Discover Maya: by Julie Underwood
The History of Puuc
The term “Puuc” relates to many aspects of Mayan history, heritage and culture that can be discovered across Mexico, and more specifically, within the Yucatan region of the country. Puuc mainly refers to the Puuc region of the Yucatan state. This particular area holds a number of iconic sites that are packed with Mayan historical charm for you to explore. It also refers to the Mayan architectural style that encompasses this particular region, hence the term “Puuc Architecture”.
Starting off the Mayan experience, you will need to find the Puuc Mountains. The term “Puuc” predominantly means “hills”, or mountains, and refers to the small region within the Yucatan state where a small area of rolling hills can be found among the otherwise flat peninsula. Due to the Yucatan being largely flatland, the region is named to describe the divide between the southern parts of the state. The hills themselves extend into northern Campeche and western Quintana Roo, and are mainly viewed as a separation from the flatland of the northern plains, and the abrupt ridges and hills. They might be quite low-lying, but walking and hiking through the hills is incredibly popular in order to experience the unique style and culture of some of the finest architectural achievements of the Ancient Maya in the Puuc Region. The Puuc hills and surrounding areas are filled with some of the best examples of Mayan Puuc style reflected within their buildings and pyramids.
Puuc Architectural Style:
In Mayan archeology, the Puuc style is mainly characterized by an elaborate ornamentation of ceremonial building facades, including temples and palaces made primarily from limestone. The style reached the Yucatan Peninsula near the end of the Late Classic period and throughout the Terminal Classic period. Typical characteristics of the style include pyramids with crest work and false columns, as well as buildings decorated with elaborate stone-mosaics and geometric cut out motifs. Another main feature of the Puuc architecture is the intricate presence of stone masks lining the facades of buildings. These masks mostly represent Chac, the Maya rain god. Various inward and outward moldings and decorations would also be used to create different light effects, focusing on styling along horizontal lines.
Puuc buildings are structurally extremely robust and withstanding; if facing stones ever fall it will not affect the internal structure. It is the lower walls that are usually plain, but the upper walls that include elaborate details and decoration of individually carved stones. Maya temples and palaces were the most highly decorated, yet it is the Maya pyramids that are the most noticeable buildings from the era. The most important temples would be set at the top of towering pyramids, some over two hundred feet. The pyramids use stones that are specifically carved to contrast light and shadow in different ways. Another main feature of Puuc buildings is to note that they usually face inward towards the ceremonial plaza center.
“La Ruta Puuc” is the official name given to a network of secondary roads reaching 41km through the Yucatan state. Along this journey, you can tour and experience Mexico’s Mayan Puuc heritage all in one combined trip. The most popular sites to be seen along Ruta Puuc include Uxmal, Kabah and Labna.
The most iconic picture from Uxmal in the Puuc region is the Pyramid of the Magician (El Adivino). It is also knows as the Pyramid of Soothsayer. The early phases of the pyramid structure follow the Puuc style; bare on the bottom half, ornate and detailed on the top half. However, the pyramid has undergone some restoration in the mid nineteenth century where it has since been regularly repaired and maintained.
Another Puuc site with buildings that reflect the Mayan Puuc is Labna, and most importantly the Gateway Arch within the site. Labna itself is known as the ceremonial center, which is located south of the Uxmal site. The Gateway is often mistaken for an archway into the city, when it is simply a passage between public areas. It is one of the strongest examples of the Puuc style and stays true to its most defining features, with plain stones making up its bottom half, and various cut out geometric stone patterns on its top half.