Chichén Itzá - The ruins of a great Maya city deep in the Yucatán jungle (31 May)
Interesting Facts about Chichén Itzá
CHICHÉN ITZÁ is one of Mexico’s most visited ancient sites. The nearly two-square-mile (5 km2) complex, in the northern interior of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, was a central city of the powerful Maya Empire from A.D. 750 to 1200. The Itzá were the main ethnic group of Maya affiliation that once dominated this region, and Chichén Itzá means “the mouth of the well of the Itzá.”
Maya civilization began to decline in the 10th century A.D., and though Chichén Itzá was occupied for centuries after that, the city was mostly abandoned by the time the Spanish arrived in the 16th century.
Chichén Itzá contains the remnants of a sophisticated civilization. The Temple of Kukulkan (also known as El Castillo) is an enormous step pyramid nearly 79 feet (24 m) high, including its altarlike crowning structure. During each spring and fall equinox, sun, stones, shadow, and ingenious architecture bring an ancient Maya spectacle to life. The stone tiers of the temple cast a rippling shadow across its north facade that simulates the powerful serpent god Kukulkan slithering down its edifice. When Kukulkan has descended all the way down the side of the pyramid’s ceremonial staircase, the shadow joins the frightening stone serpent heads at its base and the illusion is complete.
The Maya preoccupation with astronomy and celestial objects is threaded through the ruins of Chichén Itzá. The Temple of Kukulkan has 365 steps, one for each day of the year, and the monumental structure was used for astronomical observation. El Caracol, or the Snail, is a domed structure that resembles a modern observatory and has windows that align with the path of Venus.
Another intriguing remain is the Temple of the Warriors, a low-rise, elongated complex surrounded by stone columns. At the summit of its pyramid rests a Chacmool—an enigmatic reclined figure with head facing out and hands in lap. It may have served as a form of sacrificial altar, or as a ceremonial throne.
Finally, one must not miss the open air Ball Court, where stone rings are suspended from walls 20 feet (6 m) off the ground. Players on this court kept a rubber ball in the air with their hips, and very occasionally cast it through the stone rings. Though these games may often have been played just for sport, a relief on the stone benches that line the court show a player being decapitated at the conclusion of a match. Whether a winning or losing player was a more fitting sacrifice to the gods is a point of modern debate, but one thing is certain: Select contests were loaded with grave ceremonial import.