Uxmal, East Building of Nunnery Quadrangle seen from North Building

Nunnery Quadrangle, East Building

A longcount calendar date equivalent to 906 AD was found on a painted capstone in the northwestern room of the East Structure and is used to date its construction. The northwestern room is the front room on the extreme left of the photo.

The bottom of the East Building frieze is level with the platform of the North Building as seen in this photo. Likewise, Linda Schele & Peter Mathews note that by using the same relationship of height between the East and South Buildings, "the builders allowed lines along the platform and base of the East Building to recede into the medial molding of the South Building, thus integrating the two buildings into a visual whole."

Linda Schele & Peter Mathews, The Code of Kings, p. 266

The paved area in this photo is the North Building platform. The extension to the right is the roof of Temple of Venus extension on the west side of the North Building.


Nunnery Quadrangle, East Building Ceremonial Steps of different elevations

In line with their presumed ceremonial function, the lower stairs in front of the East Building are laid out like a multi-level stage, leading one to imagine colorful rituals enacted by elaborately dressed celebrants.

The architectural historian Paul Gendrop writes: "We should likewise note the especially elaborate volumetric concept of the access stairway to this building, which suggest the existence of ceremonies that required an extremely complex protocol."

Paul Gendrop, Rio Bec, Chenes, and Puuc Styles in Maya Architecture, p. 197


Uxmal, Nunnery Quadrangle East Building, NW corner mask stack

Closeup of the northern corner mask stack, East Building (photo June 13, 2004). Remnants of original paint can be seens in the recesses of the masks.

Jeff Kowalski, the archaeologist who has done major research at Uxmal, writes:

"The East and West Structures of the Nunnery and the House of the Governor are among the last major edifices built at Uxmal. Their architectural sculpture thus defines the style of Late Puuc mask panels. Although these masks vary in appearance, they do share important formal features.

For example, they are carved of clearly defined, separable, stone pieces assembled on the facade to form the image. Each of these mosaic pieces has a basically rectangular outline, into which the separate carved motifs are fitted. The carving of the designs on squared blocks allows a close fit between the mask pieces and permits the entire mask to fit into a rectangular area on the facade.

Late Puuc masks also resemble the structures they adorn by the sharpness with which their forms are cut. Bands, disks, feathers, rosettes, and other motifs are defined clearly and must have relied on plaster only for added color, not for final sculptural detail. As with other forms in Puuc architecture, the geometric elements of the late masks enhance the chiaroscuro effect produced by the strong sunlight of Yucatan."

Jeff Karl Kowalski, The House of the Governor: A Maya Palace of Uxmal, Yucatan, Mexico, p. 187


East Building Nunnery Quadrangle, decorations in frieze

Decoration on the east building consists of a simple mat-weave background, stacked Chac masks, and two-headed serpent bars arranged in trapezoidal structures.

Above the central door is the "little billboard" of three serpent bars that Linda Schele mentions below as a possible nametag for the building.


Uxmal, Nunnery Quadrangle East Building, stacked rain-god masks in center and SW corner of frieze

Fantastical stacked rain-god masks at the center and sourthern corner of the East Building.


East Building, Nunnery Quadrangle, trapezoidal double-headed serpent bars

The great Maya scholar, Linda Schele, writes about these decorative elements:

"One of the most enigmatic images in the Nunnery Quadrangle is the stacks of double–headed serpents that form V–shaped designs above the outer doors. Perhaps the most interesting suggestion concerning the identification of this design came from Viollet–le–Duc, a nineteenth–century French architect who wrote commentaries for Désiré Charnay's photographs. He suggested that the pattern represents wood cribbing.

We would like to go further and suggest that the design represents a corn crib for storing dry maize. In fact, the Yukatek of today call this kind of crib a kan che', or "snake wood". Each of the elements in the stack has a snake head on both ends. It is a kan che'. This idea seems particularly appropriate to the iconography of the neighboring South Building, which shows growing corn. The building itself may have been named for this crib, because a smaller version of it consisting of three levels surmounts the masks over the central door like a little billboard."

Schele & Mathews, The Code of Kings, p. 268


East Building Nunnery Quadrangle, mask or shield decorations

"Superimposed over the cribbing are curious motifs that resemble masks or perhaps shields. They are unique to this building. A central mosaic face or mask with deep eye and mouth holes surmounts a scaled or mosaic base. Over the face is a headdress-like device consisting of concentric bands of shells and jewels, cropped feathers, and twisted cords or feathers.

Elements resembling spearthrower darts protrude from the upper corners. An odd device decorated with knots covers the nose and a "tongue" emerges from the mouth hole. If the corner devices are indeed spearthrower darts, then the central image may represent a shield, possibly as a symbol of war—the arrow–shield—known to have been used by the Maya and other Mesoamerican peoples."

Linda Schele & Peter Mathews, The Code of Kings, p. 268-9.


Uxmal, Nunnery Quadrangle seen through door in West Building

Looking into the Nunnery Quadrangle through the West Building

Describing their 1841 entrance into the nunnery quadrangle, Stephens wrote: "...we enter a noble courtyard, with four great façades looking down upon it, each ornamented from one end to the other with the richest and most intricate carving known in the art of the builders of Uxmal; presenting a scene of strange magnificence, surpassing any that is now to be seen among its ruins. This courtyard is two hundred and fourteen feet wide, and two hundred and fifty-eight feet deep.

At the time of our first entrance it was overgrown with bushes and grass, quails started up from under our feet, and, with a whirring flight, passed over the tops of the buildings. Whenever we went to it, we started flocks of these birds, and throughout the whole of our residence at Uxmal they were the only disturbers of its silence and desolation."

Stephens, Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, vol. 1, p. 177-178


Uxmal, Nunnery Quadrangle, East Building: architectural elevation and perspective

Notice how the ancient architect played with line and perspective—the top of the East Building visually aligns with the platform on the Temple of the Magician which supports the doorway to Temple IV; the bottom of the cornice molding of the South Building aligns with the platform from which the East Building rises, while the roofline of the South Building aligns with the bottom of the medial molding of the East Building.[Photo June 21, 1995]