The most Complete Guide to Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza is the most visited Archeological Site in the Mayan Culture and represents the most complete and spectacular example of the combination of Mayan and Toltec cultures that flourished and reached a remarkable extension under the influence of “colonizers” from Tula.
The archaeological sources and the historical tradition, offer interesting indications for the study of the architectural and stylistic aspects of this Yucatán City, characterized by the evident mixture of two different cultures.
In Chichen Itza, numerous decorative elements, especially in the form of sculptures and stone bas-reliefs, testify the strong presence of the cult of Quetzalcoatl, known as Kukulkan to the Mayas. The worship of the Sacred Cenote remained alive until the time of the conquest, a well to whose murky and deep waters victims were thrown to please the god of Rain Chac.
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When you come to Chichen Itza don’t forget to visit:
If you’re up to the walking challenge, you should also take a look at El Caracol, a unique pre-Columbian structure that was used as an Observatory; and the Sacred Cenote, where the city of Chichen Itza got its name from.
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The History of Chichen Itza reflects a glorious past, typical of a ceremonial center where most of the life of a civilization took a decisive course.
The archaeological site of Chichen Itza was a Mayan city from the period between the years 525, when it was founded, and 1,200, when they fell into a rapid decline and Mayapán became the new Capital. Its name means “By the well of the Itza people” in reference to the Sacred Cenote that is in the area.
The pre-Hispanic city of Chichen Itza was the most important capital of the Mayan area at the end of the Classic period and the beginnings of the Postclassic period.
Towards the end of the 10th century, the city was invaded by a predominantly warrior tribe: the Toltecs. This last invasion brought with it a new series of cultural elements, highlighting the representation of the serpent-god Kukulkán. By 1250, the city was abandoned for reasons not entirely determined. So great was the power of this city that centuries after its decline it was still a place of pilgrimage, and even around 1540, when Francisco de Montejo, the founder of Mérida, thought to raise the capital there.
Because it was the origin of many of the important lineages of northern Yucatán, and an indispensable reference of legitimation, it was the capital of the Sacred Cenote that became the most important pilgrimage center of the Mayan Peninsula, only rivaled by the Island of Cozumel.
El Cenote de los Sacrificios was a focus of attraction, as was the sacred character of the city that lasted until the arrival of the Spaniards.
The Pyramid of Kukulkan
The Pyramid of Kukulkan, also commonly known as El Castillo (The Castle), is the most impressive building in the Archeological Site of Chichen Itza, and one of the highest of all Mayan architecture.
Built in the XVI century, this monumental building is a pyramid of nine staggered bodies 24 meters high, with a staircase on each side and a temple at the top. The decorative motifs of the facade are snakes and jaguars of Toltec influence, which confirms that the construction of the building corresponds to the stage of greatest flourishing of the Itzá culture.
The Great Ball Court
The Chichen Itza Great Ball Court shows the arrival and development of the Itza people, the evolution of religious ideas, and a style called “Maya-Yucateco” because it’s mixed with elements of the original Puuc zone. This style combines architecture, sculpture and painting in function of militarism and the cult of Kukulkán, which began to spread towards the Mayan region in the Classic period, producing a rebirth of culture and society in the lands of Yucatán.
Temple of Jaguars
This Temple was built between the years 1000 and 1150. It takes its name from a sequence of jaguars located in front of the structure, it consists of different layers that are intricately carved and show different types of images. Two gigantic feathered serpents formed the columns in the entrance hall, while the interior walls were richly decorated in stone.
The Temple of the Bearded Man
The Temple of the Bearded Man is perhaps the best preserved of the buildings that surround the Great Ball Court, the Temple gets its name from a strange bearded man who heads the scene. It is based on a wall of three stepped bodies that, together with the staircase that sits on a platform.
The cult of the dead, one of the oldest of humanity, is present among the Mayans in this interesting platform, considered “a true monument to the cruelty of war”. The name Tzompantli means in Nahuatl “skull wall”.
Temple of the Eagles and Jaguars
The Temple of the Eagles and Jaguars got its name from reliefs showing Eagles and Jaguars devouring human hearts, this Temple is the smallest of the set of structures that form “the grate level plane” which includes: the Kukulkán Temple, Venus Temple and the Great Ball Court.
The Venus Temple
It’s called the Venus Temple because there are representations in bas-relief of the planet Venus in its outer panels in the form of a Mayan Year Bundle next to a half flower with vanes in the petals; there’s also the symbol of Pop or braided mat that means lordship and power. The Venus Temple is also known as the Tomb of Chacmol because its sculpture was found in its interior.
The Sacred Cenote
One of the distinctive features of Chichen Itza is the cenotes, and among them, The Great Cenote stands out. This Cenote is also called Chenkú or Cenote de los Sacrificios – Cenote of the Sacrifices, the latter name is due to XVI century stories that they claimed that virgin women were thrown into it, and according to a prophecy they would one day return alive.
Temple of the Tables
Called Temple of the Tables because of the overlapping levels that give the appearance of plateaus, this temple built next to the one of the Warriors, is a small pyramid of four levels that previously culminated with a temple with two serpent columns.
