Affectionately named one of the New Seven Wonders of the world, the Chichen Itza is a name almost synonymous with Mexico itself. It is one of the most visited man-made sites in the world. Located in the Yucatan Peninsula, Chichen Itza is a short drive away from the town of Merida and situated comfortable between Valladolid and Merida. This most spectacular ruin is a majestic symbol of cultural importance. Just walking around will make you feel like you are walking through an icon of history. These dominating columns and pyramids over the Yucatan Rainforest gives you an idea of how people can create beauty from the ground up.
Why was Chichen Itza Built?
Chichen Itza means “at the mouth of the well of the Itza” in the Mayan Language. Chichen Itza was a Pre-Colombian city built by the late Mayans. The Mayans allocated this site as suitable for habitation as four natural sinkholes were formed, where freshwater would be provided year-round as well as a fertile landscape ideal for irrigation and farming. As a result, the layout of the city was developed after 900 AD and by the 10th century, became the regional capital where it became a centre of politics, economy and religious life in the area. It became one of the largest cities in the Maya and was a fabled icon in Mayan mythology. Thanks to the fragmentation of the Mayan Empire during this time, Chichen Itza’s relative stability attracted people from all over the empire, thus making the city the most diverse of all the cities in the region at the time. This was supported by the wide array of architectural styles found in other ruins in other regions in Mexico and Central America. It is believed that during its heydays, upwards of 50,000 people lived within the city, which is huge at least by standards of its time. Part of these ruins show the many amenities that the citizens enjoyed, like the Great Ball Court, where this structure was used for leisure activities. You can also find the Steam Bath, which was a bathing quarter connected to a steam chamber where heated stones were placed into water.
All of the buildings in Chichen Itza are linked by a network of paved roads and sidewalks, which proves that this was a very well connected city with an array of networks, and even more so, because paved roads weren’t introduced by the Europeans, which shows that paved roads were also thought out by the Indigenous peoples of certain North American regions. A well decorated city, it has also been found that the city must have been painted with bright colours since archaeologists have found many remains of paint, although the original colour of the stone remains today and is widely seen.
What is so special about Chichen Itza?
A peak into one of the world’s most impressive civilizations, the sheer majesty of the Chichen Itza ruins will put you in a time warp and is an experience rich with historical context to the Mayan people that reside in the region today. Although technology was very primitive, the topography of the ruins show evidence that the city was built in uneven terrain, and was actually levelled to build the city. This is an unprecedented method considering the timespace. The carvings and the columns show that meticulous engineering was put into the city to establish important features like an elaborate roofing system, as well as Ports for trade at the nearby Isla Cerritos, where gold and other valuables were sold and sent throughout the early Americas.
What to see in Chichen Itza?
El Castillo Temple of Kukulkan Pyramid
This pyramid was named after the Mayan god that formed as a serpent. This well preserved 100 foot example of Mayan architecture is the most famous site in the ruins and people from all over come to marvel at this wonder. The best time to visit this site would be around Mid-March and Mid-September, where the vernal and autumnal equinoxes occur, and the morning and late afternoon sun casts a shadow illusion of the serpent descending along the staircase of the El Castillo pyramid. If you do prefer not to be in the crowds, Chichen Itza also experiences varying degrees of this illusion the rest of the week during the equinoxes, and are equally as astonishing.
The Great Ball Court
A short walk from the El Castillo Temple is The Great Ball Court. These ball courts were very common in the Mayan Civilization and were used for team games that involved a ball. This game, Pokatok was the most popular game among the Mayans. Although it was largely a leisure game, Pokatok was also a religious rite. While the rules remain unclear, modern variations played by the Mayans show that you are only supposed to hit the ball with the knees, hips and elbows through a stone ring on either side of this court. During a war ceremony, instead of executing the vanquished, they played this game, where if lost, the vanquished were then sacrificed to the gods. This is the largest playing field in Mesoamerica.
On the Northern point in Chichen Itza, the Cenote Sagrado ‘Sacred Spring’ was one of the most coveted and holy sites in the Mayan civilization. When excavated in the 1900s, artifacts made of precious stones were uncovered, as well as human remains. This shows that gifts to the gods were thrown into this spring, as well as being a vessel for human sacrifice.
Adjacent to the Great Ball Court, is the North Temple. This is where a good amount of the religious ceremonies were taking place, even well into the 1800s. This temple is a popular site as it features a figure of a man with what resembles a beard, which is why this temple is affectionately named, the Temple of the Bearded Man.
Are you allowed to climb the El Castillo Temple?
For the past few years, the Mexican government has disallowed the ascent or the touching of the El Castillo Temple. The historical significance of the temple as well as its perceived fragility makes this site a key priority to preserve.