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Chichen Itza Archaeological Site

Chichen Itza Mayan archeological site



Location: 40 km (25 mi) West of Valladolid, Yucatan

Best time to visit: October- March

Open: 8am- 5pm daily






Chichen Itza (from Yucatee Maya: Chichen Itza: “at the mouth of the well of the Itza”) Archaeological Site is a large Mayan city in the Northern Yucatan peninsula. Chichen Itza is located not far from another popular tourist destinations as Cancun, Riviera Maya and many others.

History of Chichen Itza Archaeological Site

Pictures don’t give enough credit to the magnitude and size of the city. Without a doubt Chichen Itza is one of the most impressive construction complexes of the pre- Columbian Era. Climbing and exploring the city might easily take the whole day. The best time to get there is early in the morning when the jungle is full of birds and animals. Although the site opens at 8 am you can ask for an yearly admission. Prepare to whine, cry and beg if you really want it. If you will be good enough security might let you in. Empty massive structures of Chichen Itza along with sounds and presence of the wildlife makes this archaeological site an unforgettable experience. Around noon tourists form a huge line at the entrance and scare all the wildlife.
Little is known about origins of history of Chichen Itza. Its role as major regional centre is approximately dated from the Late Classic to Early Post-classic period. Unlike many other Mayan cities, Chichen Itza was not governed by a single ruler. Instead all decisions were made by a counsel of elders.
Most of buildings in the southern part of the city were build by Maya between 700AD and 900 AD. Temple of Kukulkan, Temple of Warriors and Ball Court were build later and show Toltec influence. Cultural diffusion brought new styles to Chichen Itza, new deities and of course human sacrifices on an unprecedented scale. Artefacts found on the size indicate that Chichen Itza was centre of wide trade web from North Mexico to Panama. Historians are uncertain reasons and time of the decline of this metropolis. Some evidences indicate that overpopulation and subsequent starvation caused the city to decline by 1000 AD. Other sources blame the downfall to rebellion and civil war that broke out in 1221. Burned ceiling over Temple of the Warriors and Great Market certainly suggest this course of violent actions. Regardless that was the core reason for such decline or combination of such Chichen Itza never recovered. Although it was not fully abandoned and temple were used for worship of old Gods until arrival of the Spaniards, no new monuments were build. In 1531 conquistador Francisco de Montejo tried to turn Chichen Itza into a new capitol of the Spanish province. Maya rebellion cancelled these plans and drove him out of Yucatan peninsula.


Main landmarks of Chichen Itza Archaeological Site

Chichen Itza Mayan archeological site map It would be a good idea to take a map for a tour of Chichen Itza. Complex of buildings is spread on an area of 5 sq. km (2 sq. mi). It is easy to miss some structures spread over large area and partially hidden by a tropical rainforest. It can be quiet disappointing.
The oldest part of Chichen Itza is its eastern cluster of buildings including the Red House, the Nunnery, Caracol, Iglesia and Ossuary. These were constructed between 6th and 10th century AD. The buildings around Kukulcan temple were constructed after conquest by the Toltec tribes. The king of Tula Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl took Chichen Itza somewhere between 967 and 987. New rulers of the city introduced their own architectural style that really stepped up with the human sacrifices that were rare among the Mayans.




El Castillo (The castle) (Chichen Itza Archaeological Site)

El Castillo or "The Castle" sits in the center of Chichen Itza. This is the first structure you will see once you enter the Chichen Itza. At 30 meters (75 feet) high and 55.3 meters on a side it is an impressive feat of engineering. Build approximately between 11th and 13th centuries it is devoted to god Kukulkan (feathered serpent). During spring (March 20th) and autumn equinox (September 21st) pyramid casts a shadow along a staircase that look like a snake that creeps down the side of the building. There are 91 steps on four sides of the pyramid and with the top platform that makes 365 after days in the year. Nine levels of the pyramid represent nine levels of the Mayan Underworld.


