The Wonders of CHICHEN ITZA

Chichen Itza is one of the 1000 places you must SEE before you die!

I went through my pictures from Mexico these days and I realized that I still haven’t shown you the ones I did at the most famous ruins of the world – Chichen Itza. That day I felt like a maya woman wearing a traditional mexican blouse for the first time.

To visit Mexico was one of my biggest dreams. Not just because of white sandy beaches and light blue sea, tasty food or lovely people who are happy even when they do not own anything. I couldn’t wait more to walk through the Mexican ruins which filled me up with magical energy and eternal happiness.

One week vacation is not enough to visit all the ruins in Mexico. But I have visited the two most beautiful ones, both of Maya origin: Tulum ruins and Chichen Itza. Because of its exceptional cultural importance as a one of mankind’s common heritage, Chichen Itza was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988 and voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.

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Chichen Itza have always fascinated me and I wanted to visit for as long as I can remember! So, from the beginning of our holiday we booked a day tour bus to the most famous archaeological site in Mexico. We were very lucky to catch a rainy day, because everybody told us about the heat that awaits us there! Our guide knew about how crowded is Chichen Itza in the morning, so we arrived there at 3 o’clock after we took lunch and discovered the beautiful colonial city Valladolid.

Chichen Itza, meaning “at the mouth of the Itza well”, it’s a limestone plateau in the northern region of Yucatan Peninsula, once one of the most powerful centers of the Mayan people. Throughout its nearly 1,000 years history, different people have left their mark on this city. The Maya and Toltec vision of the World and Universe is revealed in their artistic works and stone monuments. Ruins of the temples of this ancient civilization that survived are spread from Guatemala jungles to Mexico.
The Mayan people were skilled farmers and some think they created the first written language native to the Americans. They also developed the social class system, including in their number system the concept of zero, an idea unknown to the old Greek mathematicians. The Maya used their mathematical knowledge along with celestial observations to create monuments for observing and commemorating the movements of the Moon, Sun and Venus.

Spectacular remains of these monuments can still be seen today at Chichen Itza!

The site is spread over quite a few kilometers, being cleared land lined with trees and market stalls. We walked on what used to be the ‘roads’, learning how vastly different their cultures were. The pre-hispanic Maya were one of the most original of the Mesoamerican cultures. They were distinguished for their use of the false arch in architecture, sophisticated writing system and calculation of time. The term “Mesoamerica” refers to a geographical area occupied by various ancient cultures who shared their religious beliefs, art, architecture and the technology that made them unique in the Americas. These are reflected heavily in their buildings detailing praise to their rain God Chac Mool.

The city is divided into two different principal areas: Chichen Viejo and Chichen Nuevo.

The first population center, known as “Old Chichen“, was founded near several deep wells between 415 and 435 AD, before the Toltec cultural invasion. The history of Chichen Itza, like many aspects of Mayan history is obscure! Roughly all sources agree that from approximately 550 AD to 800 AD, Chichen Itza existed mainly as a ceremonial center for the Maya civilization. The old city was governed by priests and now is open only for archaeologists. It was in this era that some very important structures were built in the city, including the “Nunnery”, named by the Spaniards because the numerous rooms reminded them of a convent. They called another lovely Puuc style building “The church”, which the Spaniards associated with European Christian churches.

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Chichen Nuevo began roughly about 850 AD with the arrival of the Itza and is characterized by images of the God Kukulcan. The king also took the name of ‘Feathered Serpent’, or Quetzalcoatl, the name of an Aztec GodKukulkan brought the Toltec practices and beliefs to Chichen Itza, including the practice of human sacrifice. The city was abandoned in the 13th century and today its ruins continue to shed light on the mysteries left behind by its inhabitants. In 1840, John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood re-discover the ruins and start preparing texts and illustrations that are published all over the world. Edward H.Thompson purchases the Chichen Itza Hacienda in 1914 and started to explore the Sacred Well and other buildings for restoration. Early in 1924, The National Institute of History and Anthropology began reconstruction of the archaeology site that still continues today.

