Several architectural styles are recognized in the north of Yucatán corresponding to the late Classical period (600-900 AD.), ie., contemporaneous with the boom of the cities of the central area mentioned before. These styles are designated by geographical references: Bec river (the name of one of the archaeological sites characteristic of this style, located in the southern end of the Campeche and Quintana Roo states); Chenes (the northwest region of Campeche, in which the name of the villages often ends with the word “chen” meaning well), and Puuc (a Mayan name, equivalent to “low mountain range”, referring to the hills located in the confines of the Campeche and Yucatán states). These three styles were related and didn’t constitute distinct phases of one same artistic evolutionary sequence. The most southern style (Bec River: Becan, Xpuhil, Hormiguero, Channá) was influenced by both the Petén, region with which it borders to the South, and Los Chenes, immediately to the North. The temples were completed at both ends and at their back by tall towers provided with steep (unusable) stairs crowned by simulated temples. These towers bear great resemblance to the pyramids and temples of Tikal, and can be considered as the culmination of the “facade architecture” mentioned before, since here they represent mere ornamentation. As for the decoration of both the simulated temples and the “true” temples, it was the same as that characteristic of the Chenes style, in which the facade is completely covered with ornamental motifs that as a whole represented the mask of the rain god in which the mouth corresponded to the temple’s entrance. The archaeological sites of the Chenes region (Hochob, Dzibilnocac, El Tabasqueño, Xtampak, Dzehkabtún, Dzibiltún), besides their characteristic facades, present some elements from the third style of the Peninsula, the Puuc style, as are the superimposed masks of the god of the Rain placed on the corners of buildings. However, both in Bec river and in Los Chenes, the stucco was heavily used to complement the ornamentation, a material that was totally discarded in the Puuc style.
The buildings of the Puuc (Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil, Labná, Almuchil, Chacmultún, Huntichmool, Yaxché, Kiuic) are of low height, covered with well cut and assembled ashlars; on the facade the plain walls contrast with the exuberant decoration of the friezes, a true stone mosaic, in which the masks of the rain god are profusely highlighted among the repetition of geometric, symbolic and ornamental elements. The column was commonly used, in contrast to the sites of the central area where it never appeared; it could serve as a support for dividing the entrances into several bays, or as an ornamental feature in plinths, friezes and even architraves and cornices, in the form of slender shafts or cylindrical cones. The roof comb still appeared in the oldest temples ( VI and VII centuries AD.), but disappeared in those that corresponded to the flourishing of the style (VIII and IX centuries AD.). The Puuc style was also found in some places far from its original region, such as Chichén-Itzá (temple of the Three Lintels, The Nuns, The Church), where they corresponded to the Maya occupation prior to the Toltec invasion.
The Mayan-Toltec style that emerged from the fusion of techniques, architectural conceptions, ideas, and artistic sensibilities of those two well-differentiated ethnic groups, is presented in its most clear and brilliant manifestation in Chichén-Itzá (XI-XIII centuries AD.). Perfected by Mayan builders and artists, the artistic elements from Tula, the Toltec capital, are easily recognizable: wide halls, hypostyle halls, thickening of the base of the walls, interior benches, ornaments on the roofs (wrongly called battlements), columns in form of serpents, pillars decorated with Tula-like warriors and a multitude of typically Toltec sculptures: “atlantes”, “chacmooles“, standard bearers, feathered serpents, eagles and jaguars eating hearts, symbols of the god Quetzalcóatl-Kukulcán, etc. All of these were ingeniously combined with Mayan elements: angular vault, smooth facade walls, architraves and cornices with three moldings, masks of the rain god, jaguar thrones.
In Mayapán, which replaced Chichén-Itzá as a dominant city in the north of Yucatán during the mid-13th century, some techniques, decorative motifs, and Mayan-Toltec symbols were still in use, but those times were marked by struggles between different states, and the decadent art reflected a collapsing society. Another consequence of this political instability and the war ambience of the time, was the construction of walls that surrounded some cities, like Mayapán and Tulum, the latter on the Caribbean coast. The architecture of the Caribbean coast, for the most part of late development, retained a few Toltec elements, but displayed its own style: small buildings, walls frequently plunged outwards, stucco-based decoration in which a “descending” deity proliferated, perhaps representing the sun at dusk.
Sacbe: (Yucatec Maya for “white way” or “white road”). A raised paved road built by the Maya civilization of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Most sacbeob connected temples, plazas, and groups of structures within ceremonial centers or cities, but some longer roads between cities are also known. The “sacbe” were white because they were originally coated with limestone stucco, which was over stone and rubble fill.