Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico

On the Edge of the Cenote, at the Heart of the Mayan Civilization

Ball Game Wall
Group Ball Game
The Hoop-Basket
Double Kukulkan
Kukulkan to Double II
Kukulkan's Heads
The top of El Castilo
El Castillo de Chichen Itza
Exceptional Descent
Balam Sculpture
mayan masks
colorful sculpture
cruel rituals
Triumphs of the Mayan Conquests
Herb facade
The Great Ball Game
Temple of Warriors
Between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries AD, Chichen Itza stood out as the most important city in the Yucatan Peninsula and the vast Mayan Empire. If the Spanish Conquest precipitated its decline and abandonment, modern history has consecrated its ruins a World Heritage Site and a Wonder of the World.

We walk along the tree-lined avenue that leads to the entrance.

One of the many Mayan craft vendors catches our eye. He painted a jaguar head that he fitted in his lap, against an Iron Maiden t-shirt. The delicacy with which he touched up the mottled feline's whiskers contrasted with the roughness of the band.

We stop to follow the work. We asked him if he's going to paint it yellow or leave it in black and white and, conversation leads to conversation, if he wore the t-shirt just for the sake of wearing it or if he was a real fan of the English group.

Carlos, as the artisan was called, assures us that he adored them. Enlightened, yet intrigued, we returned to the jaguar that, for good reason, appeared on the stands of almost all vendors, in shapes and tones that were not very different.

More than the animal itself, the sculptures represented Ek Balam, one of the idolized Mayan gods, a religious icon of incomparable martial bravery, inspiring an entire order of soldiers in the service of the emperor.

Ek Balam, one of the deities that ruled the Xibalba, the Mayan Underworld, was nonetheless worthy of a surface temple at Chichen Itza.

And, just 56 km to the northeast, 175 km from Yucatec capital Merida, consecrated with an entire village and ceremonial place of its contemporaries.

From Temple to Temple, behind the Enigmas of Chichen Itza

The Jaguar Temple is one of the first that we come across as soon as we enter Chichen Itza.

Long before we approach it, we get the impression that we are surrounded by felines. We hear roars. They sound too high-pitched to be real.

As we walk, we realize that, in addition to the myriad of sculptures they produce, the Mayans who trade there crafts, invented a toy that, when blown, imitated jaguars.

Bored by their routine, intent on arousing the curiosity of the visitors, they repeated the animal's roar over and over again.

We point east and towards the Kukulkan Temple, situated at the heart of the complex.

The Divine Supremacy of Kukulman – Quetzalcoatl

Kukulkan, the feathered serpent, was, for the Itza Mayans, the only god above the jaguar Ek Balam, the heart of the cult heavily influenced by that of Quetzalcoatl, long in force among the Aztecs of central Mexico.

They served as spiritual and mundane beacons to both civilizations and as unifiers against the ongoing threats of rival peoples and cities.

At Chichen Itza, Kukulkam was revered on the basis of the terraced pyramid that later the Spanish conquerors became accustomed to calling El Castillo.

When we appreciate it, successive guides try to prove to their customers a sound connection with Quetzalcoatl. “Listen carefully now” we hear them begging. Applause follows. The clapping echoes on the stones of the pyramid.

They produce a kind of screech that the guides guarantee is similar to the chirping of the quetzal, the bird revered by the peoples. Mexica and Central America, whose feathers the Mayans believed covered the Precious Serpent.

It was not the only prodigious effect that the Temple of Kukulkam generated. Who, like us, surrounds him, finds the serpent's double heads at his base.

Discover that the Mayans designed and built the pyramid so that each equinox of the year would make the Kukulkan descend from the top to the ground.

The Astronomical Dimensions of Chichen Itza

Those who have the privilege of visiting Chichen Itza on one of these dates, at the right time, watch the sun's rays fall on a tangent, which only illuminates the edge of the steps above. In such a way that it draws an almost perfect snake body.

The Mayans were serious scholars and followers of astronomy. They arranged the buildings of Chichen Itza and several of its cities according to intricate astronomical logic.

The fact that the Temple of Kukulkan has 365 steps and the observatory of Espaço El Caracol allows them to follow the path of Venus in the sky, will have helped them to calculate the way in which the sun was falling on the pyramid.

By mid-November, we had passed the autumnal equinox. We were far from Spring. We are satisfied, therefore, with imagining the phenomenon and its considered eccentricity. Only and only, from the base of the temple.

Until 2006, visitors could ascend to the top of El Castillo, where they could gain 360º views of the complex and the surrounding jungle.