El Castillo also presents interesting sound effects. Anyone standing on the top platform can talk normally and yet it is heard on the way on the bottom. Another interesting phenomenon can be observed on the ground. If you clap your hands it will produce a sound that is almost identical (according to sonogram) to quetzal, a bird that was believed to bring messages from the Gods. In the time of Spanish invasion pyramid was reportedly used as a castle armed with cannons for Francisco de Montejo. Like many other temples in the region, El Castillo is build on top of at least one older pyramid. It is open now to public and accessible through a tunnel that starts at the Northern side. Unfortunately few years ago Californian woman fell to her death and thus the pyramid is now closed.

Temple of the Warrior (Chichen Itza Archaeological Site)

 Temple of the Warrior (Chichen Itza Archaeological Site)

Temple of the Warriors of Chichen Itza is named after columns that support the main building. Each depicts warriors that were legendary for the Maya. Difference in details of these depicted heroes suggest that they were from different tribes and actually lived in this multicultural city. A statue of Chac-Mool in a form of a human with a cup on top of the pyramid. Although there is no definitive explanation for the purpose of the figure it was most likely used for offerings to the Gods. These gifts included human sacrifices as well. Area adjacent to the temple has a large number of columns that are believed to hold a roof over a market and thus this area is called the Great Market. Parts of the roofs are still visible, but building is heavily damaged, presumable by invading force.


Venus Platform and Tzompantli (Platform of the skulls) (Chichen Itza Archaeological Site)

Venus Platform and Platform of the Skulls or Wall of the Skulls is situated not far from El Castillo. These two structures were religious points where people were sacrificed. Tzompantli (originally a Toltec word) is believed to be a place for sacrifices after the Ball court games. It is covered rows of carvings of human sculls. Venus Platform is not far is also covered by grim reminder of the past. Although it was originally covered by paintings blood from the killings covered over the whole altar. It is not very high, but it is also prohibited from climbing. You can do it quickly if you want, even if you get caught no one will throw you out.

The Great Ball court (Chichen Itza Archaeological Site)

Chichen Itza ball courtGreat Ball of Chichen Itza is the largest structure of its kind in the Mayan World and all of Central America. The court for the game is huge. It is measured at 166 meters by 68 meters (545 by 232 feet) with walls on each side reaching a height of 12 meters.


Once you find yourself there you are amazed by the scale of the structure. The ball game itself had religious purpose rather than competition between athletes. Two rings on each side of the playing field have intertwined serpents. The purpose of the game is to make a rubber ball through these rings. The only parts of the body they could use are hips, elbows and wrists.


The Great Ball court (Chichen Itza Archaeological Site)


It is not known whether the losers were sacrificed or the winners accepted this high "honor". The last version is widely believed to be the truth. However depictions on the walls of the court clearly indicate that the end of the game usually ended with decapitation of one of the teams involved.  In the North sideline of the court there is a North Temple also known as the Temple of the Bearded Man due to the relief that depicts a man that seems to have a beard. South Temple on the other side was much larger, but lays in ruins.

Temple of the High Priest (The Ossuary) (Chichen Itza Archaeological Site)

Temple of the High Priest is basically the smaller version of El Castillo. It is named by Thomson after he discovered burial of the high priest while conducting archaeological digs in Chichen Itza. Many other important figures’ tombs were found in the shaft located in the Ossuary.


Platform of the Eagles and the Jaguars (Chichen Itza Archaeological Site)

 Platform of the Eagles and the Jaguars was a ceremonial structure that was probably dedicated to two types of soldiers in the Mayan armies in Chichen Itza. One group were called the Eagles and dressed war gear with feathers of an eagle, while another group of soldiers were called the Jaguars. They often wore a skin of a jaguar into battle. Their job was to gather unfortunate victims for the brutal bloody religious ceremonies.

