The stepped pyramids, temples, sinkholes, columned arcades and the other stone structures that now remain unfinished. Everything in the brilliant ruins of Chichén Itzá were sacred to the Maya, and is evidence of a dazzling and beautiful ancient city that once was an urban centre of their empire from 750 A.D. to 1200 A.D.
Viewed as a whole, the incredible complex is one of the greatest Mayan centres of Yucatán peninsula. The fusion of both the Mayan construction techniques with new elements from central Mexico make Chichen Itza one of the most important examples of the Mayan-Toltec civilisation in Yucatán.
Not only is it a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site because of it’s integrity and authenticity, but it’s also one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. One of which both my boyfriend, Gerry, and I could not wait to visit during our two-week holiday to Mexico.
Chichén Itzá reveals so much about the Maya and Toltec vision – both of the universe and religion – which is closely tied to what was visible in the dark skies of Yucatán Peninsula.
The Maya were expert sky-watchers, careful observers of the motions of celestial bodies, and proof of their fascination with astronomy is literally carved in stone in the grand architecture of Chichén Itzá. Something both Gerry and I picked up on very quickly.
The most recognisable structure of Chichén Itzá is the Temple of Kukulkan, or more commonly known as El Castillo. This glorious step pyramid demonstrates both the accuracy and the importance of Maya astronomy as well as the heavy influence of the Toltecs, who acted as a merger of two cultural traditions after they invaded in 1000 A.D.
El Castillo has 365 steps—one for each day of the year. Each of the temple’s four sides has 91 steps, and the top platform makes the 365th.
Devising a 365-day calendar was just one feat of Maya science. Incredibly, twice a year tens of thousands of visitors flock to Chichén Itzá to see “the snake,” an apparition made of shadows that descends the stairs at El Castillo during the solar equinoxes each spring and autumn.
Hearing the things that the Mayan’s were capable of imagining, theories that took scientists years to discover, completely blew me away. To think that they came up with astronomical theories without any of the knowledge or technology we have today is incredible. And I could tell from Gerry’s expression that I wasn’t the only one amazed.
The Maya culture also had many religious and sacrificial rituals to their Gods in Chichén Itzá. For example, young female victims were thrown into a series of sinkhole wells alive (which were the city’s only permanent water source) as a sacrifice to the Maya God of rain, lightening and storms, Chaac, they believed lived it’s depths. Scientists have later found remains of bones and jewellery worn from those in their final hours.
They also sacrificed those they felt were important to society to Tlaloc, the god of rain and agricultural fertility, by putting cutting their hearts from their chest and placing them in a bowl on a statue dedicated to him as an offering.
Chichén Itzá also features a massive ball court that is the largest known in the Americas. It measures 168 meters (554 feet) long and 70 meters (231 feet) wide.
During the ritual games here, players had to hit a 12-pound (5.4 kilogram) rubber ball through scoring hoops set high on the court walls with only their hips, elbows or knees. The competitions were always fierce, we were told, because the losers were put to death.
What strikes me as strange, though, was that after centuries of prosperity and absorbing influxes of other cultures, the city came to a mysterious end. In the 1400s, people abandoned Chichén Itzá and fled to the jungle.
There’s no known or recorded reason why they left their homes and the amazing works of architecture and art. There have been speculations on if it was the droughts, royal quests for conquests or even the exhausted soils that led to it’s downfall. But we’ll never know the real reason why people suddenly left the city.
If you ever go to Cancun, you cannot miss the opportunity to visit this magical place that seems to transport you back in time. Chichén Itzá compromises magnificent architectural treasures, and invaluable knowledge of astronomy, mathematics and even acoustics. It is one of the most important indigenous settlements of all the civilisations in the Americas and one of the best preserved archaeological sites.
Even more than that, it is a gift to our world today from our history that must be preserved for future generations and the invaluable knowledge discovered should be disseminated throughout the world.