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 Chichen Itza sign    No trip to the Yucatan peninsula would be complete without a voyage to the great Mayan ruins.   Chichen Itza is one of the premier examples of great Mayan cities.  A new highway makes it accessible from Cancun with a 3-4 hour drive (by the way - did you know that you can't buy gasoline in Mexico with a credit card??  It requires pesos!)

   Deep within the jungles of Mexico and Guatemala and extending into the limestone shelf of the Yucatan peninsula lie the mysterious temples and pyramids of the Maya.  The Maya are probably the best-known of the classical civilizations of Mesoamerica. Originating in the Yucatan around 2600 B.C., they rose to prominence around A.D. 250 in present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala, northern Belize and western Honduras.  While Europe was still in the midst of the Dark Ages, these amazing people had mapped the heavens, evolved the only true writing system native to the Americas and were masters of mathematics.  They invented the calendars we use today.  Without metal tools, beasts of burden or even the wheel they were able to construct vast cities across a huge jungle landscape with an amazing degree of architectural perfection and variety.  Their legacy in stone, which has survived in a spectacular fashion at places such as Palenque, Tikal, Tulum, Chichén Itzá, Copan and Uxmal, lives on as do the seven million descendants of the classic Maya civilization.

   Chichén Itzá, the ancient city whose name means "in the mouth at the Itzáe's Well", was, in its time of grandeur (between 800 and 1200 A.D.), the centre of political, religious and military power in Yucatán, if not all of South-eastern Meso America. 

   Chichen Itza is actually two cities: one that was ruled by the Mayas during the sixth to the tenth century; the other a Toltec- Mayan city that emerged around the year 1000 A.D. Most of the prominent buildings at Chichen Itza were developed during the city's "rebirth" under Toltec rule.

   In its architecture you can see a gradual change in style, starting with the Puuc style, also shared with Uxmal and other sites in the Peninsula (in the southern group of buildings) and culminating with the so-called Mayan Toltec style in the northern group, dominated by El Castillo.

  Chichén Itzá was a large city with a great many inhabitants, distributed around the architectural nucleii which we observe as ruins, who had a relatively easy access to the water coming from the various caves and Cenotes of the region.  Chichén Itzá was abandoned suddenly around 1400 A.D. perhaps because of internal fighting or for lack of food. There are many theories but nobody knows for certain.

El Castillo Warrior Temple El Caracol The Nunnary Misc Ruins Chichen Itza Map

Links

Click spots on the maps to see the sites

   UNESCO World Heritage site

   Great, interesting Chichen Itza website

Click HERE to see a larger version of the map

 Toltec influence at Chichén Itzá is principally seen in the buildings making up the northern group. The inappropriately named chac-mool (Mayan: "red jaguar"), a reclining figure holding a sacrificial vessel, head turned to one side probably acting as the guardian of the entrance to a temple, is typically Toltec, as are the so-called atlantes, stone carvings, often of warriors, supporting a temple roof or altar. The ever-recurring symbol of the plumed serpent (Mayan: "Kukulkán") displaces the Mayan Rain god Chaac, and the scenes of battles and sacrifices appear far more often than is usual in Classic Maya art.

El Castillo

   The structure known as El Castillo (the castle), also called the Pyramid of Kukulkán, is positioned in accordance with strict astronomical-astrological rules.  Climbing it is quite a challenge and those who make it are rewarded with a spectacular view of the city and surrounding countryside  (OK, jungle-side).

   The 98 ft-high, four-sided pyramid, excellently restored, impresses with its attention to astronomical significance.  The nine-tiered terracing and four stairways, one on each side, symbolize the nine heavens and four points of the compass. Each stairway has 91 steps, a total of 364, the platform at the top being the 365th, the whole corresponding therefore to the number of days in a year.  Large serpent heads adorn the feet of the stairways which rise steeply, at an angle of 45°, to the upper platform on which the actual Temple of Kukulkán stands.  A pair of typical Toltec serpent columns flank the temple's main entrance.

   The construction was planned so that each Equinox the dying sun would cast a shadow.  Running all the way down the edge as far as the great snake's head at the foot, the effect is of a huge serpent slithering earthwards from the top of the pyramid. 

Click here for a short movie

(600KB)

 

El Castillo El Castillo
El Castillo
the first thing you see when you enter the site
El Castillo - also the last thing you see when you leave the site (unless you're lost!)
Looking up Climbing up Chris
Kinda steep getting to the top Made it!
Carvings Colored carvings Unrestored side
Carvings on the sides of the temple pillars on the top of the pyramid Pillar carvings - you can see that they used to be brightly colored Looking down the unrestored site of the pyramid
Steps Chris
This gives you an idea just how steep the pyramid is.  Look at me going down - my feet are sideways because the steps are too narrow for my feet to fit onto without turning them.  But at least I'm not doing "the butt crawl" that the more timid souls area doing!
Stone serpent head Pyramid
On the summer solstice, the sun shines on the steps just so - it looks like the pyramid forms a stepped serpent tail, and the head is at the base of the pyramid Look carefully for the serpent head
(lower right hand corner of photo)

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