The center piece of “New Chichen” is Kukulkan Pyramid or ‘El Castillo’ – a baffling piece of craftmanship with many references to a highly developed knowledge of astrology by the Mayas. Experts believe this building was erected in honor of the Sun God because it is a representation of the Mayan calendar. The four stairways leading up to the central platform each have 91 steps of the year, making a total of 364.  Added to the central platform on top equals the 365 days of the solar year. On either side of each stairway are nine terraces, which makes 18 on each face of the pyramid, equaling the number of months in the Maya solar calendar. On the facing of these terraces are 52 panels, representing the 52-year cycle when both the solar and religious calendars would become realigned. The pyramid is 30 meters/98 ft. tall, and 55.3 meters/181 ft. across. The structure is built in 9 platforms, that correspond to the Maya conception of a nine-stage underworld. It was built on top of a minor pyramid that still preserves an inner chamber where the Red Jaguar Throne is located. This pyramid was mathematically located to register the arrival of the Spring (March 21) and the Autumn (September 23) equinoxes, which can be observed when the “Plumed Serpent”or Kukulcan descends the main staircase, facing the Sacred Well, in interplay of light and shadows.

Each year, many visitors come during the spring and autumn equinoxes to see this amazing phenomenon. The shadow of a serpent is slithering down the pyramid’s northern face with each movement of the sun.

During my visit to Chichen Itza I understand why it’s no longer possible to climb El Castillo Pyramid. The archaeologists are trying to preserve the ancient ruins, as they are being destroyed by walking.  Not to say that is very dangerous! The Temple of Kukulcan (El Castillo) was closed for climbing by the National Institute of Anthropology and History, after an 80-year old woman slipped down and died in 2006. It’s a shame because the views from above were terrific. But one thing I experimented there is the famous sound of the acoustics. If you are standing at the foot of the stairs claping your hands results an echo from the pyramid’s staircase which sounds like the downward chirp of a bird.

This Pyramid is so mystical and perfect, that I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

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The “New Chichen” houses also many archeological gems such as the Temple of the Warriors – a pyramid with the great Chac Mool statue at its summit; the Observatory; the Great Ball Court, the largest of its kind; the Temple of the Jaguar with its impressive reliefs; and the Las Monjas complex with its intricate sculptures and masks.

The Temple of the Warriors is a military structure that shows a clear Toltec influence, being very similar to a temple in Tula, Hidalgo. Both sites feature the image of Chac Mool, giants, coyotes, eagles and jaguars feasting on human hearts. This was my favorite building because the sun sets between the snake tails on top as you can see in the guides photo book.

The Observatory, also known as the Shell, is one of the most important buildings of the Mayan culture, where Mayan astronomers observed the starry sky, followed the path of Venus, the Sun, the Moon and other cosmic events. There is no question that their observations were the key to future astronomical discoveries and space travel in the 20th Century. The Kukulcan cult was related to the planet Venus, which was associated with water and fertility. Pilgrimages were made to the Sacred Well in adoration of the Water God. According to chronicler Diego de Landa, it was an important to the Maya as Jerusalem was to Christians. The Mayan people threw ceremonial offerings into the well, mainly precious objects such as gold pieces, jade, copper, woven articles and baskets.

The Platform of the Skulls is devoted exclusively to death. As the name implies, this platform display the skulls of all sorts of unfortunate people: war captives, sacrificial victims, the winners and losers of the ritual games played in the Great Ball Court next-door. Platform of the Eagles and the Jaguars. Jaguars and eagles were considered to be extremely powerful creatures by the Maya. The warriors adorned themselves in jaguar skins and eagle feathers to absorb their power when going into battle. Access to this platform was gained in ancient times via four identical staircases, one located on each side and topped by twin snake heads. The sculptures of spotted jaguars and sharp-clawed adorned on the walls, showing the animals eating human hearts. Climbing the platform is not permitted nowadays. The Platform of Jaguars likely served as a stage for ritual ceremonies and dances. This is easy to imagine because the platform’s flat top are visible from all sides.

The Great Ball Court is the largest and best preserved one in Mesoamerica, having 166 meters/545 feet long and 68 meters/232 feet wide. It is far larger than today’s American football field.

Three of its sides are part of temples, which were used for rituals during the games. There are many legends about the ritual game played here. The ball game was a type of oracle. Fate was cast during the game and was played out in an instant in front of all the spectators. It is believed that players propelled a heavy rubber ball without using their hands or feet, bouncing it off their hips or shoulders and through one of the rings on either side of the court. The Stone Ring is mounted 6 meters/20 ft above the ground, and the hole is a bit smaller than a soccer ball. Not an easy game…The scenes of the rituals are depicted in carvings and decorations on the ball court walls. One of its most famous panels depicts the beheading of a player. The sacrificed player to the Gods was the captain of the winning team that was elevated to a place of honor and glory this way.

