Fall Equinox September 22nd, 2007
The famous Mayan pyramids of Chichen-Itza are over 1500 years old and are
located only 75 miles from Merida and about an hour and a half drive from
Progreso. The name Chichen-Itza is a Mayan word: CHI (mouth) CHEN (well)
and ITZA (of the Itza tribe). Some believe people were occasionally thrown
into the nearby cenote as sacrifices, and those who survived were believed
to be seers.
Above: A rainbow arches over El Castillo, the main
pyramid at Chichen Itza
The site is divided into three sections. The North grouping of structures
is distinctly Toltec in style. The central group appears to be from the
early period. The southern group is known as "The Old Chichen."
All three can be seen comfortably in one day.
As the most famous of the Mayan pyramids
on the Yucatan peninsula, Chichen Itza has been studied extensively and is
the most popular Mayan ruin in Mexico. Much has been written about it.
Below are some links to websites with in-depth information about the
history of the site.
Above: Serpent head
Try to visit Chichen Itza early in the morning or late
in the afternoon, as the sun can be punishing at midday. The main
attraction is the central pyramid, El Castillo del Serpiente Emplumado,
which means "Castle of the Plumed Serpent," and is pictured
above. The plumed serpent is a popular deity in various
Above: The famous Chac Mool
statue that used to be inside El Castillo, now in the Museum of
Anthropology in Mexico City.
Mesoamerican cultures. Among other names, the Mayans
called this god Kukulkán. It is sometimes possible to visit the inside
passageway of the pyramid, but we would encourage visitors who are
claustrophobic to skip that part of the adventure.
If you are up to the challenge, inside you will find a
narrowly enclosed staircase that leads to a chac mool, an altar where
offerings to the gods were placed. Climbing to the top of the pyramid is
no longer allowed.
Just beyond El Castillo you will find a large ball
court where Mayan men played a game called pok ta pok. Anthropologists
believe that the object of the game was to hurl a ball through a ring that
was mounted on a wall, seven meters above the ground.
Each team had six field players who would attempt to pass the ball - using
any body part except their hands - to their captain who would attempt the
shot using a racket of sorts. The captain of the team that made the first
successful shot was then decapitated as a sacrifice to the gods. This was
seen as an honor and guaranteed entrance into heaven.
There is a certain mystical energy about the ball court that begs
to be experienced first-hand. One fact worth noting is the repetition of
the number seven, which was sacred to the Mayans. There were seven players
on a team, the rings were seven meters high and if you clap your hands or
shout in the court, the sound will echo exactly seven times. There are
carvings on the stone walls that depict the ball players (some of which
are remarkably intact) and after the captain is beheaded, seven serpents
grow out of his neck.
But the true mystery behind the ball court at Chichen-Itza is the Mayan
prophecy that on Dec. 22, 2012, the great warrior serpent Kukulkán will
rise from the ground beneath the playing field and end the world for good.
Even if you're not one to believe in predictions, it's still exhilarating
and eerie to stand in the middle of the court, close your eyes and
Above: The ballcourt at Chichen Itza.
At the entrance to Chichen Itza, there is an informative museum, a
dining room, clean restrooms, a few giftshops and vendor stands. If you
didn't bring a hat, it's a good idea to buy one from one of the vendors
outside before you go in.
You can travel to Chichen-Itza by daily travel agency tours (about $370
pesos), rental car, or public bus lines that leave approximately every
hour. If you drive yourself, parking is $10 pesos. You can easily do the
trip and return to Merida or Progreso by the evening, or you can stay
overnight. If you do stay, be sure to enjoy the wonderful Light &
Sound Show that is held every evening.