Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico
Chichen Itza, the most spectacular Maya relic of El Castillo (Pyramid of Kukulcán). Photo by Olaf Tausch. Sadly, you can no longer climb these monumental stairs, nor the Temple of the Warriors.
How to see Chichén Itzá
The view from the top of the Kukulkan pyramid towards the Templo de los Guerreros (Warrior Temple) giving a clear view of the flat, dense green vegetation of most of the Yucatan peninsula.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Chichén Itzá is a Maya city that peaked in importance around 600 AD.
This huge and partially ruined city in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula features Kukulkan/El Castillo and half a dozen other magnificent structures, monuments and carvings in a grand green space, some well restored.
El Castillo is arguably the prettiest pyramid in the world, made of stone and measuring 65 metres high, 200 metres on each side.
This is not the biggest pyramid in the world, that’s the still overgrown Cholula near Mexico City.
Opening time 8. 0am to 4. 30pm unless you stay in the Mayaland Hotel which is inside Chichen Itza. However we hear that Mayaland facilities are shabby, the food and service poor and the prices high. Still. . .
Unlike Egyptian pyramids which were solid stone, Maya pyramids were usually built over a mound of earth or rubble.
The Maya also constructed fresh, larger pyramids on top of older ones so tunnels have been excavated allowing tourists a view of the earlier temple of Kukulcan inside the current one. Look for the door at the foot of the north stairway and go up a steep interior stairway to the room at the top where you can see King Kukulcan’s Jaguar Throne, carved of stone and painted red with jade spots. It’s impressive but the climb up the constrictive passageway may be a struggle against screaming claustrophobia.
Yucatán and the Conquistadors
The first Spanish to invade the Yucatan peninsula were led by Francisco de Montejo (see his house in Merida) in 1526. After limited initial success Montejo returned to Yucatán in 1531 and established a strong base with more forces and sent his son to seize control of the interior , including Chichen Itza, which he took with almost no resistance. Montejo the Younger settled down but the Maya finally realised that the Spanish were there to stay and mounted a successful attack, forcing the Spanish to barricade themselves in the Chichen complex for many months and they finally relinquished the city in 1534. A year later the Spanish abandoned the Yucatán Peninsula.
However, Montejo returned after a number of years, recruited Maya from other regions to assist his conquistadors and recaptured the region. By 1588 Chichen Itza was a cattle ranch.
Some of the more popular Chichen Itza monuments
The Great Ballcourt
The Temple of the Eagles and Jaguars, an elaborately carved platform located between the Temple of Venus and the Platform of Skulls, with stone jaguar, feathered serpent columns and murals
The Cenote Sagrado (a sacred cave/lake)
The Observatory (El Caracol)
The Platform of Skulls
Various Sweatbaths which played an important rôle in ancient Maya spiritual traditions as places to purify the mind, body and emotions.
El Caracol, The Observatory
El Caracol, aka The Observatory. Photo by Jim.
El Caracol means spiral or snail after the staircase that winds around the interior of the tower. Archeologists believe that this structure was actually an astrological observatory – as opposed to something that simply triggered a name association.
The raised viewing tower rises above the surrounding jungle so that Maya astronomers could easily track the full movement of stars and planets. El Caracol’s windows appear to be designed to track the movement of the planet Venus.