History
Diego de Landa (1524–79), the first Bishop of Mérida, toured the Yucatán in the 1550s or early 1560s, and encountered the cities of the ancient Maya, often in ruined states. The urban hubs had been built centuries earlier under the patronage of great Maya kings, most of whose kingdoms collapsed sometime in the 9th century. While Landa, a fervent evangelizer, was hostile to Maya religion, spearheading violent campaigns to extirpate idolatry, he was tolerant, even admiring, of Maya architecture of the past. Unlike other observers, who believed (wrongly) that peoples other than the Maya themselves were responsible for the magnificent cities and buildings, Landa gave them full credit, blaming their abandonment and diminishment of the Maya population on internecine warfare, natural disasters, epidemic diseases, and finally, the cruelty of the Spanish conquistadors.
Visual Culture
In this excerpt from an account about the Yucatan that Diego de Landa seems to have written around 1566 upon his return to Spain, Landa offers first–hand descriptions of Maya sites that he encountered, in this case, Chichén Itzá. He had no idea of how old this and other Maya cities were, thinking they were far more recent that archeology has shown them to be. At Chichén, he was most impressed with the great radial pyramid of El Castillo. This excerpt follows that description, in which he turns his attention to the adjacent platforms, the sacbe (or causeway) and the great Cenote (a water–filled sinkhole) and the sculptures around it. Here, his description of the artistry of the sculpture is somewhat grudging, perhaps being colored by his fear that the things he sees serve the Maya religion and thus are an impediment to Christianity's spread.






Making Sense of the Pre-Columbian > Surveying Pre-Columbian    > Images    > Texts    > Bibliography