The Yucatán: Ancient Architecture & Design in Mexico

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Between snow days, record low temperatures, and shocking wind chill factors in my second winter in Switzerland, I knew we were in for some drastic action — and by action, I mean a journey to find sun, warmth, and design inspiration!

Next stop: Mexico.

Whether you have a vacation planned or will not be seeking sunnier shores this season, I hope these photos give you a little dose of warmth & design inspiration.

Design Inspiration from Mexico

Over a sunny week, D and I occupied a quaint apartment in Puerto Morelos, a small Gulf-side town nestled between Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

Though the town caters mainly to tourists, there was no shortage of local design character: colorful buildings, classic Spanish architecture, and beautiful, hand-painted tiles.

My favorite house on the block was an apricot-toned beauty with clay tile roof, fuchsia bougainvillea, and a small entry path mosaic of hand-painted tiles.

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Love the creativity!

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I love the architecture and color of this one. Daffodil yellow with navy piping, geometric style windows, and even a dome!

Design in Chichén Itza, One of the Seven Wonders of the World

I know we usually talk about interior design here on the O&B blog, but as you know, architecture and design go hand-in-hand:

• They both help create an experience
• They need to communicate with each other to create harmony in a client’s home
• Both reveal stories about people and how they live

Chichén Itza, the 1500-year-old Mayan ruins and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, is certainly no exception to this marriage of architecture and design.

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Pyramid of Temple of Kukulkán in Chichén Itza, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. 

The Intersection of Design & Ritual

The Mayans built their city deep in the heart of the Yucatán jungle, and their structures were highly advanced for their time.

Not only did their designs support their beliefs and embrace nature & astronomy, but they used design to create ceremony around their rituals — that’s no different from an interior designer using their craft to create and support their clients’ rituals at home.

This is their most famous structure, the Temple of Kukulkán…

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Their famous temple holds more than just religious significance for the Mayans (who still exist, by the way) — it’s also a physical representation of their calendar, hailed as one of the first and most accurate calendars in history.

Incredible Design Features

1. There are 91 steps on each of the four sides of the pyramid, plus the top step… which equals 365 days, or a year.

2. See the serpent’s head in the bottom left corner of the photo? During the autumn and spring solstices, the sun’s angle on the corner of the pyramid creates triangles of light along the “body” of the serpent, as if bringing it to life. Serpents were an important part of Mayan social and religious culture.

3. The temple was built over a cenote (sinkhole), which represented the underworld to the Mayan people.

So much meaning and innovation in one structure — and I’ve barely scraped the surface!

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The scene above is the Mayans’ ball court. See those two tiny rings off in the distance? Once the captains received the ball from their teams, they had to hit it through the hole with a bat… which could require a full day and night for just ONE goal. (And we thought baseball was hard!)

Though there’s some debate on who first invented the sport, it’s said to be 3,500 years old — the oldest organized sport in history.

Sometimes the Mayans played for fun; at others, it was part of their sacrificial ritual, with the winning captain being the next lucky candidate for the chopping block. (Really, they considered it an honor to be chosen!)

The coolest design feature? They created natural acoustics at each end!

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If you stand in this space and speak or clap, the structure of the stone court carries the sound all the way to the other end — no microphones here. What an incredible example of form following function!

Last from Chichén Itza (although I’ve left out more for you to discover on your own), I want to share the Mayans’ ritual cenote with you. This is the sinkhole where they deposited their dead sacrifices’ bodies in the belief that their spirits would become one of the gods.

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Though nature technically designed this cenote, it is interesting to see how the Mayans incorporated the natural world into their rituals. It provides the perfect touch of ominous for such a use!

For the fun of comparison, here’s another cenote that D and I had a chance to visit, only this one was for swimming and much less creepy on the eyes…

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This azure blue color is true to life! Talk about inspiration from nature.

The Conquistadors: Spanish Design Reaches Mexico

Our final stop on the Yucatán tour was the city of Valladolid. It was here that the Spanish conquistadors built their first church in Mexico in the Middle Ages.

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Church of San Servatius

Though it was reconstructed from its original design in the 1700s, it’s fascinating to see this evidence of history and the meeting of cultures.

And there you have it — design from Mexico!

Pictures almost never do a place justice (and there’s so much more to discover in Mexico and Chichén Itza), so I encourage you to go see these wonders for yourself! Until next time…

Xoxo,

Jaquilyn

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