Chichen Iza: A Mayan Mystery

November 2017–Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula


After my tequila-filled, cultural tour of Mexico City for the Day of the Dead celebrations, I jetted over to Cancun, Mexico for the sole purpose of exploring the massive architectural complex of Mayan ruins that is Chichen Itza!

In my mind, Chichen Itza consisted of one major step pyramid, with a few other buildings surrounding it.  I was VERY wrong. To be honest, I LOVE to be wrong on my travels.  It always proves to be an enlightening experience and opens my mind to learning strictly from the locals. So do I research my travels?  Somewhat, but I much prefer to learn as I go along, directly from the people who know it best!

And this is exactly what I did at Chichen Itza.  I learned the history first hand from a local archaeologist who proudly shared knowledge of his culture. Chichen Itza is actually an area of land that was once known as one of the largest Mayan cities at around 740 acres.  It dates back to 600 AD-1200 AD, giving it the well earned title as a new seven world wonder.

First and foremost, I was fascinated by the acoustics!  I came to Chichen Itza knowing about the bird-like echos produced by clapping your hands at the base of the Step Pyramid, but I wasn’t aware there was more!

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Let’s start with the Step Pyramid, also known as El Castillo (the castle).  91 steps make up the layered echo sound you hear as you clap your hands while standing at the base of any one of the four staircases.  The locals call this the ‘singing of the bird,’ but it’s said to have warned the Mayans of intruders coming into the city.

Now if that sound wasn’t amazing enough, moving over to the Great Ball Court took the cake.  Imagine this: You are sitting at the end of a 500 foot long open stadium and you are holding an effective conversation with a Royal family at the other end of the court, 500 feet way!  I couldn’t believe this was even possible, so of course my curiosity got the best of me, and I had to try it. With a few of our group at one end, and some on the other end, we spoke messages back and forth.  Even though we couldn’t sneak into the raised royal seating where the Mayans spoke in a whisper to converse on the opposite end, we still maintained conversation.   And surprisingly, for the most part, IT WORKED!  These unexplainable acoustics brought me a lot of laughs and pleasure!

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Stone carvings to honor the winner

Another fun fact I learned while at the Great Ball Court, was the game the Mayans played and their ‘reward’ for winning.  Pitz, an ancient Mayan ball game, was a one and done sort of game. It consisted of one rubber ball being bounced into a stone hoop without using hands.  One basket was considered a game win.  The winning captain then brought himself and his precious head to the losing captain to be decapitated.  HUGE WIN!  Why would anyone win a game and then lose their head?!?  In the Mayan culture this was considered the highest honor.  Not only did they receive a stone carving memorializing them on the wall of the Great Ball Court, they also got a direct ticket to heaven.  Pretty steep stakes in that game!

 

As I walked around Chichen Itza another stone temple that really attracted me was the Temple of a Thousand Warriors.  On the top of this temple sits the Mayan Rain God, Chacmool.  Chacmool is a male, life-size figure who sits in a reclined position with his stomach horizontal and his head up and turned 90 degrees. The Chacmool’s didn’t appear to be worshiped by the Mayans, but instead they used his stomach to hold sacrificial offerings to the Maize or Corn God. There were many Chacmool statues in Chichen Itza, but this one really stood out due to its placement on the top of the temple. The Temple of a Thousand Warriors also was surrounded by hundreds of columns that continued well into the jungle.  Shaped tall and massive, much like a warrior stance, from a distanced eye you may mistake them for warriors surrounding and guarding the temple.

One of my last fascinations while discovering Chichen Itza was the Wall of Skulls.  Most of you know, I have a passion for Halloween and all that it entails, so I really peaked an interest in the Wall of Skulls.  This wall had an eerie, but intriguing look to it, and  I couldn’t help but to take loads of photos and spend my time wondering why it was carved. Unfortunately is not much known behind the meaning of the wall, but because it is located right outside the Great Ball Court, it is believed that humans were sacrificed on the wall, and their heads were left to be displayed.

Chichen Itza checked off my third visit to a world wonder from my discover journey in began in June.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and would recommend an entire day to explore the ruins, and learn about the history that is this phenomenon!

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