Chichen Itza is one of the 1000 places you must SEE before you die!
I went through my pictures from Mexico these days and I realized that I still haven’t shown you the ones I did at the most famous ruins of the world – Chichen Itza. That day I felt like a maya woman wearing a traditional mexican blouse for the first time.
To visit Mexico was one of my biggest dreams. Not just because of white sandy beaches and light blue sea, tasty food or lovely people who are happy even when they do not own anything. I couldn’t wait more to walk through the Mexican ruins which filled me up with magical energy and eternal happiness.
One week vacation is not enough to visit all the ruins in Mexico. But I have visited the two most beautiful ones, both of Maya origin: Tulum ruins and Chichen Itza. Because of its exceptional cultural importance as a one of mankind’s common heritage, Chichen Itza was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988 and voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.
Chichen Itza have always fascinated me and I wanted to visit for as long as I can remember! So, from the beginning of our holiday we booked a day tour bus to the most famous archaeological site in Mexico. We were very lucky to catch a rainy day, because everybody told us about the heat that awaits us there! Our guide knew about how crowded is Chichen Itza in the morning, so we arrived there at 3 o’clock after we took lunch and discovered the beautiful colonial city Valladolid.
Chichen Itza, meaning “at the mouth of the Itza well”, it’s a limestone plateau in the northern region of Yucatan Peninsula, once one of the most powerful centers of the Mayan people. Throughout its nearly 1,000 years history, different people have left their mark on this city. The Maya and Toltec vision of the World and Universe is revealed in their artistic works and stone monuments. Ruins of the temples of this ancient civilization that survived are spread from Guatemala jungles to Mexico.
The Mayan people were skilled farmers and some think they created the first written language native to the Americans. They also developed the social class system, including in their number system the concept of zero, an idea unknown to the old Greek mathematicians. The Maya used their mathematical knowledge along with celestial observations to create monuments for observing and commemorating the movements of the Moon, Sun and Venus.
Spectacular remains of these monuments can still be seen today at Chichen Itza!
The site is spread over quite a few kilometers, being cleared land lined with trees and market stalls. We walked on what used to be the ‘roads’, learning how vastly different their cultures were. The pre-hispanic Maya were one of the most original of the Mesoamerican cultures. They were distinguished for their use of the false arch in architecture, sophisticated writing system and calculation of time. The term “Mesoamerica” refers to a geographical area occupied by various ancient cultures who shared their religious beliefs, art, architecture and the technology that made them unique in the Americas. These are reflected heavily in their buildings detailing praise to their rain God Chac Mool.
The city is divided into two different principal areas: Chichen Viejo and Chichen Nuevo.
The first population center, known as “Old Chichen“, was founded near several deep wells between 415 and 435 AD, before the Toltec cultural invasion. The history of Chichen Itza, like many aspects of Mayan history is obscure! Roughly all sources agree that from approximately 550 AD to 800 AD, Chichen Itza existed mainly as a ceremonial center for the Maya civilization. The old city was governed by priests and now is open only for archaeologists. It was in this era that some very important structures were built in the city, including the “Nunnery”, named by the Spaniards because the numerous rooms reminded them of a convent. They called another lovely Puuc style building “The church”, which the Spaniards associated with European Christian churches.
Chichen Nuevo began roughly about 850 AD with the arrival of the Itza and is characterized by images of the God Kukulcan. The king also took the name of ‘Feathered Serpent’, or Quetzalcoatl, the name of an Aztec God. Kukulkan brought the Toltec practices and beliefs to Chichen Itza, including the practice of human sacrifice. The city was abandoned in the 13th century and today its ruins continue to shed light on the mysteries left behind by its inhabitants. In 1840, John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood re-discover the ruins and start preparing texts and illustrations that are published all over the world. Edward H.Thompson purchases the Chichen Itza Hacienda in 1914 and started to explore the Sacred Well and other buildings for restoration. Early in 1924, The National Institute of History and Anthropology began reconstruction of the archaeology site that still continues today.
The center piece of “New Chichen” is Kukulkan Pyramid or ‘El Castillo’ – a baffling piece of craftmanship with many references to a highly developed knowledge of astrology by the Mayas. Experts believe this building was erected in honor of the Sun God because it is a representation of the Mayan calendar. The four stairways leading up to the central platform each have 91 steps of the year, making a total of 364. Added to the central platform on top equals the 365 days of the solar year. On either side of each stairway are nine terraces, which makes 18 on each face of the pyramid, equaling the number of months in the Maya solar calendar. On the facing of these terraces are 52 panels, representing the 52-year cycle when both the solar and religious calendars would become realigned. The pyramid is 30 meters/98 ft. tall, and 55.3 meters/181 ft. across. The structure is built in 9 platforms, that correspond to the Maya conception of a nine-stage underworld. It was built on top of a minor pyramid that still preserves an inner chamber where the Red Jaguar Throne is located. This pyramid was mathematically located to register the arrival of the Spring (March 21) and the Autumn (September 23) equinoxes, which can be observed when the “Plumed Serpent”or Kukulcan descends the main staircase, facing the Sacred Well, in interplay of light and shadows.
Each year, many visitors come during the spring and autumn equinoxes to see this amazing phenomenon. The shadow of a serpent is slithering down the pyramid’s northern face with each movement of the sun.
During my visit to Chichen Itza I understand why it’s no longer possible to climb El Castillo Pyramid. The archaeologists are trying to preserve the ancient ruins, as they are being destroyed by walking. Not to say that is very dangerous! The Temple of Kukulcan (El Castillo) was closed for climbing by the National Institute of Anthropology and History, after an 80-year old woman slipped down and died in 2006. It’s a shame because the views from above were terrific. But one thing I experimented there is the famous sound of the acoustics. If you are standing at the foot of the stairs claping your hands results an echo from the pyramid’s staircase which sounds like the downward chirp of a bird.
This Pyramid is so mystical and perfect, that I couldn’t take my eyes off it.
After visiting Chichen Itza you can stop at one of the numerous souvenir stands. They sell some cute and inexpensive souvenirs. 🙂 Or you can take pictures with the Mayan people.
Read more about Chichen Itza ob my blog: wayfarerstyle.com