The Nunnery Quadrangle (Cuadrángulo de las Monjas)

This set of four buildings surrounding a large trapezoidal courtyard was named the Nunnery by the Spanish because of the large number of small "cells" in the buildings. The individual buildings are constructed on platforms that rise above the level of the courtyard. The buildings were constructed at different times. Two smaller structures, The Temple of Venus and one know simply as Building Y, are at courtyard level, on the east and west sides of the stairs leading to the North Building.

The courtyard is entered through a corbelled portal arch in the south building. This entrance is aligned with the axis of the ruined ballcourt. As the buildings do not join each other, it is also possible to enter from the corners of the courtyard. The North and South buildings were constructed first, followed by the East and West buildings. The two small buildings were added at a later time and the facade of the north building was refurbished.

The decorative frieze above the lower story of the buildings is different on each building. On the south building there is a relief of Mayan huts on a background of latticework. The oldest building, the North building, sits on a platform 7m (24 feet) above the courtyard The building is 81m (265 feet) long. A broad staircase runs the length of the building, between the two smaller structures, along the front. This building has 26 rooms with eleven entrances opening off the courtyard. The frieze has decorations of Mayan huts, monkeys and snakes. There are four towers, each having four stacked Chac masks.

The East building has five entrances and is decorated with snakes, whose heads look out on the North side. The frieze is fairly plain, consisting mainly of latticework. This is the third building that was built here.

Nunnery West

The most recent building is the West building which has the most elaborate frieze. Above the main entrance is an elaborate throne which was originally occupied by a seated figure that was half man and half turtle. The main part of the frieze has Mayan huts, rows of masks, geometric ornamentation and interwoven snakes. At each of the corners is a set of stacked Chac masks.

A recent study has proposed a cosmological basis for the layout of the nunnery complex. The north building can be identified with the celestial sphere. It is built on a level above the other buildings, has 13 exterior doorways representing the 13 layers of heaven. The celestial serpents appear above the huts on the building frieze. The west building has 7 exterior doorways, 7 being the mystic number associated with the earth's surface. There are also figures of the Earth God as a turtle. This indicates that this building represents the Middleworld, the place of the Sun's descent into the Underworld. The East building contains mosic elements associated with the war cult of Teotuhuacan, where tradition held that the Sun was born. This this building may represent another aspect of the Middleworld. Finally, the lowest lying building, the south building, has 9 exterior doorways (the Underworld has 9 layers). It may be associated with death and the Underworld.

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© 1995 - Karen M. Strom