7 September, Mexico, Chichen Itza Sacred Site
Overview of Chichen Itza site
Chichen Itza (pronounced /tʃiːˈtʃɛn iːˈtsɑː/; from Yucatec Maya: Chi’ch’èen Ìitsha’, “at the mouth of the well of the Itza”) is a large pre-Columbian archaeological site built by the Maya civilization located in the northern center of the Yucatán Peninsula, in the Yucatán state, present-day Mexico.
Chichen Itza was a major focal point in the northern Maya lowlands from the Late Classic through the Terminal Classic and into the early portion of the Early Postclassic period. The site exhibits a multitude of architectural styles, from what is called “Mexicanized” and reminiscent of styles seen in central Mexico to the Puuc style found among the Puuc Maya of the northern lowlands. The presence of central Mexican styles was once thought to have been representative of direct migration or even conquest from central Mexico, but most contemporary interpretations view the presence of these non-Maya styles more as the result of cultural diffusion.
The ruins of Chichen Itza are federal property, and the site’s stewardship is maintained by Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (National Institute of Anthropology and History, INAH). The land under the monuments had been privately-owned until March 29, 2010, when it was purchased by the state of Yucata
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 buildings of Chichén Itza are grouped in a series of architectonic sets, and each set was at one time separated from the other by a series of low walls. The three best known of these complexes are the Great North Platform, which includes the monuments of El Castillo, Temple of Warriors and the Great Ball Court; The Ossario Group, which includes the pyramid of the same name as well as the Temple of Xtoloc; and the Central Group, which includes the Caracol, Las Monjas, and Akab Dzib.
South of Las Monjas, in an area known as Chichén Viejo (Old Chichén) and only open to archaeologists, are several other complexes, such as the Group of the Initial Series, Group of the Lintels, and Group of the Old Castle.
Great North Platform
Main article: El Castillo, Chichen Itza
Dominating the center of Chichén is the Temple of Kukulkan (the Maya name for Quetzalcoatl), 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.
Great Ball Court
Archaeologists have identified several courts for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame in Chichén, but the Great Ball Court about 150 metres (490 ft) to the north-west of the Castillo is by far the most impressive. It is the largest ball court in ancient Mesoamerica. It measures 166 by 68 metres (545 × 223 ft). The imposing walls are 12 metres (39 ft) high, and in the center, high up on each of the long walls, are rings carved with intertwining serpents.
At the base of the high interior walls are slanted benches with sculpted panels of teams of ball players. In one panel, one of the players has been decapitated and from the wound emits seven streams of blood; six become wriggling serpents and the center becomes a winding plant.
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.
In the 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, except that it is well worn and missing paint or other decoration. The outer columns and the walls inside the temple are covered with elaborate bas-relief carvings.
My day at Chichen Itza
I got up this morning and walked out caught a cab to the ADO station. I am excited as I am going to Chichen Itza. I decided to travel 2nd class as it is only 114 pesos compared to 170. I thought I’d check out the service, in retrospect it didn’t have a toilet and it was very slow going through villages. On the bright side I got to see the villages up close and that was very interesting. It took 4 hours to get to Chichen Itza. The villages had grass thatched roofs next to concrete square box style buildings. Apparently the box style can be built up (vertically). The houses are generally pretty small but the gardens are lovely as each village is nestled in the forest. Nature dominates and I feel I breathe a sigh of relief. I definitely feel my soul rise at the thought of nature preserved, I feel deeply uncomfortable with western style consumerism as I feel it is destroying the planet. So when I am in a forested area that is completely covered (for the first time in my life) it is so beautiful and I deeply appreciate the experience of being here. The villages are small and neat and tidy. I see people smiling at each other and I wonder about life in these places. I question in my mind whether a lifestyle in a small village is somehow inferior to living in a condominium with all the worries of rent, work and the trappings of city life. My inner feeling is the village life would be better.