No words, or pictures, can do justice to the splendor that is Chichen Itza. Only when a visitor has the personal experience of staring down into the cenote of sacrifice or into the eyes of the red jaguar, is the full force of its past truly felt.
The Mayan civilization is considered to be one of the more complex and brilliant of its time. Dating as far back as 1500 B.C., the Maya flourished until about 900 A.D. in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and parts of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador.
Due to their role in the discovery of science, writing, mathematics, astronomy, and religion pillars, the details of this mysterious group continue to intrigue us. Many of their complex hieroglyphs are still un-deciphered, making it difficult to fully understand the few scriptures we have from their time. What has been concluded, however, is that Maya people were fascinated with the sky, and most of their activities were based upon different cycles of the sun, planets, moon and stars.
Their astrological observations were written down in several codices, which now provide us with a multitude of data related to the paths of celestial bodies. From the observations they made, the Maya people were able to predict agricultural events, eclipses, and develop a calendar that was more accurate than the one we use today.
Chichen Itza was the mayor city of the Post classic Maya. It was a place for mystery and magic and power so pervasive, that even centuries after its decline it continues to be considered Holy. Monumental architecture marks the center of a city that in its day covered more than 25 sq. kilometers. Settlers appeared in the area, as early as 300 B.C. but not until 750 A.D. is there evidence of urban planning. By 900 A.D., under Mayan rule, Chichén Itzá became a thriving metropolis of 50,000 inhabitants.
When the Toltec’s invaded Chichen Itza, about 1000 A.D., they brought with them human sacrifice and military discipline unknown to the Maya. They Maya-Toltec built the northern-most structures of Chichen Itza, most notably the temple of Kukulkan and the temple of the warriors.
Chichén is a mix of Toltec and Maya styles. The mayor structures are within walking distance of each other and what you will be seeing is the city’s ceremonial center.
At Chichen Itza, the Maya civilization reached its pinnacle; art, astronomy, medicine, agriculture, architecture all flourished here. The Maya understood the concept of the space between zero and one. They used binary numbers that are used today in computing.
They knew of penicillin 199 years before we rediscovered it. Their astronomical calculations allowed them to come up with a theoretical “True North”; this enabled them to create effects such as that of the descending snake during the Equinox. The major structures include the Castillo, or Temple of Kukulcan; the Nunnery Complex; the Caracol, which was the center for astronomy; the Temple of the Warriors, with its magnificent colonnade of carved stelae; the ball-court, Temple of the Jaguar and the marketplace.
Two cenotes, also known as natural wells, were the primary reason the city was situated at this location. One provided water for the people and the crops; the other was the sacrificial well, where animal and often human victims were tossed into the dark waters in rituals of purification, celebration and renewal.
Exquisitely proportioned, every aspect of its architecture had religious meaning as well as a functional purpose. Less well-known, is the fact that the Castillo as it is seen today sits on top of an earlier structure and that a steep, dark stairway inside the building takes visitors to a secret chamber, where the brilliant red Throne of the Jaguar scowls at those brave enough to intrude on this powerfully sacred site.
Everywhere at Chichen Itza one encounters strong, silent testimony to the power and achievements of this remarkable civilization. The reflecting basins at the Caracol, each sculpted with a god-figure, allowed Maya astronomers to chart the positions and movements of the planets and stars.
The magnificent carvings on the walls of the ball-court tell the grisly, yet enthralling, story of the ritual version of the Maya game of Pok-ta-Pok and portray the losing captain being decapitated in the spring renewal ritual.
The Temple of the Warriors celebrated the battlefield exploits of this mighty race and pays hall of fame-like homage to its greatest fighters. Everywhere the carvings portray the supreme jaguar and feathered serpent gods, the morning star Venus and the enigmatic lord Kukulcan.
Come indulge in the past, the glory of the Maya, and Chichen Itza.