I thought I’d do a post on these wonderful Mayan ruins. I didn’t do a tour when I was there, but now I wish I had because I’m sure I could have learned quite a bit more about it. I have taken direct quotes from Wikipedia to describe the buildings, but the photos are all mine.
El Castillo is the first thing you see when you walk past the entrance. It is truly impressive and makes you feel very, very small.
“Dominating the center of Chichén is the Temple of Kukulkan, often referred to as “El Castillo” (the castle). This step pyramid has a ground plan of square terraces with stairways up each of the four sides to the temple on top. On the Spring and 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, or Quetzalcoatl – along the west side of the north staircase. On these two annual occasions, the shadows from the corner tiers slither down the northern side of the pyramid with the sun’s movement to the serpent’s head at the base.
Mesoamerican cultures periodically built larger pyramids atop older ones, and this is one such example. In the mid 1930s, the Mexican government sponsored an excavation of El Castillo. After several false starts, they discovered a staircase under the north side of the pyramid. By digging from the top, they found another temple buried below the current one. 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.
The Mexican government excavated a tunnel from the base of the north staircase, up the earlier pyramid’s stairway to the hidden temple, and opened it to tourists. In 2006, INAH closed the throne room to the public.”
While they no longer allow tourists to climb the pyramid, a couple of guys were doing some repair work the day I was there.
“The site contains many fine stone buildings in various states of preservation, and many have been restored. The buildings are connected by a dense network of formerly paved roads, called sacbeob. Archaeologists have found almost 100 sacbeob criss-crossing the site, and extending in all directions from the city.“
The Great Ball Court is also very impressive. I would like to have seen them play a game, although it sounds like the end was pretty violent. I think it was safer to be a spectator.
This quote is from www.chichenitza.com:
“The Mayans were great sportsmen and build huge ballcourts to play all their games. The Great Ballcourt of Chichen Itza is 225 feet wide and 545 feet long overall. It has no vault, no discontinuity between the walls and is totally open to the blue sky. Each end has a raised to the temple area. A whisper from end can be heard clearly enough at the other end 500 feet far away and through the length and breath of the court. The sound waves are unaffected by wind direction or time of day and also night. Archaeologists engaged in the reconstruction noted that the sound transmission became more and more strong and clear as they proceeded. In 1931 Leopold Stokowski spent 4 days at this site to determine the acoustic principals that could be applied to theater for an open-air concert he was designing. Stokowski failed to learn the secret. Today it has not been explained.
It is easy to imagine a Mayan King sitting here presiding over the games. Legends say that the winning Capitan would present his own head to the losing Capitan, who then decapitates him. While this may seem very strange reward, the Mayans believed that this to be the ultimate honor. The winning Capitan getting a direct ticket for heaven instead of going through the 13 high steps that the Mayan’s believed they had to go through in order to reach peaceful heaven.”
I don’t know what these numbers mean…wish I did.
“At one end of the Great Ball Court is the North Temple, popularly called the Temple of the Bearded Man. This small masonry building has detailed bas relief carving on the inner walls, including a center figure that has carving under his chin that resembles facial hair. At the south end is another, much bigger temple, but in ruins.”
“Built into the east wall are the Temples of the Jaguar. The Upper Temple of the Jaguar overlooks the ball court and has an entrance guarded by two, large columns carved in the familiar feathered serpent motif. Inside there is a large mural, much destroyed, which depicts a battle scene.”
Here is the Temple of the Warriors…
“The Temple of the Warriors complex consists of a large stepped pyramid fronted and flanked by rows of carved columns depicting warriors. This complex is analogous to Temple B at the Toltec capital of Tula, and indicates some form of cultural contact between the two regions. The one at Chichen Itza, however, was constructed on a larger scale. At the top of the stairway on the pyramid’s summit (and leading towards the entrance of the pyramid’s temple) is a Chac Mool. This temple encases or entombs a former structure called The Temple of the Chac Mool.”
And the Group of a Thousand Columns…
“Along the south wall of the Temple of Warriors are a series of what are today exposed columns, although when the city was inhabited these would have supported an extensive roof system. The columns are in three distinct sections: an east group, that extends the lines of the front of the Temple of Warriors; a north group, which runs along the south wall of the Temple of Warriors and contains pillars with carvings of soldiers in bas-relief; and a northeast group, which was apparently formed a small temple at the southeast corner of the Temple of Warriors, which contains a rectangular decorated with carvings of people or gods, as well as animals and serpents. The northeast column temple also covers a small marvel of engineering, a channel that funnels all the rainwater from the complex some 40 metres (130 ft) away to a rejollada, a former cenote.”
The rest are just miscellaneous photos in no particular order.
These are close-ups of the little figures at the top of the building shown above.
It was really hot the day I was there, so I stopped at the restaurant in the visitor’s center for a cold one. These guys were dancing with cervezas on their heads… (Notice the expression on the kid to the left…haha!)
Maybe it’s just me, but I think the “beer on the head” dance kind of takes away from the “majesty” of the ruins. It would be okay to be doing a native dance, but the beer thing is weird.
But I did like their fancy clothing…
Chichen Itza is definitely worth a visit. There is a LOT more to see there than I thought there would be. There are little side walking paths to various areas. Many of the ruins are just piles of rubble or parts of buildings, but it’s amazing how much is still standing and in good shape.
Next on my list are Ek Balam and/or Coba. I hear you can still climb up these ruins, so that makes them worth a trip.
Deb, we climbed El Castillo in 2002. Gorgeous photos! The beer on the head waiters are kind of weird, but when we were in Yelapa, I actually saw a local woman in the village talking to her friend balancing a bowl of fruit on her head. I wanted so badly to take the photo, but didn’t have the nerve. It was daily life, not a gimmick.
February 7, 2011 at 3:41 am
Deb, I believe the numbers on the blocks of stone were placed during reconstruction. The pieces of this building were dismantled and numbered, and then put back together in the correct order. I’ve seen this at other sites not so well known as Chichen Itza. I’ve been to C.I. twice over the years; planning third visit this year. In ’91 was fortunate to be able to climb up, all over, and into spaces now restricted. El Castillo from the top is spectacular, and felt sort of spiritual for me. This year will be my third visit to C.I. –looking forward to seeing what’s been excavated since my second visit in ’98. Extremely interesting (to me, anyway) is info about how of el Castillo was reconstructed in the early 1900s. This can be found in old books (with photos) written by and about archaologist Edward Herbert Thompson. I found these through a library interstate lending system . Thoroughly enjoy your blog posts, BTW.
February 7, 2011 at 1:21 pm
Beck – I can even see fruit on their heads…but beer? Kind of cheapens the whole concept.
Jane – Thanks for visiting my blog! I wish I could have gone to the top of el Castillo…I’ve heard from several people that it really is (was) a spiritual experience. I’m going to have to look up some of those old books you mentioned. And thanks for the update on the numbers on the ball court!
February 8, 2011 at 1:22 am
February 8, 2011 at 2:08 am