The bounty has been suspended ad eternum when an 80-year-old California visitor collapsed, fell from a height of twenty meters and ended up succumbing.

The Bloodthirsty Rituals That Enforced Mayan Supremacy

Faith in the historical accuracy of “Apocalypto”, a film made that same year by Mel Gibson, the steps of the pyramid had already suffered the impacts of countless other victims.

In a scene from the feature film, set at the top of the temple, the high priest of Kukulkan rips the hearts of prisoners of war.

Then he cuts off their heads, thrown down the stairs, on a bloodthirsty Mayan people that the crudeness of the ceremony leads to ecstasy.

These and many other severed heads, resulting from battles and incursions into the territories of enemy peoples, ended up impaled one on top of the other, on high poles.

A few dozen meters from the Kukulkan Temple, we come across a platform decorated with engravings of skulls.

Called Tzompantli, it served as a memorial to the sacrificed, intimidating the population, which, at the same time, displayed the power and achievements of the supreme emperor of the Mayans.

Chichen Itza: The Enigmatic and Diffuse History of the Great Mayan Capital

Chichen Itza was founded between 750 and 900 AD At the end of the XNUMXth century, benefited by the decline of other cities in southern Yucatan, especially the allies. Cobá and Yaxuna and, for some time, an ally to the capital of western Yucatan, Uxmal, already controlled most of the peninsula, from the Gulf of Mexico to the eastern domains of Zamá, the Tulum of our days.

The criterion serves what it serves, but it still had the largest Ball Game field in the entire Maia and Azteca map of the Americas, with 168 by 70 meters.

This Ball Game remains a wide space between walls, in part grassed, in another part, of a clear earth beaten by the footsteps of the millions of annual visitors.

When we entered it, we found a few dozen, maybe twenty, lined up, absorbed in the explanations given by a guide, under one of the hoops where the Mayan players had to hit with a ball of rubber, with vigorous hip movements.

It is believed that two hundred years after its peak, around AD 1100, Chichen Itza entered its own decline. It thus favored the rise of another capital to the west, Mayapan.

The Mayan-Toltec Controversy Behind the Origin and History of Chichen Itza

It is estimated that the city will have been attacked and crowded. Some theorists hold that for the Toltecs of central Mexico with whom the Mayans had long traded.

Others are apologists that the Toltecs had integrated themselves among the Mayans, that these were, in fact, composed of members of the two ethnic groups.

This explains the architectural similarity of some of the buildings at Chichen Itza, especially the Temple of the Warriors, with others found in Tula, once the capital of the Toltecs.

At the beginning of the XNUMXth century, Mayapan defeated Chichen Itza.

Decades later, the old capital was abandoned by its rulers and the elite that supported them, not necessarily by the entire population.

We go forward in time again. Two more centuries.

Two Generations of Franciscos Montejos and the Spanish Conquest of Yucatan

In 1526, Christopher Columbus had already revealed America. A succession of other navigators and conquerors set sail from southern Iberia intent on making their fortunes and claiming new lands for the Spanish Crown.

Two generations of Montejos, both Franciscos, were allowed to conquer the Yucatan Peninsula. In the middle of the XNUMXth century, after several setbacks, Francisco Montejo Filho managed to entice the Mayas of southwestern Yucatan to ally with his invading forces.

The army he formed proved overwhelming. He subdued the resisting Mayans.

The Spanish conquerors took possession of Yucatan, from the Caribbean coast to the opposite territory of Campeche. It won't take long, from all of present-day Mexico, Central and South America.

Chichen Itza disappeared into the History. Until the new explorers and scholars of the XNUMXth century rescued it from the Yucatec jungle.

Despite the long Hispanic imposition and devastation, the Mayans subsist in the domains formerly ruled by their city-states.

The Contemporary Mayan Relationship with Today's Chichen Itza

They returned to Chichen Itza. See the ruins now Wonder of the world as a World Heritage and divine legacy, a kind of sacred sustenance.

At the northeast end of the complex, between the Temple of Warriors and the market, the roars of the Balam jaguars continue. Another Mayan wonder catches our attention.

Basilio little or nothing allows himself to be disturbed. Thoughtful, calm, the middle-aged craftsman retouches his most recent sculpted painting, representing the Mayan Ball Game in different perspectives and moments.

We approach. We appreciated the painstaking work he did and what he had already finished and was looking forward to selling. Basilio understands. He accepts that, even if that was our wish, we could not pay him the almost 200 euros he was asking for one of the copies.

He resigns himself to a serenity and dignity only available to the wisest peoples.

There, with a smile on their lips, it proves how, even forced to share their lands and monuments, the Mayans continue to praise their civilization.

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