Discovery of Chichén Itzá

Have you visited Chichen Itza, one of the new seven wonders of the world?
Located in Yucatan, this fabulous site offers a glimpse into a past when a
dazzling city of colour and spectacle ruled over the Mayan empire. Let’s take a
look at the history of this amazing archaeological site and why it should be near
the top of your list of places to visit in Mexico.

Cenotes and sacrifice

First things first. ChichenItza means 'at the mouth of the well Itza'. The name is likely to have come from the fact that the only source of water for this immense city was a series of sinkholes or 'cenotes'.

These cenotes had a rather grin role to play in Chichen Itza's history. People would be thrown into the holes as a sacrifice to the Mayan rain God and only the wells as a stark reminder of the cold blooded past.

PLaying games

Chichén Itzá's has the largest ball court in the Americas, at 168 metres long and 70 meters wide. This space was host to an early game of basketball. A rubber ball has to be thrown through hoops set high on the court walls.

There was more at stake than pride though, and the losing team could be put to death if the King was having a bad day.

Buildings of wonder

Throughout the site, there are wonders to behold. One of the highlights of any visit is to see The Kukulkan Pyramid known as El Castillo (the castle). Exactly 24m high, it’s a truly mysterious time traveller. This glorious step pyramid has a staircase on each side which is decorated with jaguar relief panels and round shields. The total number of steps adds up to 365 which obviously has significance and emphasises the Mayan’s expertise in astronomy.

During the Autumnal equinox, triangular shadows from the pyramid are cast to create the illusion of a gigantic snake. Used for religious ceremonies, human sacrifices would also have been made on the top terrace. Inside the pyramid, another 9-level pyramid was also built, probably for royal burials.

Another impressive monument you can see is The Caracol which was used as an astronomical observatory. A large flight of stairs on two levels leads to the circular tower structure with its windows carefully placed to give the illusion that the tower is turning.

Landmark in Mexico

Chichen Itza was a thriving trade centre in its prime from 600-12000AD. One of
the largest Maya cities, its diverse population is reflected in the variety of
architectural styles at the site.

There are two main parts to the city that covers over 16 square kilometres. The
earliest area is in the south which spreads out from the water source and
displays the distinct 'Puuc' architectural style. The later sector is in the north and follows a more formal pattern influenced by the Toltec civilization, possibly as a
result of an invasion.

The site contains many amazing stone buildings and Mayan temples, many of
which are fairly complete or restored. These are connected by a network of
paved causeways, called sacbeob. Many of these buildings were originally
painted with bright pigments.

A mysterious end

During the 1400s Chichén Itzá was completely abandoned to the jungle, leaving behind the amazing buildings we can see today. Why did everyone leave? We can’t know for sure but the best guesses are drought, exhausted soil and the ambition of leaders.

Visiting Chichén Itzá

You can find Chichén Itzá near the small town of Piste. It’s the perfect distance from Club Med Cancún to set off on a one day trip that takes in both this amazing site and a visit to Valladolid, a charming Spanish colonial town.

Over 2.6 million tourists visit every year so expect it to be busy. For the perfect trip go during either the Spring or Autumn equinoxes and grab the chance to see the shadow serpent of El Castillo. You’ll never forget it.