The Maya name "Chich'en
Itza" means "At the mouth of the well of the Itza." Since the
Northern Yucatan is arid, and the interior has no above-ground
rivers, the only means of retrieving water was through natural
sink holes called conotes. From outside observation, this feat
of retrieving water where there didn't appear to be any source
was attributed to magic. Itza in Spanish is often translated as
'Witches of Water,' but a more precise translation would be
'Magicians of Water.'
There are two cenotes in
the area, one of which is considered the Cenote Sagrado,
or Sacred Cenote where sacrifices of valuable objects such as
gold, jade, pottery and incense as well as human beings were
made to the Maya Rain god, Chaac.
was a major economic power in the Northern Maya lowlands during
the peak of its civilization. This peninsular settlement capitalized on the
water-bourne trade route to obtain exotic items from far away
locations such as central Mexico and southern Central America.
The most current archeological data now indicates that this
civilization had a violent end around A.D. 1000.
In the center
of Chich'en is the Temple of Kulkucan, often referred to as El
Castillo, The Castle. This is a step pyramid with 90 steps up
each of the four sides to the temple on top. The 90 steps on
four sides represent the four seasons. On the Spring and Fall
Equinox, during the rising and setting of the sun, the corner of
the structure casts a shadow in the shape of a plumed serpent,
representative of their god, Kulkucan, along the side of the north staircase. As the sun
moves through the sky the plumed serpent appears to slither
across the pyramid.
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A closer look
at the Temple of Kulkucan, the Maya name for Quetzalcoatl, the
plumed serpent god of Mesoamerica. Notice that the steps have
been numbered, with the 90th step at the top.
you a broader view of the 5 square kilometers of grounds of Chich'en Itza for better
This is part
of the Temple of Warriors which is also a step pyramid.
Hundreds of round and square columns depicting warriors stand
here at this temple.
relief are carved into the stones of these square columns. The
warriors, an integral part of the Chich'en Maya culture, stand
You can see
where the pillars have been cemented together in places. This
creates a mesmerizing effect.
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view of the Temple of Warriors, built for large gatherings. The
temple consists of four platforms and it's on the west and south
sides that you will find the flanks of 200 round and square columns
and clear bas relief of Maya symbols. Perhaps this is the 'XO' from the Nahuatl word Xochitli meaning 'flower.' The Mexican day was
represented visually by a stylized image of a flower.
(Was this the
first tic-tac-toe game? It causes one to ponder... hee hee)
look at the carvings of warriors at Chich'en Itza. You can see
the plumed serpent god of the Maya on the top. This god, called
Kulkucan in Maya culture was called Quetzalcoatl throughout
Mesoamerica. He was the giver of breath and the god of the
winds. He was a creator deity and identified with the sun.
Here we are
leaning against some of the pillars around the Market Area to
give you an idea of the height. There was a roof on top of these
pillars to give shade for market vendors and those who were
buying. These people must have
been rather small compared to our own physical heritage.
Welcome to my
living room! Actually, this is another part of the Market Area,
divided into various sizes of square rooms for the vendors to
sell their wares.
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outside the Great Ball Court, with a 'friend.'
It was the
captain of the winning ball team who was sacrificed. This was considered
to be a very high honor. The losers where shamed.
entrance to the Lower Temple of the Jaguar, which opens behind
the ball court, is another jaguar throne, similar to the one in
the inner temple of El Castillo. This one, however, is well worn
and is missing paint and other decoration. Jaguars are a symbol
of strength, confidence, divinity and general domain and are
often found symbolized in Mesoamerican art.
You will also
see carved eagles here, a symbol that when meditated upon, was
believed to bring about mental clarity and telepathic powers.
Both the jaguar and the eagles pictured here have human hearts
in their grasp. This gives you an idea of how the human
jaguar temple platform is a walled inscription which depicts a rack of impaled
human skulls in bas relief.
Here is a
closer view. Grizzly, eh? Human sacrifice to the gods was common
in this time period and region of the world.
Chich'en Itza grounds are vendors selling musical instruments
made of bamboo, and the tones waft through the grounds creating
a timeless atmosphere. These masks, also for sale, show fierce Maya warriors.
replicas of the Maya calendar with their 19 months each
consisting of 20 days. Their calendar was considered to be very
We hired a
private driver from Cancun to take us to Chich'en Itza for $150
USD. We left Cancun at 5 a.m. and took the toll road on the way
there (an extra $28 in tolls) to arrive at 8 a.m. - early
enough before the tour busses filled the visitor site. Entrance
fee was P48 or $4.80 USD and included a paper bracelet to wear
around your wrist while on the grounds. We took the 'libre' road
on the way back which was a bit slower, had many 'topes' or road
bumps and went through the local towns on the 135 mile return
trip to Cancun.
guides are available for all the explanations of the history of
Chich'en Itza for about P400-P600 or $40 - $60 USD. They give
tours in English, Spanish, French and German.
Chich'en Itza site is very hot, so bring a hat and some drinking
water. There is a tourist center at the entrance where clean
toilets, snacks and drinks are available.