Uaxactun Ancient Mayan Observatory
Photo by Willy Posadas
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Uaxactún Ancient Mayan Observatory

Welcome the summer at an ancient Mayan Observatory

Each structure in the trilogy was built in perfect alignment with the rising sun on the four season-changing dates.

Uaxactun Ancient Mayan Observatory
Temple 10. Photo by Willy Posadas

For a unique way to celebrate the arrival of summer, visit the ruins of Uaxactún and witness the celestial event from the oldest known observatory of the Maya world.

Nestled in the sprawling Maya Biosphere Reserve about 12 miles north of Tikal, Uaxactún features an astronomy cluster of four structures. Three short temples line one side of the grouping, known simply as Group E.

Uaxactun Ancient Maya ObservatoryEach structure in the trilogy was built in perfect alignment with the rising sun on the four season-changing dates: the spring and fall equinoxes (March 20 or 21 and Sept. 22 or 23, respectively); the winter solstice (Dec. 21 or 22); and the summer solstice, this year occurring on Tuesday, June 20.

The sun rises directly behind the outer corner of the northernmost temple (Temple I) on the summer solstice; the sun comes up behind the central window of the middle temple (Temple II) on the spring and fall equinoxes; and on the winter solstice, the sun rises behind the outer corner of the southernmost temple (Temple III).

Mayan rulers and high priests viewed the seasonal phenomenon from the fourth structure of the grouping, a low-rise pyramid sitting directly across from the middle temple.

Uaxactun Ancient Mayan Observatory
Photo by Willy Posadas

Special events still take place at Uaxactun’s celestial cluster on the solstices and equinoxes. Starting at pre-dawn, ceremonies include dancing, chanting, fire and drumming by indigenous Maya in ceremonial dress. Spiritualists and tourists also attend.

Much smaller than its political rival Tikal, Uaxactún nevertheless is a fascinating site to visit anytime. Its earliest known public structures date to 600 B.C., but research indicates it may have been occupied 400 to 1,000 years earlier, making it one of the longest-occupied Maya settlements.

The site was named Uaxactún by a U.S. archaeologist, Sylvanus Morley, who rediscovered the complex in 1916. The Maya, however, called it Siaan K’aan — Born in Heaven.

Uaxactún lies within Tikal National Park and overnight camping is available. Call the park office for availability and reservations: 2290-2800. Or visit a travel agency to make arrangements.

REVUE article by Matt Bokor

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