Chichen Itza was a major trading hub for the Mayan civilization. It is located in the Northwest part of the Yucatán Pennisula, approximately 75 from Mérida, the largest city in the Mexican state of Yucatán. Chichen Itza means “at the mouth of the well of Itza.” It was a great metropolis for many centuries before the Spanish Conquests began in the early 1,500’s.
El Castillo – Temple of Kukulkan
The grandest and most famous landmark in Chichen Itza is the “El Castillo”, or “The Castle”. El Castillo was used as a temple for the god Kulkulkan and believed to be built between 1,000 and 1,200 A.D. In addition, scholars believe El Castillo was used as a calendar. There are 91 steps on each side of the pyramid and when the top layer is included, there are 365 total steps, representing each day of the year. At the bottom of the staircases sit massive carved serpent heads. During the sunset on both spring and autumn equinoxes, the sun casts a shadow on the northern staircase resembling a serpent. As the sun sets, it appears as if the serpent is slithering down the staircase.
El Castillo reaches 98 feet high including the top platform and only 78 feet tall without it. The base measures 181 feet on each side. Like previous step pyramids, it is actually a step pyramid built on a smaller step pyramid. Archeologists have been able to excavate part of the north staircase, which leads to a hidden shrine in the smaller step pyramid. Inside the hidden shrine, archeologists discovered a jaguar shaped throne encrusted with jade jewels and painted red.
Chichen Itza is situated on a flat plain and all rivers run underground. The landscape actually has sinkholes, or Cenotes, through out the area where underground rivers are exposed to the land above. The Cenotes have steep drop offs with sharp edges around them. The most famous sinkhole is the Cenote Sagrado, or Sacred Cenote. It is over 200 feet in diameter and the Mayans would travel to the Cenote Sagrado to offer sacrifices during the drought season. In addition, people would either toss themselves or be tossed into the Cenote Sagrado. If the individual survived the fall, they were believed to hold the power of prophecy. Even after Chichen Itza was abandoned, it is believed people continued to travel to the Cenote Sagrado to offer sacrifices.
Great Ball Court
The Great Ball Court is located approximately 490 feet to the northwest of the El Castillo step pyramid. It is where the Mayans would watch and play a game called pok ta pok. Each team consisted of seven players trying to toss a ball through a loop on the side of the wall. Six of the players would pass the ball to each other using anything but their hands eventually passing it to their captain who would then use a racket to attempt to toss the ball through the loop. The loop was approximately 23 feet off the ground and the first team to score would sacrifice the opposing captain. At the north end of the Great Ball Court sat the North Temple, or the Temple of the Bearded Man and the Upper and Lower Jaguar Temples were built into the east walls over looking the Great Ball Court.
There are many other buildings located at Chichen Itza, all holding great significance to the Mayan civilization’s way of life, but the Great Ball Court, El Castillo and the Cenote Sagrado are the most famous structures in Chichen Itza.
quick Facts & Figures
Location: 75 Miles from Merida
Pyramid Type: Step
Cenote Segrado Dia: 200′
Ball Court Length: 490′
Total Steps: 365
Steps Per Side: 91