Chichen Itza, Mexico: Great Mayan City
Chichen Itza, Mexico is on the Yucatan Peninsula. This ancient city boasts some of the most spectacular Mayan ruins in the world. Chichen Itza has stood the test of time superbly, considering it dates from 600-900AD. The phrase “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). If that sounds like a long trek, don’t be discouraged. The treasures to be found once you’re at Chichen Itza make every second on the bus worth the journey!
El Castillo is, perhaps, the most enthralling architectural marvel of all here. El Castillo, Temple of Kukulcan, or “the castle,” is a 98 foot high enormous ziggurat temple. (Art History tip: when there are steps it is a ziggurat, not a pyramid.) Sacrifices were performed on the platform at the top. This structure may be the most iconic symbol in the world of the ancient Mayan civilization.
Mayan Warrior Tradition
The Temple of the Warriors is near the castle, where a forest of columns is adorned with depictions of the most honored fighting champions. The Mayans took pride in their fighting prowess, and they’ve immortalized this tradition here. Polities fought over limited natural resources such as obsidian, water, and land for farming. The capture of sacrifices, which is now considered a gruesome part of their spiritual traditions, also sparked violent conflict.
Mayan Athletic Skill
Athletes were champions, too. And a favorite structure 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, although a whole ocean away. Notice the donut-shaped carving (top left on the photo above.) The ball had to get through this hole, and seeing this, you contemplate the tremendous skill of the Mayan athletes!
Sport in Art
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!) The artwork at Chichen Itza is extremely well preserved and maintained, so it’s a joy to ponder the Mayan culture here! For example, it’s fascinating to consider how much ancient Mayan culture differed from cultures of today!
More to Explore!
There are many other buildings here to explore, so 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. The crowds can be enormous here, but there’s lots of room to spread out, making the experience more comfortable than smaller ancient sites. But be sure to bring some sunscreen and cool clothing, because there’s little shade here and it tends to get stiflingly hot, even in shoulder season!
*Open source (credit: dronepicr, http://www.commons.wikimedia.org)
In conclusion, you can explore more of Chichen, Itza, Mexico in my full video tour here!:
For videos on more destinations, as well as hotel and cruise ship tours, check out my YouTube channel here!:
And for more Mexico, check out my camel riding in Cabo San Lucas blog here!: