The Pyramid of the Magician in the ancient Maya city of Uxmal is one of my favorite structures. I tend to revisit it every time I get a chance. It is hard to believe that the ancients built it with only very rudimentary tools.
Maybe they didn’t. Legend has it that the massive pyramid was built in one night by a dwarf magician, who was hatched from an egg.
The Legend of the Dwarf of Uxmal
Once there was an old woman, who lived all alone in a tiny hut. Her only wish was to have a child of her own. Year after year she had waited for one, with no luck. One day she took and egg, wrapped it in cotton and sat it in a corner of her hut. She cared for it day after day, until the egg cracked and a tiny baby boy stepped out of it.
The baby developed fast and he became smarter and stronger than dos adults by the time he was one year. But, at the same age he stopped growing. For the rest of his life he stayed as tiny as a one-year-old baby, and people started calling him the Dwarf. His mother loved him dearly and told him that he was destined to great things. When she considered him old enough, she sent him to the king to challenge him to test his strength and wit agains his.
The challenge surprised the king. Amused, and sure that he had nothing to fear from the little man, he accepted. First he lifted a heavy stone. Seeing that the stone was as big as himself, the Dwarf ran home to his mother, telling her that it was an impossible task. His mother assured him that he could do it if the king could.
She was right, of course. The king came up with a series of other challenges, but the Dwarf was able to do everything he could. Finally, he asked the dwarf to build a palace bigger and more beautiful than any in his city. He would have to build it in one night, or in the morning he would be put to death. The Dwarf ran home to his mother, who told him to go to sleep, the palace would be there in the morning.
Indeed, the Dwarf woke up in the morning in the biggest, most beautiful palace he could have imagined. This was magic that scared the king, who decided that he would have to kill the dwarf at all cost. He didn’t succeed, and in the end lost his own life. The Dwarf, considered a magician, was elected the new king of the city. Once king, he had built a smaller palace for his mother, as well, not too far from his own.
The legend adds to the draw of the place for me. Uxmal has been one of my favorite Mayan sites since the first time I’ve seen it, over twenty years ago. In those days it was still possible to climb the massive Pyramid of the Magician. We got up early and were there as soon as the site opened, so we could be the first people on top of the Pyramid of the Magician. Indeed, we were. Standing on top we could see the whole site, the ancient Mayan city, built centuries ago. It was the two of us, with the birds, and the winds, above the tree line. Other visitors came soon, and we descended the stairs, to walk around the rest of the site.
A few weeks ago we found ourselves back in Uxmal. As usual, we got there as soon as the site opened, but we were not the only ones. As time goes by, more and more people visit the ancient Mayan sites. To prevent their destruction and accidents, most of them are now closed to climbing. The Pyramid of the Magician is no exception. So we had to admire it from the ground. Since they don’t have to share it with humans, birds, lizards, and bats live in them now.
Bats didn’t mind humans, they were living inside the temples on top of the pyramid twenty years ago, as well. In fact, they sometimes deterred tourists from entering the small rooms. I mentioned that when we first climbed to the top, another family came up shortly after. Their teenage son was ready to walk into the temple, when I had walked out. The mother tried to stop him,
“Who knows what creatures live in there? You can’t see anything.”
‘There are only bats in there.” I told them, thinking that everyone loves bats.
“They are creepy, I am not going in there,” said the mother, but her son went ahead to explore.
The temples in the ancient Mayan sites are very dark. Built on top of large or smaller pyramids, they only have one opening, the doorway. Naturally, it is dark inside, but also cool. They are the perfect place to spend the hot midday or afternoon. More often than not, they are also homes for bats.
For the past decade or so, the bats, along with other creatures, live undisturbed by humans in the ancient rooms. I mentioned rooms, not only temples, since in most of the other buildings the rooms are closed to the public as well. Especially those that still have traces of ancient paint on the walls.
Although we couldn’t get on top of the Pyramid of the Magician, or enter its temples, we enjoyed our visit to Uxmal. We climbed smaller structures, walked through the ball court, and the Nunnery, the House of the Turtles, and the Palace of the Governor, among others.
We also took the longer walk through the jungle to see the Pyramid of the old Woman, the Dwarf’s mother. This one is still in rubble, as are the structures surrounding it. Still, we could tell that it had been a nice size pyramid in its day, even if smaller in size than the main one. The Dwarf did honor his mother who helped him become king.
Legends usually have some truth to them. It is possible that in the long history of Uxmal, the city had a dwarf as a ruler once. He might have been the one who commissioned the building of the greatest pyramid in the city.
Regardless of who built the pyramid, it stood there in its magnificence for centuries. Thanks to our efforts to preserve it, it will stand for more centuries still.
I grew up in Transylvania, where I spoke Hungarian at home, Romanian in school. I wanted to be a writer. But writers didn't exist in the Socialist Republic of Romania. With every word censored, no one could write, so I studied math and computer programming instead.
Now I live in the Sonoran Desert. I travel and write.
And sometimes I work as a translator.