Chichén Itzá

The most important and best-preserved monumental core of the Mayan culture.

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It is located 120 km east of Mérida, on kilometer 120 of the Mérida-Cancún highway, in the municipality of Tinum, Yucatán.

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Chichén Itzá possesses a deceiving quality. They are probably the most famous Mayan structures, but travelers could not possibly know that, once face to face with the walls of the temple of Kukulcán, their memories will allow them to imagine its features as if they were dreamed.

Chichén Itzá was the most important city in Mayan culture during the late Classic and early Postclassic periods, between 900 to 1300 A.D. During the early Classic period, it was the capital of a wide region, when the Puuc style buildings were built. With the arrival of the Itzáes, by the end of that period, a new style was created, which mixed Mayan traditions with the contributions of the newcomers. This was the second and largest peak of the site, which concluded with the arrival of the Mayapán princes, between 1185 and 1204 A.D.

Fairly well preserved, archaeologists can’t agree on whether it was these Mayans who influenced Tula, the Toltec city near Mexico City, which they have many similarities with, or if the myth was true about the Toltec king Quetzalcóatl’s exile (Kukulcán) at the start of Chichén Itza´s peak period.

Built inland, with a monumental core of five square kilometers, and a wide area of housing and places of secondary importance, 20% of the site has been excavated to date. The name of the city means “At the Mouth of the Well of the Itzá”, in reference to the wells or cenotes that supplied water to the area and, which in all probability, were the reason for its settlement.

The Sacred Cenote, located at the bottom of a sacbé (stucco coated Mayan road), was the point where the priests and Mayan people journeyed in pilgrimage to throw offerings, generally valuable objects, to the god Chaac, lord of the rain, and where there were also human sacrifices. It was excavated at the beginning of the 20th century, under the initiative of Edward Herbert Thompson, an American consul with a doubtful memory. A large quantity of objects were recovered, including jade, gold, ceramic and bone, which have been used to document Mayan society.

Chichén Itzá’s architecture is quite innovative in comparison to classic Mayan cities. Its great columns and pilasters, built with superimposed stone blocks that are often carved, fill the buildings both inside and out, especially in the Thousand Columns building, which probably served as a market.

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The most important and famous building in Chichén Itzá is the Temple of Kukulcán, a Mayan representation of the god Quetzalcóatl. Known as “The Castle”, it is 24 meters high, built over a 55.5 meter wide platform, with 4 ascending stairways, representing the cardinal points. The number of steps is equivalent to the 365 days of the year.

There are also other astronomical symbols: the nine staggered bodies divide the pyramid in 18 terraces which symbolize the 18 months of the Mayan calendar; underneath the inside, there are 52 panels that represent the years in every sacred cycle. In the spring equinox (march 21st) and the fall equinox (September 21st), a mind-blowing optical illusion occurs at the north stairway: the steps project a set of lights and shadows that form the image of a god serpent’s body literally descending down to the earth, (Kukulcan’s Descent), symbolizing the command to perform agricultural labors to plant the cornfield before the arrival of the rainy season.

The Temple of the Warriors is located on a pyramid-shaped building; its name comes from the bas-relief that decorates its pilasters, which shows warriors holding their prisoners. However, the image it is best-known for is that of Chacmool who guards the entrance, a sitting figure watching us, with his legs bent and a stone bowl on his lap (which may contain sacrifices), it had a symbolic influence on the work of British sculptor Henry Moore.

The Ball Court is the biggest in all Mesoamerica with its length of 168 meters. It is made up of two elevated, parallel walls holding the two stone rings on their centers through which the ball had to pass.

The Temple of the Jaguars is located on the panel of the ball court, at its rear rests a chamber sculpted with representations of warriors, priests, animals, and water plants.

The Nuns Complex was a palace, which reminded the Spaniards of the cells in a convent. It has three stories, on which the Pucc and the Mayan-Toltec styles are combined. The Church is a small building full of carvings, with an elaborate Puuc style decoration. The most interesting sculpture here is the Bacabs, the four animals that held the sky from the four cardinal points in Mayan mythology, represented by an armadillo, a snail, a turtle, and a crab.

Further north, the Astronomic Observatory, also called “The Snail” due to its spiral stairs, has preserved its original structure, displaying the indentations on the panels that correspond to the positions of certain celestial bodies crucial to the Mayan calendar. It is possible that this round building situated on two rectangular platforms with a different orientation, was used to perform astronomical observations.

The Archaeological Zone has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. If you are in the area, you simply must visit the Chichén Itzá Site Museum.



Wear comfortable footwear, preferably something sporty, that allows you to walk and easily access the different areas of the archaeological site.


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Remember the importance of respecting the place you are visiting and keeping it clean.

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It is located on the northern central part of the Yucatán Peninsula. It is 120 km from Mérida, the...

It is located on the northern central part of the Yucatán Peninsula. It is 120 km from Mérida, the capital of Yucatán, on the 180 Federal Highway Mérida-Puerto Juárez, which is in good condition.
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