Discovering The Allure Of Chichen Itza

Discovering The Allure Of Chichen Itza

Just over 100 miles from the glamorous resorts and​ pristine beaches of​ Cancun, rests Mexico’s most celebrated historical site. Chichen Itza, once a​ prominent regional capital of​ the Mayan civilization, is​ a​ sprawling complex of​ pre-Columbian ruins. Though the city lay neglected until archeologists began exploring and​ preserving the site in​ the 1920s, the Mayan capital has become one of​ Mexico’s most visited attractions. Chichen Itza – meaning “at the mouth of​ the well of​ Itza” – is​ also a​ World Heritage Site and​ finalist for​ the New Seven Wonders of​ the World.

The most well-known structure at​ the Chichen Itza site is​ the Temple of​ Kukulcan, also known as​ El Castillo. in​ addition​ to​ being one of​ the most famous remains of​ the Mayan civilization, this​ wonderfully preserved step pyramid once served as​ a​ monument to​ the culture’s greatest mythical creature. Kukulcan, the feathered serpent deity more commonly known as​ Quetzalcoatl, is​ celebrated in​ an​ incredibly unique architectural flourish. During the spring and​ fall equinoxes, the structure casts ornate shadows in​ the form of​ a​ feathered serpent along the northern staircase.

Demonstrating a​ common​ Mesoamerican architectural tradition, El Castillo was actually constructed atop another smaller temple. at​ the base of​ the northern staircase, visitors can enter a​ tunnel to​ the interior temple. The small room at​ the top of​ the staircase still houses King Kukulcan’s Jaguar Throne, carved from stone and​ painted red with jade spots.

These temples are at​ the heart of​ the debate surrounding the age of​ the city and​ the year of​ its decline. for​ decades, it​ was believed that the interior temple dated to​ a​ period just before 1000 AD, soon​ after the ruler of​ the Toltec civilization​ of​ central Mexico – who would later call himself Kukulcan in​ honor of​ the god – came to​ Chichen Itza. The historical belief held that Kukulcan, working with his Mayan allies, expanded Chichen Itza into the most powerful city in​ the Yucatan region. While many of​ the remaining structures at​ Chichen Itza represent a​ mixture of​ Mayan and​ Toltec styles, advanced technology has shown that the city most likely rose to​ prominence around 600 AD. Furthermore, while Mayan chronicles reference a​ revolt and​ civil war in​ 1221 – the previously held date of​ Chichen Itza’s decline and​ Mayapan’s rise – archeologists now believe Chichen Itza may have fallen by 1000 AD, creating a​ mysterious historical gap between the peaks of​ these Mayan capitals.

El Castillo and​ its inner structure are not the only temples at​ Chichen Itza. The High Priest’s Temple – a​ smaller version​ of​ El Castillo – served as​ the burial site for​ elite members of​ society. The Temple of​ the Warriors is​ another well-preserved step pyramid surrounded by carved columns with depictions of​ Mayan fighters. The Temple of​ the Warriors is​ also near the large plaza now known as​ The Great Market.

To the northwest of​ El Castillo is​ a​ large open space that might seem like another market at​ first glance. However, this​ area is​ the largest Mesoamerican ballcourt in​ all of​ Mexico, measuring 545 feet by 232 feet. The field is​ lined with sculptures of​ athletes, most notably a​ depiction​ of​ the losing team captain​ being decapitated. on​ the ballcourt’s exterior wall, The Temple of​ the Jaguar and​ another jaguar throne – similar to​ the interior of​ El Castillo – were built into the structure.

Another pair of​ popular structures is​ the complex known as​ Las Monjas (The Nunnery) and​ El Caracol (The Snail). Though referred to​ as​ a​ nunnery by Spanish conquistadores, Las Monjas was actually the primary governmental palace of​ Chichen Itza. El Caracol – a​ large round building on​ a​ square platform – served as​ the city’s observatory.

Called “the snail” for​ its spiral staircase, the Mayans incorporated many unique features into El Caracol. From the doors aligned for​ viewing of​ the vernal equinox to​ the stone cups designed to​ hold water and​ reflect the stars, Mayans based their understanding of​ the universe on​ this​ observatory’s technology.

Whether you​ visit Chichen Itza on​ your​ own or​ with a​ tour group, getting to​ the site from Cancun is​ a​ breeze. Tours can be arranged directly through your​ resort and​ most feature knowledgeable guides. However, guided day tours don’t always allow much free time at​ the site. if​ you​ want to​ explore the site on​ your​ own schedule or​ just beat the early afternoon​ crowds, consider renting a​ vehicle or​ spending a​ night at​ the pleasant villa near the ruins.

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