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A walk around Uxmal’s dazzling new sound and light show

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
The show’s walking tour kicks off strong in front of Uxmal’s Pyramid of the Magician. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Last night I had the opportunity to attend a preview of Uxmal’s upcoming video mapping sound-and-light show, “Ecos de Uxmal.” Having been to the site dozens of times I was excited to see what approach this new spectacle would bring to the table, especially as I have such fond memories of the previous light show which debuted in 1975 and ran until a few years ago. 

Unlike the previous show, which seated attendees atop Uxmal’s Nunnery Quadrangle to view a light show from a stationary position, this new show is walkable and much more dynamic. This makes the show feel much more interactive but also has its downsides, as the terrain is uneven and difficult to see. 

The show starts off with a short video mapping presentation projected onto Uxmal’s most famous monument, the Pyramid of the Magician.

During this first segment animations inspired by Mayan myths and iconography are projected in vivid colors. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Participants are then hurried along a path and halted at a ceiba tree which is lit up in several alternating colors. At the same time, the voice of a young Maya child speaks of the tree’s significance as a metaphor for Maya cosmology. 

The Ceiba tree, or Ya’axche in Yucatec-Mayan, continues to be an important icon in Yucatán. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The group then moved along a path until arriving at a structure held up by 11 stone pillars. According to the narration, this temple was used for all sorts of civic and religious celebrations — as well as serving as a spot for players of the Mesoamerican ballgame to prepare for the event. 

The House of the Iguana in Uxmal featured in “Ecos de Uxmal”. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Next up is a view of Uxmal’s Mesoamerican ballcourt, complete with a glimpse of the distant Governor’s Palace, which unfortunately does not play a role during the narrative. The voice of a Mayan warrior tells the audience about the Mesoamerican ballgame (or Pok ta Pok).

The narrator explains how, more than a sport, this spectacle was actually an important ceremony modeled on an ancient conception of the universe. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The following trek up to the Nunnery Quadrangle was challenging but enjoyable, as it was great fun to walk through its famed arch lit in a vivid red.

Through the arch, the Nunnery Quadrangle opened up in all its glory with projected animated images of flames and animals adorning its four elaborate interior facades. 

Once inside, the voice of a narrator told the audience to clap to activate the echoes of the past, which was a nice interactive touch. The voice then begins to unravel a narrative based on the legend of the Magician of Uxmal. 

Uxmal’s halach uinic to be as a baby wrapped in a jaguar’s skin. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The story tells of a prophecy surrounding the arrival of a new halach uinic (lord, king or chief) that would come to rule the city with the use of powerful magic. The story is told from the point of view of a wise sorceress who birthed the little lord from an egg.

The young lord as a little boy, with his magical mother. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The narrative then moves on to the trials the young child was forced to face and the reluctance of the city’s current halach uinic to concede power.

The antagonist of the story, Uxmal’s sitting ruler. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Among these trials was the construction of a sacbé, or white road, to the city of Kabah, the overnight erection of a great pyramid, and surviving three heavy blows to the head.

In the end, the young lord manages to outwit his foe at every turn and is ultimately hailed as the new ruler of Uxmal. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The narration during the video mapping show may take some artistic license in its storytelling, but all in all was quite nice, even though this last segment was perhaps a little too long.

Section of the Nunnery Quadrangle’s facade with imagery alluding to the arrival of Catholic Conquistadores to the ancient city. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The entire show was narrated in Spanish but an English language version will likely be offered as well when the show opens to the public this fall  — though the exact date has not been announced.

Aside from the sometimes difficult terrain, the show did have another couple of hiccups. For example, the initial animation played at the Nunnery Quadrangle went on for way too long, roughly 15 minutes, as I suspect the system froze up. But then again, I guess this is why they are still running the show as a preview. 

“Ecos de Uxmal” was a nice experience. I especially enjoyed being able to walk through the archaeological site at night and delight in seeing these majestic temples in a new light — literally. On the other hand, this walkable approach does have its issues, as walking through the jungle in the dark may be unsettling or even dangerous for older folks and young children. 

View of Uxmal’s Pyramid of the Magician when exiting the show. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Another potential concern is cost. Though the final price of the experience has not been revealed, the number being floated around is a steep 600 pesos per person or roughly 30 USD. Though this may be doable for some tourists, for most people in Yucatán, and especially those in Uxmal’s surrounding villages, this ticket price is simply out of the question. 

Attendees are allowed to take photos and video, but only without flash. High-end SLR or seemingly professional cameras are also prohibited, which is a shame.  

For more about Uxmal and many other incredible archaeological sites, make sure to check Yucatán Magazine’s weekly feature, Archaeology Monday, every Monday morning. 

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