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The Heritage of Chichén Itza, Mexico

April 05, 2022    7 min read

Chichén Itzá is a ruined ancient Maya city in Mexico's Yucatán state that covers about 4 square miles (10 square kilometers). It is estimated to have been a religious, military, political, and commercial center with a population of 35,000 people at its heyday. The site first attracted about 550 residents, most likely due to the region's easy access to water via cenotes, or caves and sinkholes in limestone formations.

Source: Shutterstock

The cenotes are the only source of water in the parched region surrounding the monument. Two large cenotes on the site made it suitable for a city and gave it its name, which is derived from chi ("mouths"), chen ("wells"), and Itzá, the Maya clan who established there.

In 1988, Chichén Itzá was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was created around the 6th century CE, likely by the Yucatán Peninsula Maya people who had occupied the region since the Pre-Classic, or Formative, Period (1500 BCE–300 CE). The main early structures are in the Puuc architectural style, which differs from the styles of the southern lowlands in several ways. The Akabtzib ("House of the Dark Writing"), the Chichanchob ("Red House"), the Iglesia ("Church"), the Casa de las Monjas ("Nunnery"), and the observatory El Caracol ("The Snail") are among the earliest constructions to the south of the Main Plaza.

In the 10th century, there is evidence that Chichén was invaded by foreigners, most likely Maya speakers who had been significantly affected by—and perhaps were under the leadership of—the Toltec of central Mexico. The Itzá, for whom the place is called, may have been the invaders; however, some scholars believe the Itzá arrived 200 to 300 years later. In any case, the invaders were responsible for large structures such as El Castillo ("The Castle"). The 79-foot (24-meter) tall El Castillo pyramid rises over the Main Plaza. El Castillo features four sides, each with 91 stairs facing a cardinal direction, for a total of 365 steps—the number of days in the solar year—including the step on the top platform. The shadows cast by the setting sun appear to be a snake writhing down the stairwells during the spring and autumnal equinoxes. At the top of the Chichén Itzá pyramid, a carving of a plumed serpent represents Quetzalcoatl (known to the Maya as Kukulcán), one of the principal deities of the ancient Mesoamerican pantheon, so it could be considered as the temple of Kukulcán.

The ball court is the largest in the Americas, measuring 545 feet (166 meters) long and 223 feet (68 meters) wide. Six sculpted reliefs run the length of the court's walls, ostensibly representing the game's winners carrying the severed head of a losing team member. The Temple of the Jaguars, located on the top platform at one end of the court, contains a fresco depicting warriors laying siege to a village. A whisper can be heard from 150 feet (46 meters) distant while standing on the platform of the temple to the north of the court.

Source: Shutterstock

The High Priest's Grave, the Colonnade (Thousand Columns), and the adjoining Temple of the Warriors are among the other structures. The majority of these structures were most likely constructed during the Early Post-Classic Period (c. 900–1200). Chichén appears to have been overshadowed by the development of Mayapán in the Late Post-Classic Period (c. 1200–1540). Chichén Itzá was once a member of the League of Mayapán, a political alliance that included Uxmal and Mayapán. In short, Chichén Itzá is a wonder of the world and one of the top World Heritage Sites and one should visit it once in a lifetime.

Isn't it amazing how humans applied their knowledge of art, math, and science to produce these rich and magnificent works of art? Register on Practically to learn science with immersive features such as Augmented Reality, Simulations, and 3D videos!

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