The Temple of the Warriors
The Temple of the Warriors was built around the year 1200 and it’s one of the most beautiful and well-preserved buildings of this site. Chichen Itza has tens of buildings, but when people think of this site, they always think of The Castle, The Sacred Cenote, The Great Ball Court, and of course, the Temple of the Warriors.
Group of the Thousand Columns
The Group of the Thousand Columns is actually a temple, a very beautiful and impressive structure connected to the Temple of the Warriors that gets its name because it looks like it has lots columns, but actually, there are only about 200 columns of them.
The North Pillars are part of the main set of columns that are on the side of the Temple of the Warriors. They are decorated in their four faces with reliefs of warriors, priests, and sometimes prisoners, as well as squares bearing the effigy of the man-bird-serpent or Kukulkán.
The columns supported a roof of perishable material. As in the Thousand Columns, it is considered that the friezes restored in the Market allow having a perception less threatening than the jaguars and serpents of the Temple of the Warriors. This is the reason why it has been thought that in this area the use of buildings was converted from ceremonial to utilitarian.
Chichen Itza began its urban development during the Late Classic period, traditionally dated between 800 and 1000 AD.
This new development was characterized by vaulted monumental architecture, of a style similar to that of the cities of the Puuc mountainous area, reason why this architecture has been denominated of Mayan or Puuc style.
Some of the most emblematic and artistic buildings of the city belong to this period, such as El Observatorio, Las Monjas, La Iglesia, or La Casa Colorada, among some others.
Also known as the Great Priest’s Tomb, this structure measures more than 10 meters high, it’s made up of nine staggered bodies very similar to El Castillo, to such degree of resembling a replica, with the difference of having less height and a frieze covered with mythological reliefs decorated in its corners with the effigy of the god Chaac similar to the ones found in the Templo de los Guerreros and Templo de Venus.
The Tomb Platform
This platform, also known as 3C4, has three chambers that contained human remains, which is the reason why it was later called Tomb Platform. In the first of the chambers, there were two skeletons in very poor condition belonging to male individuals, and some fragmented vessels. In the second chamber, another two damaged male skeletons where found, in addition to two broken vessels, two jade objects, a copper rattle, a rock crystal, and many shell ornaments which make archeologists thing that they had been part of a mask.
Round and Venus Platform
The Venus Platform is very similar to the Venus Temple in the Grand Plaza where the Kukulkán Pyramid is found. The Round Platform contained a box of offerings and a small flagstone pavement. The function of both was to serve as platforms for ceremonies, rites or dances.
Chichanchob (Red House)
This building is the largest and best preserved of the four buildings that surround the plaza or main plain. Chichanchob translates as “small holes” from the Mayan chi’ich’ichan, meaning “small”, and ch’ob, “hole”, perhaps because of the small holes in its raised crest. It’s also commonly known as Red House “Casa Colorada”, because of a strip painted in red inside the vestibule or first bay.
The House of the Deer
The House of the Deer is nearly gone, but it has very similar architectural guidelines to those of Chichanchob. It’s on a platform or basement with rounded corners and a smooth facade; frieze between moldings and cresting on the front without any decoration. It’s part of a plaza that contains Chichanchob, and probably a residential complex associated with the Ossuary.
Read more about the House of the Deer.
The Xtoloc Temple receives its name because it’s located next to the Cenote with the same name, the second largest cenote in the center of Chichen Itza.
It probably was used in religious ceremonies, perhaps related to the Cenote. Its construction dates from 900 to 1200. There are sculptured representations of warriors and priests on the pillars of the temple.
The Xtoloc Cenote
On the way to the Ossuary group is this beautiful Cenote that although of smaller diameter than the Sacred Cenote was very important for the population of Chichen Itza as a source of water.
The Observatory of Chichen Itza, also known as el Caracol, is around structure very similar to those that exist in other parts of Mesoamerica. It has some windows on the top from which you can see the equinoxes, sunsets, solstices, the positions of Venus and other stars, and the observation guided many of the decisions and actions were taken by the ruling class.
Temple of the Sculptured Boards
The Temple of the sculpted boards is a building of the Mayan-Toltec period, it closes the Plaza de las Monjas on the east, and it’s named after the sculpted panels that decorate the north and south walls with reliefs depicting scenes of warriors presiding over ceremonies of fertility and life.
It has its front to the north and consists of three buildings: Las Monjas (The Nuns), the East and Southeast wings, which correspond to several building periods overlapping. It’s possible that its name is due to the fact that the buildings, with numerous rooms, reminded the Spaniards of their convents. The great set of the Nuns Building in Chichén Itzá has palace type structures, a ball game, and a low wall. The main building has at least six construction stages, with modifications in the building, decoration and style, indications of a long period of occupation.
When the Church in Chichen Itza first discovered, this building was notable for the good state of preservation it was in, and for the richness and beauty of its ornaments. La Iglesia (the Church) is a small building next to the Nuns with a single chamber and one access door, similar to a rectangular chapel, hence its name.
The name Akab Dzib comes from non-deciphered hieroglyphs that mean “dark writing”, not because of “dark spell-like enchantments”, but because they haven’t been deciphered, yet…
The hieroglyphs were found on the lintel of one of the inner doors of the south section of the building, the undeciphered hieroglyphs are found in front of a sculpted priest sitting on a throne.
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