Chichen Itza’s Most Breathtaking Sights

June 17, 2012 · Posted in Travel 

Chichen Itza is one of the most famous Mayan cities, and for good reason. For many hundreds of years after its founding around 600 AD, it was an epicenter of Mayan culture, religion, and power. During its peak period, the city supported an unusually diverse population, which in part accounts for the myriad architectural styles drawn upon to construct the large number of ancient structures still visible within its boundaries. Building this city was truly an enormous undertaking, especially for a pre-modern culture; today, just the task of viewing their creation is so overwhelming that a map and compass are essential tools. This guide will help you get a bead on some of the most visually and historically magnificent buildings at Chichen Itza, so that you can more effectively plan an excursion that will leave you awe-struck and breathless at the skill and creativity of the city’s inhabitants ” and not just because you’ve been walking in circles all day!

Though there are seven ball courts at Chichen Itza, where the ancient Maya held their tlatchtli matches, one court in particular dwarfs them all. At the northwest corner of the city, the Great Ball Court measures over 150 meters in length, with huge audience stands and ornately carved goal hoops set high above the playing field. Though the exact rules of the games hosted here have been lost to history, the size and scale of the Great Court leads archaeologists to believe that only the most famed and skilled athletes were able to compete there ” and records show that human sacrifice was a penalty suffered by at least some of the losers.

The Warrior Temple

Built in the form of an enormous stepped pyramid, the Templo de los Guerreros (Temple of the Warriors) takes its name from the rows of statues depicting fierce combatants that flank and front the structure. The Temple was actually constructed around another, earlier temple called the Temple of Chac Mool; a Chac Mool statue, featuring a reclining human with a sideways-looking head, rests atop the pyramid, and is thought to have been used as a platform for ritual sacrifices. The Temple is currently undergoing restoration, which prevents visitors from climbing its stairs, but not from appreciating its grandeur.

El Caracol

Meaning “The Snail” in Spanish, El Caracol is a circular building set upon a large square platform, and is named for the spiral staircase contained within its dome. Building such structures out of stone takes a significant mastery of architecture and materials, and displays the Mayans genius and proficiency for building. More than that, it puts the Mayan predilection for science front and center; the shape and the placement of its doors and windows leads archaeologists to speculate that this was used as an astronomical observatory, specifically designed to align with the movements of the heavens (such as the pat of Venus across the night sky), and as such is one of the first known in the western hemisphere and one the earliest that still exists today.

The Balanckanche Caverns

Close by to the city proper is the entryway to a particularly ancient network of caves, known as the Caves of Balanckanche. They are one of Chichn Itz’s most incredible features, in part because of their size and shape, but mostly due to the wealth of artifacts contained within. Hundreds of statues, idols, carvings, pottery, and other items litter the cave floors, spanning nearly the entire history of Mayan civilization from the Pre-Classic times until well after the Spanish invasion of the Yucatn. Most of the artifacts have not been removed, but rather studied while in the same position as when first discovered, in order to afford visitors to the caverns a unique glimpse of a one-of-a-kind archaeological find unspoiled by later human activity. The layout of the caves is also extremely significant. Consisting of a central column made of limestone, which branches out into an unmistakable series of limb-like patterns, the overall structure of the caves looks like nothing so much as an enormous tree ” important because the World-Tree is one of the central concepts of Mayan mythology and religion.

Light Show Extravaganza

You should be aware that if you purchase a daytime ticket to visit Chichen Itza, you’re also allowed to stay or return to the site after sundown, when a spectacular light and sound show takes place near the giant pyramid El Castillo, featuring laser strobe displays and a heart-pounding musical score. With a duration of about an hour, the colorful and entrancing show is narrated in Spanish, but you can obtain headsets which provide the soundtrack in a variety of other languages.

The Descent of Kukulcan

Occurring in late March, the Spring Equinox is a special time for Chichen Itza, and its passing is marked by a three-day festival of singing, dancing, music, and theater. The high point of the Spring festival is the so-called “Descent of Kukulcan” which happens at the El Castillo pyramid. During the late afternoon, you can see a series of triangular shadows appear on the western face of the pyramid (caused by the sun shining over the northwest corner); the shadows then appear to actually crawl down the side of El Castillo in a manner quite reminiscent of a large snake. Though no archaeologists have been able to confirm this was the intention of the builders, given that the pyramid itself was built in tribute of the feathered serpent god Kukulcan, many believe that the ingenious and astronomically-inclined Maya designed the structure to create this phenomenon on an especially significant day of the year.

Looking to travel to Mexico? Check out the Mexico Travel Blogs at the travel community. In case you’re looking for a way to enjoy the majestic Mayan ruins, you can see the Chichen Itza Tour.


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