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Yucatan 2004

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El Caracol

   South of the Castillo is a strange round building known as El Caracol, which is the astronomical observatory.  El Caracol means "the snail" in Spanish.  The building is named The Snail because the spiral chambers and pathways to reach the observatory are concentric swirls just like a snail.

   Inside the circular building, which stands on a two-tier platform, a passageway winds upwards in a gently ascending spiral.  Narrow slits in the walls are so positioned as to allow the sun's rays to penetrate the centre of the building for just a few seconds twice a year, a simple but reliable method used by Mayan priests to accurately determine the time.  Several of its windows point towards the equinox sunset and the southernmost and northernmost points on the horizon where Venus rises.

El Caracol El Caracol
The Observatory - click the photo to see a close-up Moving up one platform level
Stairs
Stairs leading up the platform
Observatory with misc ruins
View of the Observatory, showing miscellaneous ruins in foreground Inside the passages that lead into the observatory - showing how the observatory got its name "The Snail"  
Observatory Observatory
Close-up from the top platform
(I suspect they may have intended this area to be off limits to tourists.  Oh well, they were wrong ...)

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