Chichen Itza is a major archaeological site on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It was and still is a sacred city and Mayan pilgrimage center founded in the 5th century AD by the Itza, the so-called water sorcerers.
Chichen means “mouth of the well,” and Itza refers to the Itzaes, or “witches of the water,” who founded it around the year 435.
Chichen Itza, the ancient Mayan city, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988 and one of the Seven Wonders of the World since 2007. This location stood out as one of the most important Mayan settlements and one of the largest in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, achieving great significance for Mexico and the world.
The History of Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza’s early history and founding
Chichen Itza, which has a nearly 1,000-year history, is still an active archaeological site. This means that archaeologists are continuing to learn more about Mayan culture and ancient Mayan civilisation by studying Chichen Itza.
No one knows when Chichen Itza was built, but some believe it was built as early as 400 AD. Chichen Itza had grown to become one of the Mayan civilisation’s largest and most important centers by 600 AD. It served as a hub for politics, economics, and trade. Chichen Itza was the Mayan civilisation’s capital by the 9th century, and its rulers controlled much of what is now modern Mexico.
Development of Chichen Itza as a major city-state
Chichen Itza translates as “the city at the edge of the Itzaes’ well,” referring to the Itzaes, who settled in Chichen Itza in the 9th century A.D. and established a large domain with a unified culture. Nonetheless, at the end of the 10th century, the city was invaded by the Toltecs, a warrior tribe. This invasion brought with it a new set of cultural elements, the most notable of which was the representation of the serpent god Kukulkan.
The city was abandoned around 1250 A.D. for unknown reasons. This city’s power was so great that even centuries after its decline, it was still a place of pilgrimage and worship. Francisco de Montejo, the founder of Mérida, considered establishing the capital there as early as 1540 A.D.
Importance of Chichen Itza in the history of the Maya civilization
The Sacred Cenote Chenk (Cenote of Sacrifices) was the center of religious activity not only in Chichen Itza, but throughout the Mayan zone. It was a cult of Chaac, the rain god.
Objects made of gold, jade, copper, cloth, and basketry have been recovered from its muddy bottom and appear to have been thrown off as ceremonial offerings.
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Structures and Architecture
An overview of the architectural styles found at Chichen Itza
The Mayan culture of Central and South America was known for its rich artistry and architecture, which reflected profound religious and social beliefs. Chichen Itza was founded around 800 CE, but archaeological evidence suggests that buried structures at the same location date back to 800 BCE. This means that the location of Chichen Itza was significant 1000 years before the site was built.
Because one of the most important aspects of any culture’s survival is its access to fresh, clean water, Chichen Itza was built near a natural well known as a cenote. It was named ‘at the edge of the Itza’s well’ due to its proximity to the water source.
Chichen Itza covered an area of up to 25 km2. The religious, cultural, and administrative center was about 6 km2 from where the culture’s elite lived in palace-like buildings decorated and painted in bright colors. Around these, in green fields, lived between 50,000 and 100,000 people in palm-roofed palapas. The Sacred Cenote Chenk is nearly circular, with a diameter of 60m on average.
The water surface is 22m from the upper shore and has a depth of just over 13m in the center, where the bottom is muddy. It holds approximately 23,000 cubic meters of water. The temples “Cuatro Dinteles” and “Tres Dinteles” are examples of typical Mayan architecture in Old Chichén, near the Sacred Cenote Chenk.
Key structures of Chichen Itza
Archaeological features are things left behind by humans that indicate their impact on the environment and/or are difficult to remove, such as buildings, walls, and other large, man-made structures. Chichén Itzá was a sacred city of pyramids and temples.
The Mayans built their temples in Chichén Itzá to be used as calendars and for rituals. They were built to track celestial events, and the Mayans demonstrated extraordinary knowledge of astronomy and mathematics in their design. These massive structures were designed to keep time and aid in the planning of celebrations and rituals that reflected the Mayans’ cosmological and religious beliefs.
Temple of Kukulcan
The design and layout of Chichen Itza were meticulously planned and built. The Kukulkan Pyramid, also known as El Castillo, is a 24-metre-high pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula that demonstrates the Maya’s impressive building skills. The pyramid is a major archaeological site and one of the largest pieces of Chichen Itza architecture that has survived and can still be seen today.
The Pyramid of Kukulcan, a pyramid dedicated to the Mayan winged-serpent god Quetzalcóatal, was at the center of religious life for the Mayans and thus at the center of Chichen Itzá. This pyramid exemplifies the Mayans’ mastery of math and astronomy. This four-sided giant has ninety-one steps for each side and a temple and platform at the top. The steps and the temple represent the 365 days of the year. The pyramid also has nine levels and three staircases that climb the pyramid and add up to the 18 months of the Mayan solar calendar.
The Great Ball Court
The Great Ball Court is by far the most ornate and imposing court relic of ancient American culture to date. The court itself is 545 by 232 feet in size, with walls over 20 feet high and decorated with intertwining serpents. Finally, The High Priest’s Temple is a smaller stepped pyramid that is said to be used by the Chichen High Priest.
The Caracol, or Observatory, is a structure built in the shape of a larger circular tower set on a platform with a central staircase. The base is set on another rectangular platform with rounded corners on the upper part. The Observatory is actually made up of three superimposed buildings.
You may also ask:
What is so special about Chichen Itza?
Chichen Itza, one of the biggest and best-preserved archaeological sites in the world, is the location of numerous magnificent ancient Mayan wonders and a rich cultural heritage that is cherished by tourists from all over the world.
Can you go inside Chichen Itza?
More than 2,500,000 people visit Chichen Itza annually, and you can get there by car, bus, or on a variety of tours. The last entrance to Chichen is at 4 pm, and it is open daily from Monday through Sunday from 8 am to 5 pm. Tickets can be purchased on-site.
What is inside Chichen Itza?
Archaeological digs at El Castillo have uncovered two earlier pyramids as well as what may be the Xibalba, or hell, entrance, in addition to the debris or earth from which many Mesoamerican pyramids are constructed.
How tall is the Chichen Itza?
El Castillo, a historic pyramid, is the tallest building in Chichen Itza. It stands 98 feet tall.
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