As I am writing these lines, in addition to having travelled thousands of miles again, it feels as if I had gone back many years to reach one of the new seven wonders of the world, Chichen Itza, also known as the Mayan city!
Chichen Itza, translated as “the well of the Itza tribe”, is an ancient city of the Maya, and later of the Toltecs, who after its conquest was turned into their capital. It is located in faraway Mexico, on the Yucatan Peninsula, where some of the largest and most beautiful Caribbean resorts – Cancun and Riviera Maya are, as well as many archeological complexes related to the history and culture of the Mayans.
Our visit was an organized in advance one with a group of other tourists. There are many different ways to visit this place – by car, by bus or by organized tour, as we did. In addition to the transportion there, our package also included the stories from a local guide, as well as some refreshments and umbrellas during the visit to the complex. Believe me, you will really need an umbrella, because the heat and shortness of breath are indescribable, and the places with shade are scarce, but even if there are such – it still does not help.
So, let’s start our walk in this ancient and majestic place!
Upon entering the complex, the first thing you see is a huge pyramid. This is perhaps one of the most famous buildings in the complex, also known as the Temple of Kukulcan (El Templo de Kukulcan) or as the Spaniards called it El Castillo (El Castillo), translated as “The Castle”. The pyramid was built in honor of the supreme leader and Godman Topiltzin Acxitl Quetzalcoatl – Kukulkan. In the Mayan language, Kukulkan means “feathered dragon.” One of the most common ornaments on the facades of temples and platforms in the complex is a head of a snake. The snake was a sacred animal to the Maya.
It is safe to say that the purpose of creating this complex is quite interesting, but without a doubt the end result is impressive and magnificent. Chichen Itza is a living proof that knowledge means power. The higher classes of the Maya was the one who held knowledge, and their knowledge of the sun, stars, moon and seasons enabled them to predict natural events, such as the solstice and the equinox. That is why the lower classes believed that high priests could associate with the gods and ask them for a better life. But the high priests said the gods wanted their human sacrifice and new larger temples to be built. It is interesting how all this has an analogue to this day, and is found in other ancient religions and nationalities.
Given the time in which these pyramids were designed and built it can simply be just one of the reasons why we should admire the skills of the Maya. When you clap your hands around the pyramid, you hear a normal echo of sound. But when you do it on the stairs, the sound of the crack is transformed and it comes back to you like the sound of a quetzal bird. This bird is a sacred symbol of the Maya and symbolizes the upper world. If you concentrate well and clap your hands again, you can hear the bird sounds of a quetzal coming from the pyramid, but you can also hear the sound of a rattlesnake. Don’t worry, there aren’t any there, or at least I didn’t see any! The snake is the Maya’s symbol for the underworld.
Walking around Chichen Itza, you can’t miss the “wall of skulls” (El Tzompantli). It has carved skulls, scenes of sacrifices in which eagles tear human hearts and war figures with arrows and shields. In general, the complex has a lot of temples, walls with paintings but I really want to tell you about two of them – the playground of the “pelota” and the observatory.
“Pelota” is an ancient ball game where the losing team was sacrificed on the altars of Kukulkan. The goal is to put a rubber ball in a ring mounted on the side walls of the court. The ball can only be hit with a knee, thigh, hip, elbow or shoulder. The team that scores the ball the first 13 times in the ring is the winner. It is assumed that the ball was the size of a handball or smaller one weighing about 4 kg.
The other thing that really impressed me in this complex was the observatory (Observatorio) or also called El Caracol (El Caracol). It is one of the most interesting buildings in Chichen Itza, both because of its unusual shape and because of its probable purpose. It is called El Caracol, which means “snail”. The reason for this name is an internal spiral staircase resembling a snail shell. Historians believe that the gaps in the dome were used for astronomical observations and calculations, hence the name of the building – “observatory”. The shape of the building was borrowed from NASA when they began making their observatories.
In the observatory you can also see the unique Mayan calendar! The legendary Mayan calendar is a unique system for measuring time. As I mentioned above, during their heyday the Maya had an incredible culture and scientific knowledge in the field of astronomy and mathematics. It was used both in pre-Columbian Central America and by other Central American peoples – Aztecs, Toltecs and others. The Mayan calendar is actually a system of calendars. Initially, they have a calendar of 260 days a year. The counting is done with two rotating gears. Later, they added a third gear, making the year 365 days. The three gears show how the date changes. The 260-day calendar is called the Tsolkin or sacred calendar. This is the most ancient Mayan calendar. It was used in parallel with another calendar, the 13th lunar one called Haab. It corresponds to the 365-day Gregorian calendar, also called the Approximate Year. The basic unit of both calendars is kin (day).
It is difficult to describe the experience of this place – literally as you are entering the archeological complex you get a big heat slap, your eyes can not see these majestic buildings, and listening to the stories of the Maya, you literally want to be transported to that distant time… and hope that if you are there you will not be sacrificed to the Gods.
This post is also available in: Български (Bulgarian)