Architecture, Restoration, and Imaging
of the Maya Cities of
UXMAL, KABAH, SAYIL, and LABNÁ
The Puuc Region, Yucatán, México
The Puuc Region
The Puuc hills . . . were the locus of the finest architectural achievements of the ancient Maya (Coe, 1981, p. 572)
. . . the “Puuc” style which, in formal and decorative terms, represents the peak of Mayan architecture (Stierlin, 2001, p.13).
Classic Puuc architecture is regarded by many authorities as the finest of all the ancient Mesoamerican architectural traditions (Ball, 2001, p. 437).
The architects of the Florescent reached a stage of perfection in their craft which was probably not attained anywhere else in the New World (Andrews IV, 1965, p. 307).
. . . a few buildings erected in the Puuc, such as the Governor’s Palace at Uxmal, rank among the world’s greatest architectural achievements (Dunning, 1992, p. 323).
The term “Puuc” is used in several closely related ways. Most commonly it is used to refer to a geographical area. To make this clear the term “The Puuc Region” is often used, as in this web site. This usage derives from the literal meaning of the Yucatec word for Puuc, which means “mountain range” or ”hills”. This refers to the low range of hills running along the northwestern part of the Yucatan peninsula, thus the terms “Puuc Hills” and “Puuc Ridge”. By extension “The Puuc” is used to refer to the cultural-historical period during which the area was heavily populated and its cities and architecture flourished. Often the term is used to refer to the area’s unique architecture and architectural style, thus “Puuc Architecture” and “Puuc Style”.
The rolling hills and valleys of the northern Puuc region separate it from the flat land of the northern plains and from the abrupt ridges of the Puuc area just to the south. Moreover, the soil, especially in the valleys, is deeper and more fertile than in other areas, providing food not only for those in the Puuc region but probably also for trade within the Yucatán. It seems likely that this fertile soil made possible extensive domestic gardens within the urban spaces, with intensive cultivation of vegetables, herbs, and fruits. Because of the hills, the water table was inaccessibly low in the Puuc region, making the aguadas (seasonal ponds or small lakes) in the area especially valuable and necessitating the construction of an especially large number of chultunes (cisterns for the collection and storage of rainwater).
For decades, Maya scholarship focused on the southern Maya of Guatemala, Honduras, and Southern Mexico, seeing Puuc culture as a later derivation of the so-called “Classic” period in the Maya heartland, following the famous Maya collapse. Thus the misleading terms “Late Classic”, "Terminal Classic", and “Pure Florescence” were used to refer to the most flourishing, central period of Puuc culture (A.D. 770-925). It is now widely recognized that Puuc society first developed well before the southern Maya collapse, though the remarkable growth of the Puuc region was certainly fed by migrating peoples from other areas. Thus, period designations are more informative when they describe the internal development of Puuc society. For architecture, scholars now refer to Puuc styles as: Proto Puuc (A.D. 250-600), Early Puuc (A.D. 670-770), Classic Puuc Colonnette (A.D. 770-830), and Classic Puuc Mosaic (A.D. 830-950), accurately reflecting the high period of Puuc culture.
To understand the Puuc region, we must recognize not only the ways in which it shares the remarkably widespread Maya culture, but also the aspects of Puuc society that differ from those of other areas. At its peak the Puuc region achieved the highest density of cities of any Maya area, with more than two hundred cities and smaller settlements. In some areas the residential areas seem to have been almost continuous from one city to another. This, along with the lack of fortifications at the major centers, suggests more sharing of power, a more federated society than in other Maya areas. It seems reasonable to suggest that this might be connected with the most esthetically refined, most carefully crafted, least militaristic architecture created by the Maya.
This web site is heavily dependent on many outstanding publications on the Puuc Region, listed in the annotated bibliography for this web site.