Several temples were placed on the walls surrounding the ball court: the small North Temple at the northern end, the larger South Temple to the south, and the two-story temple on the eastern side of the ball court that consisted of the Upper and Lower Temples of the Jaguar. Shaped like an immense “I”, the court is bounded on both sides by high stone walls terminated by the Serpent Heads. The Great Ball Court has a remarkable acoustic. A person speaking from the North Temple can be heard clearly at the opposite end at the South Temple, about 443 feet away. The Upper Temple of the Jaguars sits atop of the wall at the south-eastern end of the Ball Court. Priests and other officials could get a commanding view of the play on the Ball Court from this perch of the Upper Temple of the Jaguars. The Temple of the Jaguar and the structure around it form one wall of Chichen Itza’s ball court as in the pictures above. The Temple of the Jaguar has some basis for its name. Jaguar-shaped thrones, which are associated with city leaders, were found inside. The Jaguar Temple has a single chamber and a bottle-shaped vault. The Lower Temple of the Jaguar, seen here, faces out into the main plaza of Chichen Itza. The upper tower is overlooking the Grand Ball Court and has a better view from the inside of the Ball court. The lower temple has a jaguar throne and stone carvings on the walls. The Jaguar Throne below is a seat shaped like a jaguar presumably made for some of the rulers. This is the only one left at the site open to the public. The remainder are in museums, because they are often richly painted with inlaid shell, jade and crystal features.

After visiting Chichen Itza you can stop at one of the numerous souvenir stands. They sell some cute and inexpensive souvenirs. Or you can take pictures with the Mayan people.

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Today, Chichen Itza attracts millions of visitors who come to marvel at the spectacular remains and to discover the mystery of the Mayan Apocalipse. The “End of the World” scheduled on 21st December 2012 it was the best marketing strategy for Chichen Itza! Millions of people from around the world is still visiting Chichen Itza to see what will happen. Why were people sharing misleading news and uncountable discussions?

According to Mayan people, no end of the world was expected.

On 21st of December 2012 was the end of the Mayan calendar which is a system of 2 calendars – religious calendar Tzolkin of 260 days and solar calendar Haab’ of 365 days. The Mayans believed that the world consisted of cycles and a certain number of days had to occur before a new cycle could start. The general idea about 21 December 2012 is that, the date is not the end, but the beginning of the new long-count period. For the scientists, it is, in fact, the end of this ancient calendar but not a “doomsday” with the new beginning of a 5,125-year cycle.

Apart from the reality, the day after 21 December 2012, is still considered the start of the new beginnings with the new cycle. The new level of consciousness and enlightenment begins with the new energy. This will also lead to the human’s progress by means of imagination, integrity and intention and the deeper understanding of the identity and the reason of the human’s existence on this planet…

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Climbing pyramids in Mexico to regain magical energy is a MUST!

I warn you that sooner or later they will be closed for climbing. Now just a few are still opened to the public. So…pack your things and come to enjoy the sweeping views of the jungle below!

However if you want to do it you must know that it’s much better to visit with a tour guide who will explain you the history of the ruins. If you do not go with a travel agency, there are many guides at the entrance to the ruins. But speak first about the price. Also you have to pay 45 Mexican pesos (3 Euro) if you enter with a video camera. Many times it’s possible to hide it! Not that I’m saying you should do it!

Climbing pyramids is one of the most popular activities at the Mayan ruins. Although many sites have been closed to climbing in recent years there are two of them that you can still ascend. Ek Balam it’s lesser known site of ruins not far from Chichen Itza, with beautiful settings and amazing views. Also Coba, an absolute Must for anyone who comes to the Yucatan Peninsula. Unlike the pristine Temple of Kukulkan the 120 steps to the top in the middle of the jungle gives you a totally different experience. Nohoch Mul is the highest pyramid you can still climb here. They will eventually close it to save its structure like they did with Chichen Itza.

The last archaeological site I am dying to visit maybe on my next vacation in Mexico is the biggest & famous one – Teotihuacán. Sitting up on top of the Pyramid of the Sun and observing the huge Alley of the Death remade by the Aztecs is something I put on my Bucket List.

I hope this article will inspire you to go see these wonderful ancient sites of the world and climb yourself.

Travel Far and Inspire Others!