Today is going to be a sizzling hot day; so, in an attempt to beat or at least cope with the heat, we donned our sunglasses and hats and left for our tour of the Chichen-Itza ruins early in the morning. Our tour group was split up and two guides led us through this famous archaeological site.
Our guide was very good as he explained there are no palaces at this site; all the buildings here are temples and all were used for ceremonial purposes, none were lived in. He told us the first major settlement here were Maya, possibly from Guatemala. The fabulous city was then abandoned about the 9th century and some believe the people were contaminating their own drinking water supply as a result of the human sacrifices carried out in the adjoining cenotes (wells). The site was re-settled later and the Toltecs came along. Toltec culture was mingled with that of Maya incorporating the cult of Kukulcan, the plumed serpent.
The ever-present Ball Court was quite an intriguing place. It seemed bigger than any of the others we've seen so far. I looked it up in one of our travel guides and it's 185 meters long. The court itself is anchored by temples at either end and surrounded by towering parallel walls. Our guide pointed out the mirror-image brickwork were amazing; clapping our hands produced multiple loud echoes. The telling of the story of the ritual ball game changes slightly from place to place, but, the game always ends with human sacrifice. Scenes of players being decapitated with writhing nakes sprouting from their bodies were carved on the walls...all too gory for me.
The dominant temple is the El Castillo, or the Temple to Kukulcan. Our guide explained the numbers calculations and other time themes which could be interpreted here....4 staircases with 91 steps each and one platform on top total 365, or the number of days in a year. Each side has 52 panels, representing the 52 week year..... a virtual calendar cast in stone. When we clapped our hands three times, we produced an echo that sounded like 'ku-kul-can'. Our guide explained and we had to use our imaginations to visualize a play of light and shadow on the staircases that occurs on March 21 each year. The illusion is that of a serpent slithering down the pyramid to the ground. The Mayan priests believed this was Kukulcan's signal it was time to plant crops. In contrast, on September 21 each year, the serpent returns up the pyramid indicating the time to harvest those crops.
Inside the grand temple is a smaller temple containing a Jaguar-shaped throne, painted red and encrusted in jade. We couldn't see this unless we did a private tour after the light show; so, we contented ourselves with taking their word it was in there and bought a postcard.
The Platform of Skulls is a T-shaped platform with carved skulls. Eagles were depicted tearing open the chests of men to eat their hearts. In ancient days, the platform held the heads of sacrificial victims. From what we could see, there were many of them. It seemed there was no end to the sacrifices, yet it also seemed the sacrifices never produced the desired result.
Adjacent to the main temple is the Temple of the Warriors and the adjoining Court of a Thousand Columns. The columns, of many shapes, appeared like a forest and our guide told us they were used to hold up the temple roof. On top of the Temple of Warriors are two massive stone snakes and the Chaac-Mool (the rain god). Legend says he held a container on his lap to receive the hearts of sacrificial victims.
We walked to the Cenote, the Sacred Well. These natural sink-holes were the only source of water and some, such as this one, were used for ritual and sacrificial purposes. Offerings thrown to the rain god, Chaac, have been recovered from these wells and, reportedly, include such things as precious objects of jade and gold, as well as the bones of human sacrificial victims, especially young children. Extreme drought must have been terrifying enough to drive humans to sacrifice their children.
By this time, we were surrounded by vendors. We saw them hauling their merchandise in on their backs; their 'stores' are set up each morning and dismantled again in the evening. Items for sale ranged from t-shirts to masks and other Mayan crafts. We shopped a little and bargained for some nice souvenir items.
We had our afternoon social hour and briefing for tomorrow's drive to Cancun. After dinner, we headed back to the ruins for the evening Sound and Light show. The lighting was quite good but the sound was only marginal. Through sound and light, the story of Chichen-Itza was told to a large crowd, some just sprawled out on the ground. At least, we had plastic chairs. This was a wonderful experience which certainly gave us a more in-depth understanding of the mighty Mayan culture.