Chichen Itza was recently added to the list of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” and we can see why after visiting this epic archaeological site in Mexico’s Yucatán state. Compared to Tulum, these ruins are on a much grander scale and have incredibly intricate carvings everywhere you look.
The majority of the photos I took feature El Castillo or “the castle” which is the most iconic temple on site and has two feathered serpents that line the stairway. On the Spring and Autumn equinoxes the sun will hit the pyramid in such a way as to make the serpents come to life through shadow effects. I am continually astounded by the Mayan people’s grasp of astronomy. How could they know so much about it?
Pictured above are the heads of the feathered serpents at the foot of the steps with their mouths open. They were incredible up close!
These columns are part of the “Group of the Thousand Columns” on site. Pictured below is the entrance to The Great Ball Court where ancient Mayans would play hip ball. This building reminds me of a ticket office outside a stadium. I doubt they had tickets or concessions but it’s fun to speculate.
The Mayan sport of hip ball is played by hitting a rubber ball only with the hips through those small hoops at the tops of the wall on either side. It was also important to keep the ball in play since it was incredibly difficult to score. Whichever team had the most points won and some historians believe the captain of the winning team would be sacrificed. Many people think it makes more sense that the athletes who lost would be sacrificed. They think if you kill your best players the quality of the game will get worse and worse. However, it makes sense to this Southern-born girl who was raised in church that you give God your best. This would be one of those times I’m grateful to be a complete disappointment to my parents when it comes to sports. Pictured below is the area where the royal family would sit when they came to watch the games.
The observatory below is called “El Caracol” or “the snail” and is located on the south side of Chichen Itza. The openings in the building were supposedly built with the path of the planet Venus in mind.
The temple below is known as “La Iglesia” or “the church” and the one below it was named “Las Monjas” or “the nunnery” by Spaniards. However, these buildings as well as the one pictured above were part of the palace for possibly the royal family, a priest, or government leader.
Pictured below is The Osario which resembles a smaller scale of “El Castillo”. This temple was given its name due to the bones found within during excavation.
The Mayan people had a supernatural understanding of astronomy and even developed a calendar that we still use today. One of the Mayan calendars called Haab’ describes 18 months consisting of 20 days each (360) plus 5 nameless days at the end of the year (365). Nameless days were believed to be days that the portal separating the spirit world and the mortal world was open. Mayans would most likely not leave their homes during these 5 days for fear of encountering the wrath of the Underworld. This image creates quite a stark contrast with the New Year’s Eve celebration of modern times where we commemorate the last day of the year with champagne toasts and kisses at midnight.
Another interesting tidbit I will share about the Mayan people is that they believed in not 4 cardinal directions but 5. The fifth cardinal point was “up and down” or the direction of gravity. The understanding of the universe that was housed in the Mayan civilization completely blows me away. They are one of only 3 ancient civilizations that had a written language recorded on paper. I am heartbroken to think of all the history that has been lost by conquistadors or crusaders who saw the Mayans as polytheistic heathens. Many of their books were burned and the knowledge therein lost forever.
Unbeknownst to much of the world there are roughly 5 million practicing Mayans alive and well today. I am humbled to be able to visit such a historic site and learn about their ancestors. Christopher and I wanted most to see Chichen Itza while we were in Mexico and it was undoubtedly worth the trip. Our guide told us that recently another site has been unearthed that is said to be vastly larger than Chichen Itza. Chris thinks it is the archaeological site that was found using Google Earth. When excavation is completed I would love to return to Mexico and see what new stories the stones have to tell.
Until next time,