Chichen Itza, on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, boasts some of the most spectacular Mayan ruins in the world. Dating from 600-900AD, Chichen Itza means “the well at the mouth of the Itza.” Although remote, Chichen Itza is frequently featured in bus tour excursions from Playa del Carmen (2 hours, 7 minutes), Cancun (2 hours, 15 minutes), and Cozumel (3 hours, 25 minutes). Although that may sound like a long trek, the treasures to be found once there make every second worth the journey! Perhaps the most enthralling architectural marvel of all here is El Castillo, Temple of Kukulcan, or “the castle,” a 98 foot high enormous ziggurat temple. (Art History tip: when there are steps it is a ziggurat, not a pyramid.) On the platform at the top sacrifices were conducted.
Near the Castle is the Temple of the Warriors, where a forest of columns is adorned with depictions of the most honored fighting champions.
Athletes were champions, too. A favorite with visitors here is the Great Ball Court, the largest (551 by 230 feet) and most well-preserved Mayan ball court in the world. The court is surrounded by “stands,” or audience seating areas. Different classes were assigned to different seating areas, becoming increasingly more lavish and “with a better view of the action” as the audience member elevated in social class. It reminded me of the seating structure of the amphitheaters of Ancient Rome, a whole ocean away. Notice the donut-shaped carving (top left on the photo above.) The ball had to get through this hole! Seeing this, you contemplate the tremendous skill of the Mayan athletes.
Carvings on the walls of the ball court are extremely detailed, and tell the story of the ball game and its athletes. The “winner” had the privilege of being selected for sacrifice through decapitation (also depicted here!)
There are many other buildings here to explore. Take your time to notice the intricate detail on many of these structures. There is absolutely no better way to learn about a time and place in history than from the original people, who, here, eternally tell their first-hand story through their artwork. No modern tour guide can tell it so well.
*Open source (credit: dronepicr, http://www.commons.wikimedia.org)
You can view my full video tour of Chichen Itza here!:
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