
    must be regarded as personal views which we express with some
    mental forebodings. In this matter we must abide by further

  36. Bandelier: "An Archæological Tour in Mexico," p.

  37. Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 345.

  38. See Charney, in North American Review, 1881. They wore
    formerly in a house.

  39. Bancroft's "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 332.

  40. Brinton's "Contribution to North American Ethnology," Vol. V,
    p. 36. "Introduction to Study of Manuscript Troano," by Prof.

  41. North American Review, February, 1881, p. 187.

  42. Bancroft's "Native Races," p. 287.

  43. "Central America," Vol. II, p. 261. At this time Mr. Stephens
    had not seen the ruins at Palenque, and those in Yucatan.

  44. Pronounced "oosh-mal."

  45. Our principal authority on the ruin's of Yucatan is Mr.
    Stephens, whose work, "Incidents of Travel in Yucatan," in two
    volumes, is all that can be desired. Mr. Bancroft, in "Native
    Races," Vol. IV, has gathered together whatever of worth there is
    in the writings of various explorers.

  46. Mr. Stephens thinks they were for the support of the arches,
    while building. As, however, it is almost certain they
    constructed this arch over a solid cove of masonry, which they
    afterwards removed (see "Contributions to N.A. Ethnology," Vol.
    IV, p. 262), they could not have been intended for such use.

  47. The pyramid is three hundred and fifty feet square at the
    base and nineteen feet high. The terraces are along the south
    side. The lowest terrace is three feet high and twenty feet wide.
    The second is twelve feet high and forty-five feet wide. The
    third is four feet high and five feet wide. The building on the
    south side is two hundred and seventy-nine feet long,
    twenty-eight feet wide, and eighteen feet high. The north one is
    two hundred and sixty-four feet long, twenty-eight feet wide, and
    twenty-five feet high. The eastern one, one hundred and
    fifty-eight feet long, thirty-five feet wide, and twenty-two feet
    high. The western one, one hundred and seventy-three feet long,
    thirty-five feet wide, and twenty feet high. (Bancroft's "Native
    Races," Vol. IV, p. 174.) The area of the court is two hundred
    and fourteen feet by two hundred and fifty-eight feet. It is
    about two and a half feet lower than the buildings on the
    eastern, western, and southern sides. There are seventy-six rooms
    in the four ranges of buildings, and twelve more in the facings
    of the terrace of the north building, to be described. In size
    the rooms vary from twenty to thirty feet long by from ten to
    twelve feet wide.

  48. Bancroft: "Native Races," Vol. IV, p. 179.

  49. The dimensions of this mound are as follows: Length of base,
    two hundred and thirty-five feet; width of base, one hundred and
    five feet; height, eighty-eight feet. Though diminishing as it
    rises, it is not exactly pyramidal, but its corners are rounded.
    It is incased with stone, and is apparently solid from the
    plain.—Stephens's "Yucatan," Vol. I, p. 316.

  50. See "Proceedings Am. Antiq. Society," April, 1880, p.

  51. North American Review, 1882.

  52. "Contributions to North American Ethnology," Vol. IV, p.

  53. Stephens's "Yucatan," Vol. II, p. 164.

  54. Short's "North Americans of Antiquity," p. 396; Charney:
    North American Review, October, 1880.

  55. "Proceedings Am. Antiq. Society," Oct., 1878, p. 73.

  56. Learned men of the Mayas.

  57. American Antiquarian Society, October 1878.

  58. The tigers can be seen on the engraving of the

  59. Proceedings American Antiquarian Society, April, 1877, p.

  60. Proceedings American Antiquarian Society, April, 1877, p.

  61. M. Le Plongon interprets the curved figures issuing from the
    throat of the wise-man. In the original, different parts of this
    figure were of different colors. The doctor frankly tells us,
    that "imagination does the greater part of the work" in his

  62. "Guided, as I have said, by my interpretations of the mural
    paintings, bas-reliefs, and other signs, . . . I directed my
    steps, perhaps inspired by the instincts of the
    archæologist, to a dense part of the thicket." Proceedings
    Am. Antiq. Society, April, 1877, p. 85.

  63. North American Review, October, 1880. And yet there
    are indications that this is a statue. See Bandelier's
    "Archæological Tour in Mexico," p. 74.

  64. Stephens's "Yucatan," Vol. II, p. 318.