Uxmal, Photo of Pyramid of the Magician

The Pyramid of the Magician

Visitors are immediately confronted with the massive Pyramid of the Magician upon entering the site. At 115 feet in height, is the tallest structure at Uxmal and its size and scale and the sheer weight and volume of material are overwhelming.

The pyramid is crowned by Temple V, the last of five construction phases. Seen here is the back of Temple V, which has a decorative Maya hut on its medial moulding, much like the huts seen on the north and south buildings of the Nunnery Quadrangle.

The opening in the center of the stairway near the top was made by archeologists for exploratory purposes. The travel writer Joyce Kelly says that although Temple II is no longer visible from the outside, it can be reached by the east stairway through the excavated hole, which leads to a central chamber supported by columns and topped by a roof comb that is visible in a trench in the floor of Temple V above.


Uxmal, Photo of Pyramid of the Magician

Pyramid of the Magician

The Pyramid of the Magician gets its name from an old folktale which says it was built by a powerful dwarf magician who was hatched from an egg by his sorceress mother. Under threat by an Uxmal king, he was ordered to build this temple within a fortnight, or else lose his life.

During the excavation, Maya workers who spent the night using the opening for shelter told stories of being kept awake by "aluxob" throwing stones at the edifice until they made an offering of tobacco to appease the "spirits of the forest."


Uxmal, Photo of Pyramid of the Magician

El Adivino was built in five construction phases. Temple V sits at the highest level and is done in classic Puuc style. Below it, the top of Temple IV, which is in the style of a Chenes Monster Mouth temple, is level with the platform that Temple V occupies and is partially covered by it.

In turn, the platform supporting Temple IV completely engulfs the earlier Temples II and III. Temple II has been partially excavated and is accessible through an excavation on the east stairway as seen in the last two photos. Temple III was an addition to Temple II's west side and is underneath where Temple IV now stands. Portions of the original Temple I are still visible at ground level on the west side of the pyramid.

The original Temple I was most probably built around 800 AD. Temple V, the last temple completed, was completed between 950 — 1000 AD.


Uxmal, Photo of Pyramid of the Magician

The temple crowning El Adivino is an excellent illustration of what has been called "negative batter," a technique the ancient architect used to widen the walls of a building slightly as it rose in order to compensate for the effects of perspective. The goal was to make the building look perfectly rectangular to someone viewing it from ground level.


Uxmal, Pyramid of the Magician

The lofty stairway on the west side, with a 60 degree angle of inclination, is flanked by large masks of the rain god in a stepped series, one behind the other, creating a propelling energy to the top, with its dramatic entrance to Temple IV.


Uxmal, Photo of Pyramid of the Magician

The west stairway rises at a breath-taking 60 degree inclination, compared to the 45 degree inclination of the east stair. This is of Marion Canavan, who arranged all of our trips to the ruins, as she climbed the west stairway on February 15, 1997 when climbing was still permitted.

Portions of three of the five temples that comprise the Pyramid of the Magician are visible here. Columns comprising the outer wall of Temple I can be seen at ground level abutting the stair. Temple IV is at the top of the wide stair where two smaller side stairs continue up to Temple V, the final and top-most construction.

The doorways to Temple IV and V align with the setting sun at the summer solstice.


Uxmal, Photo of Pyramid of the Magician

Temple IV is considered a Chenes Monster Mouth facade, although it is a definitely a Puuc re-interpretation of the Chenes facade.

Compared to the Monster Mouth Structure II at Chicanna, the crispness of the Puuc stone mosaic treatment contrasts strikingly with the flowing stucco work at Chicanna. Furthermore, Puuc Chac rain-god masks replace the abstract Chenes serpent patterns framing the doorway at Chicanna, and Temple IV lacks projecting down-curving teeth surrounding the doorway.

The architectural historian Paul Gendrop writes:

"The Puuc architects knew how to transform the baroque exuberance of Chenes and Rio Bec styles into volumes of sharp contours enhanced by a rich but well balanced ornamentation more geometric in character, and so intimately integrated with the walls of each building that it cannot be regarded simply as a superimposed element."

Paul Gendrop, A Guide to Architecture in Ancient Mexico


Uxmal, Photo of Pyramid of the Magician

The northern end of Temple 1 had been reassembled by archaeologists when we visited in 2004 (note the stones numbered in white paint). The red elipse marks the location of a particularly beautiful bit of carved stone shown close-up in the next photo.


Uxmal, Photo of Pyramid of the Magician

Beautiful carved detail on a lintel from Temple 1.


Uxmal, Photo of Pyramid of the Magician

A final view of the west side of El Adivino, the Pyramid of the Magician, showing Temples I, IV, and V.

Uxmal, Pyramid of the Magician

The graceful elliptical shape and the different angles of inclination of the east and west staircases make the Pyramid of the Magician one of the most unusual in Mesoamerica. Light and shadow sweep around the curvilinear surface creating different impressions at various times of the day.

During our visit on the summer solstice of 1995, we could see how the entrances of Temple IV and V are dramatically aligned with the setting sun.