Chichen Itza is a Maya Civilization located in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. At its time it was one of the largest Maya cities; nowadays it is one of the most visited Maya sites in all of Mexico. On the date 07/07/07 (July 7th 2007) Chichen Itza was elected one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. As well, Chichen Itza is a World Heritage Site.
The name Chichen Itza in the Mayan language means “At the mouth of the well of the Itza”. Itza has been said to translate to “enchanter of the water”. Chichen Itza was inhabited by the Maya from A.D. 750 to 1200.
The pyramid El Castillo (pictured above) is a highly recognizable structure at the ruin site. This pyramid has 365 steps, one for each day of the year. It has 4 sides with 91 steps on each side equaling 364 steps with the top platform being the 365th. When building El Castillo not only the influence of the Maya went into the architecture but as well the Toltecs who invaded and precipitated a merger of the two cultural traditions. The Maya were astrological geniuses with the ability to predict when solar eclipses would happen as well as the spring and summer equinoxes. The Maya designed many of their structures so that could on specific dates and times throughout the year images cast by shadows and light could be seen on the surfaces. On the two equinoxes of the year a serpent will appear on El Castillo in the shadows.
El Caracol, translated to “snail shaped” in reference to the spiral staircase leading to the top of the main tower, is the observatory at the site of Chichen Itza. The tower provided a way for observers to see a complete view of the sky without being obstructed by the vegetation in the Yucatan. The stairwell of the observatory doesn’t line up with the other structures at the site though scientists say it lines up perfectly with the Planet Venus which holds a strong significance to the Maya. The Maya used to plan their battles and raids around the changing position of Venus.
The Temple of the Warriors is a very important structure at Chichen Itza because of its size which gives it the ability to hold large amounts of people for gatherings. It has been said the temple was the location of many sacrifices. The large stone pillars were influenced by the Toltec people.
The Great Ball Court at Chichen Itza is the largest of all the Maya cities as well as in all the Americas. It measures 554 feet long and 231 feet wide. The stone walls in the ball court are still to this day intricately detailed with remarkable carvings (pictured above). The acoustics in the court pick up sound waves so well you can hear a whisper clearly over 500ft away at the other end. The Great Ball Court was created for ritual games which involved players hitting a solid, heavy rubber ball through a small round circle at the top of the stone walls. In some versions of the game no hands or feet are used, the ball is only to be passed around by the hips. The game typically ended in the losing team being sacrificed. Nearly 500 years ago a Spanish Chronicler, Diego Duran, reported that some bruises caused by the ball were so severe they had to be lanced open as well as reports of many people dying after being struck to the head, stomach or intestines.
The main water source at Chichen Itza came from the cenotes in the area. Cenotes are natural sinkholes that expose underground waterways. This specific cenote on the site of Chichen Itza was used to give sacrifices to the Rain God Chaac who was believed to live at the bottom. The Maya believed there were three entry ways to the Xibalba – Underworld – the bottom of the sacred cenote, through caves and through competition in the Maya ball game. In 1904 archaeologist Edward Herbert Thomas began dredging the Sacred Cenote; he found many sacrificial artifacts including bones of men, women and children that had been sacrificed in the cenote. Some of the artifacts in the cenote were wooden, jade, copper and gold weapons, scepters, jewelry and tools that were thrown in the cenote which amazingly were preserved by the water when they had been removed.
Nobody is certain as to why the Maya left this civilization around A.D.1400 and they left no evidence behind. Upon speculation there could be many reasons why the Maya would abandon this city – droughts, exhausted soil or quests for conquest are all possibilities. When the Spanish invasion came through the region they noted many Maya living in small villages around Chichen but the site was completely abandoned.
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