© Mike Reed
Racing along Highway 186 in my rented car I almost missed the ruins of Xpuhil although they lay within a hundred yards of the pavement. I was doing my customary 100 kilometers per hour when I caught the blur of the three towers out of the corner of my eye. Such a sight after the monotony of endless forest and pastureland was stunning.
Screeching to a halt (there is little traffic to worry about) I stared in almost disbelief at the huge tall structure shining in the clearing. I immediately backed up and pulled into the small parking area. There was one other car parked. Once again, no crowds.
Xpuhil is a fairly small ruin, with only two restored structures in the main precinct. But the main building is a lovely example of the Rio Bec style of Maya architecture. The Rio Bec style appears to contain the elements of the Petén and Chenes styles of Maya architecture suggesting a connection to both southern and northern Maya traditions. The structure itself, is multi-roomed and is called a palace by archaeologist, Michael Coe.
The main attraction, however is the three towers rising from the center and two ends of the structure. Each tower is perhaps 30 to 40 feet tall and appear to be imitations of the tall "Petén-style" pyramid/temples of Tikal, 50 miles to the south. Each tower is highly ornamented in the Chenes style and quite a sight. The center tower is quite well-preserved. What make the towers unique are the purely decorative stairways with snarling, open-mouthed jaguar heads marching up the center of each one and the false temples atop the false pyramids with doorways that lead to nowhere.
What in the world did the builders have in mind here? They are clearly models of Petén pyramids yet appear to have no function. However, the Maya rarely went to such trouble without a reason. Perhaps if the towers did not lend some kind of "spiritual" power to the building, they certainly were a statement of the importance (or self-importance) of the noble family that controlled Xpuhil.
The other structure, on the opposite side of the parking lot is much less ornate. It appears to be a residential structure with a large central staircase and the lower walls of rooms.
Xpuhil dates from the late classic period. It can be seen in a half hour, which makes it an easy stop on the way to other nearby ruins. It is located only a few kilometers west of the village of Xpuhil, where accommodations from the Spartan to almost luxurious can be found. The fact that modern lodging is now found in this isolated stretch of Highway 186 is testimony to the growing interest in this area of closely clustered major Maya ruins. From Xpuhil village, many of the finest examples of Maya sites in Mexico can be easily visited.
Copyright Mike Reed.