Las Monjas (The Nunnery) and Eglesia (The Church) (Chichen Itza Archaeological Site)

These two buildings are one of the oldest buildings in Chichen Itza. Their modern names were given the Spaniards at their arrival on Yucatan peninsula. The Nuns or the Nunnery actually served as a palace for the earlier rulers of the city. This Puuc style building possible also served as a meeting place for the council of Chichen Itza. Originally it consisted of a single level. Later a second story was added around 9th century AD. The Church has among its many carvings representation of armadillo, crab, snail and turtle. Animals that were believed by the Maya to hold the sky.

El Caracol (Observatory) (Chichen Itza Archaeological Site)

El Caracol (Observatory) (Chichen Itza Archaeological Site)

El Caracol is Spanish for “snail” given to this building due to its architectural appearance. It is an unusual stricture with the staircase inside the round building. It was used as an observatory with the windows aligned with four setting points of the sun during equinoxes. Mayan Civilization was predominantly an agricultural society so it was important to know the cycles of the year. Crops could fail or be wiped out by the hurricanes if they were planted at the wrong time of the year.

Cenote Sagrado (Chichen Itza Archaeological Site)

Northern Yucatan Peninsula is fairly dry and arid through most of the year. It has few rivers or lakes above land level that were accessible all- year long. However Yukatan Peninsula has a huge network of underground rivers and cavers. Water in these sunken caves undermine its walls and roof by dissolving limestone causing upper levels to cave in and sink. These sinkholes (cenote) are only stable sources of freshwater.


Two of these cenote are found within boundaries of Chichen Itza. Cenote Sagrado (Sacred Cenote) is the most famous due to large numbers of artifacts and bones of sacrificed victims recovered from this site during excavation by American consul Edward Herbert Thomson from 1904 to 1910. Offerings were made to Maya rain god Chaac from a small platform situated on a side of the sinkhole. Usually sacrifices included products that peasants grew on the fields or personal object of value. In difficult times sacrifices were more tragic. Priests of Chichen Itza brought women (rarely men) to the platform on a side of sink hole and after completing ceremony and their prayers shoved into watery graves. Most of people couldn't swim at the time and hence they quickly sank to the bottom along with offerings to the gods.


Few women who did survive initial fall and managed to stay afloat for considerable amount of times were raised by the residence of the city. High Priest of Chichen Itza put a woman on the platform again, but this time she was lying on her stomach and had to gaze into greenish water of the cenote. If she tried to raise her head and glance at anyone around her priest would hit her across the head forcing her to look down again. Mayans believed that anything she would say were message conveyed through her by the gods. Once the message was received poor victims was shoved back into murky and smelly water of the natural well.



Steam Bath (Chichen Itza Archaeological Site)

Steam Bath (Chichen Itza Archaeological Site)

Ruins of the Mayan Steam bath are situated in the far corner of Chichen Itza. It is not particularly big or incredibly impressive. However in the past it played an important role in a pagan religion of the Mayans. It served as a type of a religious ceremonial sauna. Priests and anyone who participated in the ceremony came here to cleanse themselves from filth. They came to this small building to achieve that. A small entrance to the structure meant that people had to crawl here on all fours to get inside. Once inside high temperature caused men to sweat. Dirt was scraped from the skin by participants of the ceremony. Parts of the roof today have collapsed so it is easier to get inside than before.

Casa Colorada (Red House) (Chichen Itza Archaeological Site)

Casa Colorado or simply Red House is a small platform with a temple situated on top. The name of the temple rather than a house comes from the color of its walls that have distinct remains of red color that once covered the whole structure. Despite centuries of neglect and abandonment traces of the original colors are still visible.

Sacbe of Chichen Itza Archaeological Site

Sacbe of Chichen Itza Archaeological Site

Sacbe is an religious ceremonial road that is common not only in Chichen Itza, but throughout a Mayan World. Mayans didn't choose the easy route when they had to construct their paths of communications. Instead of making paths on the flat ground and covering them with slabs, Mayans actually created long narrow platforms made of stone and mortar. Once these structures were completed road were laid on top of these platforms.




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