UNESCO SITE: CHICHEN ITZAWHAT IS IT
Chichen Itza is a Pre-Hispanic city, considered one of the greatest Mayan centers of the Yucatan peninsula between A.D 750 to 1200. It was used for religious and political practices, as a major trading hub, and as an overall urban center for daily life. (1)
This sacred and incredibly complex site reveals the cultural traditions, advanced vision of the universe, impressive math skills, and sophisticated architectural designs that have survived. (2)
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT
Different peoples have left their mark on Chichen Itza throughout its nearly 1,000-year history, leaving behind one of the most important examples of the Mayan and Toltec civilizations.
SIGHTS TO SEEEL CASTILLO / TEMPLE OF KUKULKAN Looks like:
Used for: The pyramid was designed so that on the spring and fall equinox (March 21 and September 21), the movement of the sun creates the illusion of a giant snake of light gliding down the pyramid’s main flight of stairs. According to Mayan legends, this symbolized the return of Kukulcán, the Plumed Snake, to provide a blessing for a full harvest and good health. (3)
Insights: Demonstrates the accuracy and importance of Maya astronomy. The temple has 365 steps, one for each day of the year. Sound familiar? This is why our calendar has 365 days in a year.
THE GREAT BALL COURT
Used for: Sports and ritual games.
Insights: The most popular game, known simply as the Ball Game, required teams to get a solid rubber ball through one of the stone scoring hoops set high on the court walls, without using their hands. The downside? It is speculated that the game resulted in serious injuries and that losers were put to death. Ouch.
THE STEAM BATH
Used as an: Ancient sauna structure to host rituals that purified the body, mind, and soul. Basically, a very intense detox.
Insights: This is where the ancient Temazcal ritual took place; a combination of Mesoamerican chants, meditation and steam bath. It’s enclosed chambers, with a tiny size opening where the Mayans entered. created an aromatic, healing steam treatment using medicinal herbs infused over heated volcanic rocks to detoxify the body while renewing energy.
SACBE NUMBER ONE
Used as: The main ancient Mayan highway.
Insights: This sacbe (stone road) is the largest and most elaborate at Chichen Itza, which leads to the Cenote Sagrada. It is believed to have been built for trading and ceremonial processions.
Used for: TBD. It could have been used for commercial purposes or as a council house or ceremonial function. Perhaps all of the above.
Insights: The name (The Market) was given by the Spaniards and its original function is still up for debate.
EL CARACOL / THE OBSERVATORY
Used as: An underground chamber with a hole in the ceiling, where Mayan priest-astronomers tracked the movement of Venus, Pleides, Sun, Moon, and other astronomical events to help them chart the seasons and continuously generate more accurate measurements and times. This information helped them track the harvest schedule by predicting the endless cycles of nature, life, death, and rebirth.
Insights: The structure was likely rebuilt several times in order to calibrate the astronomical observations. It signifies the high degree of accuracy of their observations and the mathematical sophistication needed to devise their complex system of calendars running concurrently. The sun shines through this hole for most of the summer but it is directly overhead on May 15 and July 29. So accurate were their observations that the sun illuminates an illustration of the sun on the floor.
Used to: Support a large roof system when the city was inhabited.
Insights: Although not confirmed, it is believed that this vast space was once used as meeting halls because the remains indicate that it was decorated with motifs and Chaac masks - which represented an earlier priestly class who governed the city.
Used as a: Ceremonial sinkhole for religious practices
Insights: Archaeologists assume humans were thrown alive as a sacrifice to the gods in times of droughts.
EL OSARIO / THE HIGHEST PRIEST GRAVE
Used for: Communal graveyard.
Insights: The top platform leads into a burial chamber, where tombs and human remains have been found.
THE NUNNERY + THE NUNNERY ANNEX + JAGUAR THRONE
Used for: It is is still up for debate whether the building was a monastery or a palace for the Maya royalty.
Insights: The stone jaguar shaped seats were found in the Castillo and in the Nunnery Annex; and now, the one in front of the Nunnery Annex is a coveted sight since all the others have been gradually transferred to museums.
TEMPLE OF THE WARRIORS
Used for: It’s been speculated that the flat area, at the top of the monument, may have been used to sacrifice a human heart.
Insights: The heavy use of columns, leading up to the structure’s stairway entrance, have been identified as a Toltec feature. When climbing the stairs, there’s a statue of Chacmool, a legendary messenger of the gods.
WALL OF SKULLS / TZOMPANTLI
Used as a : place to display the heads of sacrificial victims. The platform walls of the Tzompantli have carved beautiful reliefs of four different subjects. The primary subject is the skull rack itself; others show a scene with a human sacrifice; eagles eating all human hearts; and skeletonized warriors with arrows and shields.
Insights: One of three Toltec structures, and the only one used for this purpose. The others were for farces and comedies, showing the Itza were all about fun.
LA IGLESIA / THE CHURCH
Used as a: TBD. Researchers still do not know what this building was used for, but the Spanish saw fit to name it "The Church", probably because it was located right next to the Nunnery, and it is still called that today.
Insights: It’s exterior is almost completely covered with veneer decorations. Masks of Chac decorate two upper stories. Among the crowd of Chacs there is also an armadillo, a crab, a snail, and a tortoise. These represent the Maya gods, called Bacah; whose job it was to hold up the sky.
JOIN USIN PERSON
The Mayan Sacred City Experience
We’ve partnered with a local expert to share insights that can help us visualize what life was like when the Mayan Empire was thriving in this city. We’ll have time to exchange different theories about daily life practices and what could have caused the Mayans to abandon their sacred city.
Experience available on our upcoming Tulum Retreat. Learn more here.
SPREAD THE WORD
History just got a lot more interesting when paired with a vacation in Tulum. Do you have a friend who would appreciate this as much as you will? The more, the merrier…
SOURCES(1) National Geographic
(4) Live Science
(5) Chichen Itza
(6) Chichen Itza Ruins