What to do in Chichén Itzá ?
The site includes a number of monuments to visit.
The main structure of this archaeological site is undoubtedly the Pyramid of Kukulkan (also known as Kukulcan Castle), name with which the Mayans called Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent and the most important deity of the pre-Hispanic cultures of Mexico. and Central America. Two Kukulkan heads carved in stone are visible at the foot of the front staircase of the pyramid. The pyramid has 4 side stairs, of 91 steps each, and if we add the central platform we have a total of 365, referring to the 365 days of the year in the Mayan calendar.
This temple dedicated to the deity Kukulcan, is the most emblematic building of the whole archaeological area. Its very impressive architecture and state of conservation, as well as its size, make it stand out. As if that weren’t enough, there are effects like the Spring Equinox that give it a more surprising touch.
It has nine levels and is 25 meters high. The Spaniards called it “El Castillo” because they tried to make the pre-Hispanic structures equivalent to European structures. This temple was built in the 12th century AD, because at that time the city of Chichén Itzá reached its maximum splendor, being the most powerful city in the whole peninsula. And, as we have already mentioned, the entire pyramid represents in three dimensions the Mayan calendar. In July 2007, it was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
The temple of skulls
Known as Tzompantli, in Mayan for temple of skulls, it is one of the most mysterious constructions. It receives this name because the entire shore of the temple is covered with stone skulls. These skulls are said to refer to human sacrifices.
The temple of the warriors
The temple of the warriors has a great Toltec influence in its construction. We can see the similarities with Tula, in Hidalgo, for example. For example, the Atlanteans and the statues of Chac Mool.
One of these statues of Chac Mool has a tray for sacrifices, in which it is believed that the hearts and blood of the sacrificed were placed, along with pulques and other offerings.
The temple is surrounded by columns carved with figures from the battles or from the daily life of Chichen Itza. It is known as the once covered “Patio of a Thousand Columns”, but this roof has not survived the passage of time.
El Cenote Sagrado (Sacred)
Cenotes are natural wells, created after the collapse of one or more caves, and are found throughout the region of the Yucatan Peninsula. The Mayans called them “Tzonot”, which means cave with water, and they were sacred places to them. They practiced human and animal sacrifices there, in homage to Kukulkan and Chaac, the god of rain. They also threw gems and ceramic figures as offerings.
Archaeologist Edward Herbert Johnson dragged and looted the Sacred Cenote between 1904 and 1911, finding gold, jade, gems, human and animal bones, and selling it all illegally in his country. Most of the pieces were acquired by the Peabody Museum in the United States, which eventually agreed to return half of the lot to Mexico in 1970, and a few more in 2008.
There are several types of cenotes: open, semi-open and caves. The Cenote Sagrado is open type, with a diameter of about 60 square meters and walls 15 meters high.
It is located 300 meters north of the Kukulkan Pyramid, and is another of the major attractions of the Chichen Itza Ceremonial Center, since this cenote is named after it, as I explained earlier.
There is also another smaller cenote in Chichen Itza, called Xtoloc, which was used to supply the population with water.
The ball game
You can find ruins of large pitches of “ Pok Ta ‘Pok “, a ball game in Mexico and Central America. The game involves passing a fairly heavy rubber ball (it can weigh up to 4 kilos) through the metal rings on either side of the court, using only the hip. Two teams were formed, with the best warriors (between 2 and 5 players), and it was said that while they played, they represented the deities on the field.
Before starting to play, players would pray to the god Hunahpu, god of fertility and the ball game, who according to the Popol Vuh was killed along with his twin brother, after losing a ball game in the Underworld, and they came back to life.
The ball courts were walled up, and the largest of these fields is at Chichen Itza. It is 170 meters long and 70 meters wide. On the surrounding platforms, the priests would sit and watch carefully, as the ball could not fall to the ground, as it was considered a representation of the Sun. It is believed that by touching the rings points were earned, and if he managed to get through one of the rings the game was won, although the rules were not completely clear, and were only assumptions of historians and archaeologists investigating this point. The losing team is also believed to have been sacrificed. At 2,500 years old, the ball game is the oldest team sport in the world. If you are staying in Mérida City when visiting Chichen Itza, you will be able to attend an incredible spectacle which takes place for free in the historic center of Mérida. These performances take place every Friday at 8 p.m. in front of the cathedral.
El Caracol (The Snail)
Also known as the observatory. This circular building located on a square platform is an observatory, from which the Mayans observed the sky in order to predict and plan their cultures. Its doors and windows are aligned with the celestial bodies and it allowed a clear view of the sky. Moreover, the main staircase points to the planet Venus. In the main tower there is a narrow spiral staircase, hence its name.
During your visit, you may appreciate other smaller structures, such as the Temple of Venus and the Temple of the Eagles and Jaguars.
There is another construction that the Spaniards called Las Monjas, as it seems the structure reminded them of convents. It consists of three buildings, Las Monjas, and the East and South-East wings. It is decorated with engravings of the god Chaac, the Mayan god of rain and thunder, equivalent of Tlaloc in Mexican culture.
Chichanchob, also called La Casa Colorada (the red house) because of the red stripe running through the hall, was built in 850. It is the best preserved building of those surrounding the main square and its architecture matches the style Puuc.
During your visit you will find several stalls selling, among other things, handicrafts, clothes and hats. Typical crafts include jade, amber and obsidian figurines, hammocks and typical Yucatan clothing.