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discover the mayan culture

Chichen Itzá

Chichen Itzá is considered to be the most important archaeological location of the Mayan world. Located 240 km outside of Cancun towards Mérida, Chichen Itzá spans approximately 4 km from north to south. Its height of development occurred at the end of the Mayan Classic period from 900 AD through the Post Classic period around 1200 AD. This breathtaking area was rediscovered in 1842 and rescue efforts have been ongoing since the 1900s. Its resurgence has illuminated the Mayan culture like no other site, captivating descendants, scholars and travelers alike.

Chichen Itzá brings Mayan history to life. It is rich in cultural insights and beautifully highlights different periods of Mayan development, most of which is well documented in the buildings and structures.

The name Chichen Itzá means “at the mouth of the well of the Itza” and it comes from the sacred cenote that exists here. Chichen, as it is commonly known, melds a number of different Mayan architectural styles, from the Puuc style to those reflected in central México. Puuc structures of particular interest include Las Monjas (the nunnery) and the temples located in the area known as Old Chichen.

El Caracol (the snail) is a building from the end of the Classic period that’s believed to be an observatory. It had a chamber for precise observation of the spring equinox, which provided important astronomy insight for the Mayans. Chichen Itzá also drew an important number of pilgrims from the Mayan region, and they would come to the city and leave offerings at the sacred cenote. These offerings were a huge part of the Mayan culture and greatly influenced the people.

Later on, close to the year of 1000 AD, the Toltecs came to Chichen Itzá from the center of México. Their influence can be seen in imagery related to the God of the Feather Snake known as Quetzalcòatl, the one the Mayans call Kukulcán. The Toltec arrival marks the first great mestizaje (a mix of race and culture) for the Mayans, and its impact can still be seen in the area’s religion, art and culture. This lingering influence is a powerful testament to the Mayan civilization’s advanced knowledge of natural resources, astronomy, math, painting, sculpture, writing, and way of life.

During the Mayan-Toltec timeframe, they built the great pyramid of Kukulcán, also known as El Castillo (the castle). Other important buildings of this time included El Templo de los Guerreros (The warriors temple), The Market, The Jaguars and Eagles Platform, and the Ball Game Stadium. All of these are part of Chichen Tolteca and connect to the ancestral sacred cenote via a magnificent sacbè (white road) that remains perfectly defined.

We have to mention that El Castillo is a temple dedicated to the Sun, which had great influence over the Toltecs. El Castillo was built on top of another small temple where a throne is represented by a jaguar resting on a turquoise and obsidian solar disc. This creates the impression that the Sun temple rests on top of the jaguar. This is a significant architectural representation showing how the groups mixed cultures and gods without losing their meaning and importance to the Mayan-Toltec people. Imagery reflecting this level of blended coexistence in of the wake of colonization is very unique in our human history.

Chichen Itzá remained powerful all over the Yucatán Peninsula until 1250 AD, but after the Spanish conquest, the magnificent city was abandoned to become a sanctuary for the Kukulcán god. There is no a solid theory why the abandonment occurred. Today it remains a sacred place, attracting people from all over the world who seek out its beauty and pay respect to the nature gods who are supposed to live there.

Many come to this area to celebrate and admire the equinoxes on March 21 and September 22 because an interesting visual effect takes place on these days. Before sunset, between 2:15 and 4:50 PM, shadows decorate the Kukulcán Pyramid forming seven isosceles angles. When this visual effect happens, it is as if the body of a snake comes down the pyramid’s stairs. This magical visual symbolizes the god Kukulcán (the bird-snake) descending to the earth and it marks the transition from one agricultural season to another.

Chichen Itzá is open every single day from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. A light and sound show is performed everyday starting at 8:00 PM and it is something not to be missed. On Sundays, admission is free. There are many Chichen Itzá tours that leave from the main cities like Cancun, Mérida, Playa del Carmen and Chetumal. You can also rent a car and easily go on your own.