House of the Turtles showing the row of stone turtles tenoned to its cornice molding

The House of the Turtles / Casa de las Tortugas

The House of the Turtles gets its name from the carved stone turtles tenoned to the middle member of the cornice moulding.

The architectural historian Paul Genrop mentions the "beautiful and trim" House of the Turtles and lauds the skill with which a formal but limited architectural vocabulary is used to achieve great harmoniousness.

He writes: "Except for the sober frieze composed exclusively of plain colonnetes, the House of the Turtles at Uxmal has no ornamentation other than the turtle sculptures on the central member of its canted cornice."

Paul Gendrop, "Rio Bec, Chenes, and Puuc Styles in Maya Architecture", p. 164, 186


House of the Turtles, closeup of turtles tenoned onto the middle of the ornice molding.

Turtles are associated with water and earth in Maya mythology. The cosmic turtle upon which the earth rests above the primordial ocean is a common theme in most native American creation stories.

Turtle shells were also used as "thunder drums" which further links them to storms and agricultural fertility. A mural at Bonampak shows turtle-carapace players among a group of musicians at a court ceremony.


House of the Turtles, detail of a turtle

Detail of a turtle: each turtle is different and individual, with different markings.


House of the Turtles. Each turtle has a different shell pattern, this one has circles on its shell

Variation on a theme -- this one has circles on its shell. Each of these turtles was individually carved out of stone.


House of the Turtles, another differently patterned turtle

Another turtle variant from the House of the Turtles.


Photo showing differences in platform height between Governor's Palace, the House of the Turtles, and the Ballcourt

Ballcourt, House of Turtles (Platform 2) and Governor's Palace (Platform 3 & 4).

The relative elevations of Governor's Palace (left) and House of the Turtles (right) is striking. Both buildings rest on Platform 2, but the Governor's Palace has an additional two platforms which give it additional height. Thus the top of the House of the Turtles is approximately even with the Governors' foundation level.


View through the central door of the House of the Turtles, with the Ballcourt and the Nunnery Quadrangle aligned along a northward axis

Looking down through the single door on the south side of Turtles, one can see how it aligns with the general north/south axis of the site, the Nunnery Quadrangle, and perhaps most importantly, the Ballcourt which was a prime area for exciting rubber ball games and imposing ritual-political performances.

Everywhere at Uxmal, wonderful vistas continually open up, emphasizing how important architectural grouping and the shaping of public spaces must have been to the Maya.


House of the Turtles with diagram of its internal rooms

The House of the Turtles is a small building 96 feet long and 33 feet wide, composed of seven chambers.

"Three long rooms lie parallel to one another in the center, while two pairs of shorter transverse rooms are at the ends. The central rooms communicate with one another and have a single entrance on the north and three on the south.

At the east end are three doorways, and there were probably three doors on the west. The south and east doorway groupings are carefully proportioned in balanced, hierarchical arrangements. In several of the rooms are low masonry benches."

"Like the House of the Governor, the House of the Turtles is constructed with an interior core of lime concrete and superbly finished facing stones. It was undoubtedly built within a few years of the larger edifice," possibly by the same architects and skilled workmen.

Jeff Karl Kowalski, "The House of the Governor: A Maya Palace of Uxmal, Yucatan, Mexico", p. 12


Uxmal, Photo of House of the Turtles at dawn on summer solstice

House of the Turtles at dawn on the summer solstice, June 21, 1995, with Nunnery Quadrangle in background and the tops of the ballcourt alley showing between. This photo was taken looking down from Platform 4 of the Governor's Palace.