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.
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.
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.