Governors Palace at Uxmal

Uxmal is situated in the Puuc Hills region of northern Yucatan. One of the largest Classic Maya cities, it reached its apex around c.e. 800, then was suddenly abandoned, a fate shared by many other Maya centers during the ninth century. The various buildings that form its ceremonial center are straight-sided and consistently aligned (on a grid rotated by nine degrees clockwise from the cardinal directions), but with a single glaring exception. The so-called Palace of the Governor (a traditional name not necessarily related to its original purpose)—one of the most splendid buildings on the site, an elongated rectangle in shape with a beautifully decorated façade containing seven entrances—is noticeably skewed from the common grid (by just under twenty degrees).

The Governor's Palace looks towards the distant (now ruined) pyramid of Cehtzuc, a little under five kilometers (three miles) away. (There is considerable confusion in the early literature, since Cehtzuc was originally misidentified as a different ruin, Nohpat.) This direction—east-southeast, or more precisely, an azimuth of 118 degrees—corresponds to the maximum southerly rising point of the planet Venus at around the time the temple was built. Another possibility, argued strongly by some scholars such as the Slovenian archaeologist Ivan Sprajc, is that the Venus alignment actually operated in the opposite direction, from Cehtzuc toward the Governor's Palace.

If this were a prehistoric monument that we were investigating in the absence of historical or documentary evidence, then little credence would be placed on such an alignment. The planetary motions are notoriously complex, and their extreme rising or setting points are subject to complicated patterns of change operating on various time scales. Furthermore, the extremes for all the planets are all fairly close together on the horizon and can

The front of the Governor's Palace at Uxmal, aligned upon the most southerly rising point of Venus. (Courtesy of Clive Ruggles)

be difficult to distinguish, both from one another and from the sun and moon. Why should we believe that this Venus alignment (in whichever direction) was deliberate? The most direct answer is the abundance of Venus glyphs within the carved frieze on the front of the building—over three hundred of them. To one able to read Maya writing, the building fairly screams "Venus." A recent reinterpretation of the hieroglyphic throne inscription above the central doorway has reinforced this conclusion by arguing that it depicts Maya zodiacal constellations and includes reference to Venus.

See also:


Dresden Codex; Venus in Mesoamerica.

Inferior Planets, Motions of.

References and further reading

Aveni, Anthony F., ed. Archaeoastronomy in Pre-Columbian America, 163-190. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1975.

Aveni, Anthony F. Stairways to the Stars: Skywatching in Three Great Ancient Cultures, 139-142. New York: Wiley, 1997.

Aveni, Anthony F. Skywatchers, 283-288. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001.

Bricker, Harvey M., and Victoria R. Bricker. "Astronomical References in the Throne Inscription of the Palace of the Governor at Uxmal." Cambridge Archaeological Journal 6 (1996), 191-229.

164 Governor's Palace at Uxmal

Kowalski, Jeff Karl. The House of the Governor: A Maya Palace of Uxmal, Yucatan, Mexico. Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987.

Krupp, Edwin C., ed. In Search of Ancient Astronomies, 199-202. New

York: Doubleday, 1977. Ruggles, Clive, ed. Archaeoastronomy in the 1990s, 270-277. Loughborough, UK: Group D Publications, 1993.

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