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Chichen Itza and the Temple of Kukulkan

Listed under Archaeological Sites in Mexico.

  • Photo of Chichen Itza and the Temple of Kukulkan
  • Photo of Chichen Itza and the Temple of Kukulkan
Photo of Chichen Itza and the Temple of Kukulkan
Photo by flickr user exfordy
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The earliest archaeological remains found at Chichen Itza date from the 1st century AD yet the Yucatan peninsula had been inhabited for at least 8000 years. After their conquest of the holy city of Izamal, the seafaring Itza people settled in the 8th century at the enormous natural well known as Wuk Yabnal, meaning ‘Abundance Place’. Their city became known as Chichen Itza, which means ‘Mouth of the Well of the Itza’. From this site, the Itza Maya rapidly became the rulers of much of the Yucatan peninsula. Contrary to popular belief, the Maya were not an empire. Rather, they were a collection of autonomous city-states in frequent communication with other city-states in their region.

The Temple of Kukulkan, the Feathered Serpent God (also known as Quetzalcoatl to the Toltecs and Aztecs) is the largest and most important ceremonial structure at Chichen Itza. This ninety-foot tall pyramid was built during the 11th to 13th centuries directly upon the foundations of previous temples. The architecture of the pyramid encodes precise information regarding the Mayan calendar and is directionally oriented to mark the solstices and equinoxes. Studies by archaeoastronomers have revealed that other structures at Chichen Itza also have significant astronomical alignments, such as the Caracol observatory which indicates key positions of the planet Venus, particularly its southern and northern horizon extremes. Studying the ground plan of Chichen Itza and the spatial relationships between its primary temples, it is evident that the site was actually a mirror of star positions in the night skies - during the erection period of the temple complexes. This is an example of sacred geography, or terrestrial astrology, on a local scale. The Mayans also practiced sacred geography on a larger regional scale by the placement of their temple-cities at specific sites which were themselves also mirrors of the heavens.

Photo: Temple of Kukulkan, Chichen Itza, Yucatan

Sacred Sites Information on Chichen Itza.

Written by  Martin Gray.

Other expert and press reviews

“Pre-Hispanic City of Chichen-Itza”

'This sacred site was one of the greatest Mayan centres of the Yucatán peninsula. Throughout its nearly 1,000-year history, different peoples have left their mark on the city. The Maya and Toltec vision of the world and the universe is revealed in their… Read more...

Written by press. UNESCO

Comments, reviews and questions by other travellers

If you can arrange it the very best time to visit is around the Spring Equinox, when the knowledge of the Mayan astronomers and architects is fully displayed. Around the equinox, from about five days before until about five days after, the temple is aligned so that as the sun gradually sinks, a great shadow of the snake god, Kukulcan slithers almost magically down the epic staircase. To describe it more clearly triangles of sunlight are projected onto the stairs working their way downwards and ending at the bottom where the snake's head is illuminated.

The best vantage point is in the courtyard facing the western facade of the pyramid. Around 40,000 people attend this even each year.

If you can arrange it the very best time to visit is around the Spring Equinox, when the knowledge of the Mayan astronomers and architects is fully displayed. Around the equinox, from about five days before until about five days after, the temple is aligned so that as the sun gradually sinks, a great shadow of the snake god, Kukulcan slithers almost magically down the epic staircase. To describe it more clearly triangles of sunlight are projected onto the stairs working their way downwards and ending at the bottom where the snake's head is illuminated.

The best vantage point is in the courtyard facing the western facade of the pyramid. Around 40,000 people attend this even each year.

Chitzen Itza

Probably the most visited by tourists from Canada and the US, but it was one of our favorites. Being the very first ruin that we ever visited makes it one of the most memorable. Located in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico about 3 hours from Cancun, we had our most in depth tour of any temple that we have ever gone to. We were staying at an all inclusive hotel, The Barcello Maya in 1999 and booked a day trip to Chitzen Itza, because some friends had told us that it was not to be missed.

I am glad that we listened. We were amazed with how connected to the stars the Mayans were. They seemed to know them intimately. The entire complex was built for the heavens it seemed. We couldn’t believe how everything lined up perfectly with other Mayan Ruins. They built everything in precision without modern tools or technology. It is unbelievable that during the Equinox at El Castillo, the sun hits the site perfectly and a shadow in the shape of a serpent snakes down its 365 steps. We were in awe of the impeccable sound in the Pok ta pok arena and yet we were a little shocked at the brutality of the Mayans. They held sacrifices, they beheaded players of the Pok ta Pok game, it was a bloody society that is for sure.

We visited Chitzen Itza at a perfect time. I hear that you can no longer climb to the top of El Castillo. That was an extraordinary experience. Scary as it may have been, it was awe inspiring to stand high over the buildings and look into the jungle. If you looked hard enough, you could imagine that you can see the other great Mayan Ruins of Tulum, Tikal or CoPan which we knew were in a straight line leading from the temple.

Chichén-Itzá

Built by the Mayans as a regional centre, these ruins are built to incredibly precise and impressive dimensions so they can be used by astronomers to measure the passing of time. Structures in the complex have been built in a variety of styles as cultures in the region began to influence each other.

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