The Temple of Kukulkan, Chichen Itza, Mexico 10-2010 Annalisa Weller

 When I was in the 5th grade we studied the Mayans, Aztecs & Incas. I was particularly drawn to the Mayans. I dreamed of someday going to Chichén Itza to see the great pyramid, the observatory & of course, the unbelievably huge ball court. The photo of the stone hoops carved with intertwining serpents high up the side of the stone walls that was in our history of the Americas school book fascinated me.  I promised myself back then that I would see it in person someday. Finally, I did go to experience Chichén Itza this last October when I was visiting Merida. It was so much better than I had ever hoped.

Cenote, Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico, Oct 2010 photo Annalisa Weller

 

Chichén Itza, which means “at the mouth of the well of the Itza”) is a large archaeological site built by the Maya civilization located in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. Recent archaeological work has proven that its occupation goes back to at least 150 B.C. with its greatest construction, political & religious power between 800 A.D. & 1100 A.D. During this time, they were approximately 30,000 people living there permanently. There are no rivers in northern Yucatan but there are large natural sink holes, called cenotes. The “Cenote Sagrado” or Sacred Cenote (also known as the Sacred Well or Well of Sacrifice), is the most famous. And that is where Chichén Itza receives its name.

The center of Chichén is the pyramid or Temple of Kukulkan, the Maya name for Quetzalcoatl. It is also called “El Castillo” or the castle. The 24 meter high step pyramid has stairways facing each of the 4 directions, with the northern facing one being the main staircase.  Each staircase has 91 steps, with the 4 totaling 364 which correlate to the calendar. On the spring & autumn equinox, at the rising and setting of the sun, the corner of the structure casts a shadow in the shape of a plumed serpent Kukulcan along the west side of the north staircase. The shadows slowly slither down the northern side of the pyramid to the serpent’s head at the base. This represents the descent of Kukulcan and time to start the agricultural cycle. How incredible to be able to calculate exactly how to build the temple & stairs so that this happens. Inside the temple chamber was a Chac Mool statue and a throne in the shape of Jaguar, painted red and with spots made of inlaid jade.

Chac Mool, Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico 10-2010 Annalisa Weller

The Great Ball Court in Chichén Itza is the largest & most impressive court built in ancient Mesoamerica. It measures approx. 166 by 68 meters (545 × 223 ft). The walls are 12 meters (39 ft) high. The ball court had important religious & astronomic significance. The court represented the cosmos & men are the divine forces that move the stars, which were symbolized by the ball. The object of the

Ball Court, Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico 10-2010 6 Annalisa Weller

game was not to pass the ball through the rings but to move it from one side to the other without it being stopped, like the stars that cannot be stopped. Hard to believe but the player-warrior winner, not the loser, of the ball game gladly gave up his life with his head presented to the queen with great pride.

The building that was most striking to me was the Observatory because it looks so similar to our current observatories. The doors & windows align to astronomical events including the path of Venus as it travels across the sky. In the central chamber there is a stone spiral staircase, which looks like a snail & gives it the nickname El Caracol.

Observatory or Caracol, Chichen Itza,Mexico 10-2010 3 Annalisa Weller

In 2007, Chichén Itza’s pyramid was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. As I wandered through the site looking at the dozens of ruins, I certainly understood why it is so named. I felt in awe of its magnificence, power & tranquility. I also was amazed on how much the Mayan vendors & guides looked like the carvings of the ancient Mayans on the surrounding structures. It definitely was worth the 2 hour bus ride from Merida. Another dream fulfilled!

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