How to get thereBy bus or car via the MEX 180 from Mérida (1.5-2.5 hours; 116km/72mi) or Valladolid (1 hour; 42km/26mi). An air taxi service is also available.HistoryChichén Itzá, 116km/72mi east of Mérida, is one of Mexico's largest and best restored archaeological zones.
Chichén Itzá Northern Ruins
Toltec influence at Chichén Itzá is principally seen in the buildings making up the northern group. The inappropriately named chac-mool (Mayan: "red jaguar"), a reclining figure holding a sacrificial vessel, head turned to one side probably acting as the guardian of the entrance to a temple, is typically Toltec, as are the so-called atlantes, stone carvings, often of warriors, supporting a temple roof or altar. Note too the ever-recurring symbol of the plumed serpent (Mayan: "Kukulkán") which displaces the Mayan Rain god Chac, and the scenes of battles and sacrifices which appear far more often than is usual in Classic Maya art.
Temple of the Warriors
On a step platform east of El Castillo stands the Temple of the Warriors (Templo de los Guerreros). This magnificent structure comprising several spacious, columned halls is unmistakeably a larger version of the Temple of the Morning Star at Tula. Several rows of square pillars guard the foot of the stairway, at the top of which squats a chac-mool. The main temple entrance is again flanked by two massive serpent columns, heads on the ground, tails, originally carrying the lintel, pointing to the sky. Behind them four atlantes support a large stone altar. Here too archaeologists discovered the remains of an earlier, smaller Temple of the Warriors concealed inside the pyramid.
Hall of the Thousand Columns
Adjoining the Temple of the Warriors on its south side is the Hall of the Thousand Columns (Grupo de las Mil Columnas), the original purpose of which remains something of a mystery. It may have served as an indoor market or place of assembly. Near by are a small ball court (Juego de Pelota), the so-called Mercado (Market) and a steam bath (Temazcalli), of which the vestibule, the bath itself and the heating room can still be seen.
Tomb of Choc-mool
A hundred metres or so north of El Castillo lies the so-called Tomb of Chac-mool (Tumba del Chac-mool). Here, more than 100 years ago, Le Plongeon found a stone figure which he christened Chac-mool. The structure is also known as the Venus Platform, having interesting reliefs featuring both Kukulkán's symbol and that of the Morning Star.
Further north of the Tomb of Chac-mool, a 6 m (20 ft)-wide causeway runs for 300 m(990 ft) to the large sacred cenote (Cenote Sagrado or Cenote de los Sacrificios; Chen-ku), the existence of which was probably the reason for the Maya settling here in the first place. The almost perfectly round, natural water hole has a diameter of 60 m (197 ft), its sides plunging 24 m (79 ft) to the surface of the water below. The greatest depth yet recorded is 82 m (269 ft).From the 7th c. onwards until after the Spanish Conquest the cenote was a place of sacrifice and pilgrimage, a sweat bath at the water's edge probably having a ritual function. In times of drought precious objects and live human sacrifices were thrown into the water as offerings to the gods, in particular the Rain god Chac. Between 1904 and 1907 Bowditch and Thompson made several exploratory dives, finding 50 human skeletons together with numerous artefacts of ceramic, stone, gold, copper, jade and obsidian. Further exploration in the 1960s, carried out at greater depths, brought to light another 4000 such objects together with others made of copal (resin), rubber and wooden dolls and human and animal bones. Examination of the skeletons revealed the majority of sacrificial victims to have been men and children, rather than the beautiful young virgins of popular myth.
Returning from the cenote, a large square platform called Tzompantli (Náhuatl: "wall of skulls") can be seen on the right of the plaza. This served as a base for the stakes on which the decapitated heads of human sacrifices were impaled. Reliefs consisting of rows of skulls decorate the sides.
House of Eagles
Next to Tzompantli stands a smaller platform known as the House of the Eagles (Casa de los Aguilas). Stone serpents embellish the stairway. The walls are adorned with reliefs of eagles and jaguars - symbols of the two orders of Toltec warrior - holding human hearts in their claws.
Like almost all Mayan cities, Chichén Itzá had several arenas used for the ritual ball game. Seven such ball courts have been found on the site to date. The one at the north-west end of the great plaza is the most impressive so far discovered anywhere in Meso-America.Along the sides of the playing area - almost 146 m (480 yd) in length and about 37 m (120 ft) wide - run vertical walls 8.5 m (29 ft) high. Fixed in the centre of each wall is a heavy stone ring with serpent ornamentation, positioned 7.25 m (24 ft) above the ground. The game involved hitting a hard rubber ball through the stone rings using only the elbow, knee or hip. The ball, representing the sun, was probably not allowed to touch the ground, otherwise its symbolic "course" would be interrupted. The losers of the game are thought to have been ritually sacrificed (reliefs on panels decorating the bases of walls show players suffering decapitation).Some experts believe that the small temples at either end - the Edifico Sur and the Templo Norte - were dedicated to the gods of Sun and Moon.
Temple of the Jaguars
The Temple of the Jaguars (Templo de los Tigres) occupies a platform built into the south-east wall of the ball court. The lower shrine, facing onto the great plaza, contains a carved stone jaguar, presumably an altar. The upper temple, reached by a steep stairway at the side, looks westwards onto the ball court. As in the Temple of the Warriors, serpent columns flank the entrance. The façade is enhanced by several friezes, the majority of which depict jaguars. Still visible inside are murals, apparently of a battle between the Maya and the Toltec.
Chichén Itzá Southern Ruins
The southern group of buildings, comprising what is known as Old Chichén (Chichén Viejo), is reached by crossing the former Mérida to Puerto Juárez road, now disused. On the other side, to the right of the path, rises the Tomb of of the High Priest (Tumba del Gran Sacerdote), a ruined pyramid 10 m (33 ft) high. When excavated the structure was found to contain seven tombs and some valuable artefacts.
A short distance away lies one of the most interesting of all the buildings at Chichén Itzá, the Caracol ("Snail"), thought to have been an observatory. Inside the circular building, which stands on a two-tier platform, a passageway winds upwards in a gently ascending spiral. Narrow slits in the walls are so positioned as to allow the sun's rays to penetrate the centre of the building for just a few seconds twice a year, a simple but reliable method used by Mayan priests to accurately determine the time. The observatory embodies stylistic elements clearly deriving from the central highlands in addition to its Mayan Classic features.
The path continues south beyond the Caracol to an edifice which the Spanish misleadingly christened the Nunnery (Edificio de las Monjas). The elaborately ornamented structure and subsidiary buildings are executed in the Mayan Chenes style, virtually every inch of the façades being decorated with symbols of the Mayan Rain god Chac. The so-called "Church" ("Iglesia") is a particularly fine example of Puuc architecture, an early style in which the façades are decorated with geometric patterns and animals as well as Chac masks. In this instance a crab, an armadillo, a snail and a tortoise, the creatures which in Mayan mythology support the heavens, can be seen between the masks.
Other buildings of interest in the southern sector include the Temple of the Panels (Templo de los Tableros) with reliefs of Toltec warriors and jaguars; the Akab D'zib (Mayan: "obscure writing"; Building of the Unknown Writing), so named because of the as yet undeciphered characters above the door of the second room; the Temple of the Window Lintel (Templo de los Dinteles); the Red House (Casa Colorada or Chichan-chob), predominantly in the Puuc style; the so-called "Dates Group" (Grupo de las Fechas), with a phallic temple, mainly Toltec in style; another ball court (Juego de Pelota); and the Cenote Xtoloc, almost certainly a reservoir.
More Chichen Itza Pictures