A very early start from Merida to catch bus at 6:30am to the Chichen Itza Ruins approx. 2 hours travel to the east. Stashed our backpacks on arrival, bought entry tickets then ready to explore until the bus departed for Cancun at 4:30pm that same afternoon. By 8:30am it was already hot and humid but that didn't deter us. Again, like the other Mayan sites visited to date photos and descriptions cannot prepare you for the immensity and detail of the buildings. This is the most reconstructed site in Mexico, but some of the untouched buildings were simply stunning in their scale, design and high level of carved decoration and ornament. It was very special to stand in the main ball court and wonder at the spectacle of the game.....
Here's a quick history lesson on the Mayans and some explanations for the pics:
The Maya originated in the Yucatan around 2600 B.C., they rose to prominence around A.D. 250 in present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala, northern Belize and western Honduras. Building on the inherited inventions and ideas of earlier civilizations such as the Olmec, the Maya developed astronomy, the calandars we use today and hieroglyphic writing. The Maya were noted as well for elaborate and highly decorated ceremonial architecture, including temple-pyramids, palaces and observatories, all built without metal tools, beasts of burden or even the wheel. Their legacy lives on in stone at places such as Palenque, Tikal, Chichén Itzá, Copan and Uxmal. They were also skilled farmers, clearing large sections of tropical rain forest and, where groundwater was scarce, building sizable underground reservoirs for the storage of rainwater.
Around 300 B.C., the Maya adopted a hierarchical system of government with rule by nobles and kings. This civilization developed into highly structured kingdoms during the Classic period, A.D. 200-900. Their society consisted of many independent states, each with a rural farming community and large urban sites built around ceremonial centers.
It started to decline around A.D. 900 when - for reasons which are still largely a mystery - the southern Maya abandoned their cities. When the northern Maya were integrated into the Toltec society by A.D. 1200, the Maya dynasty finally came to a close.
The Chichen Itza Ruins are divided into two groups. Chichén Viejo or Old Chichen belongs to the classic Maya Period and was built between the 200 - 900 A.D., at which time the city became a prominent ceremonial center. These structures include the Red House, the House of the Deer, the Nunnery and its Annex, the Church, the Akab Dzib, the Temple of the Three Lintels and the House of Phalli. Here the architecture is characterized by many representations of the god Chaac, the Maya rain god.
Toward the end of the Classic Period, from 800 to 925 A.D., the foundations of this civilization weakened, and the Maya abandoned their religions centers and the rural land around them. New, smaller centers were built and the great cities like Chichen-Itza were visited only to perform religious rites or bury the dead.
Chichén Nuevo or New Chichen began about 850 A.D. with the arrival of the Itzá from Central Mexico. The city was rebuilt by the Itzá and the architecture is charactorized by images of the god Kukulcán, the plumed serpent, birds and Mexican gods.
The Toltec influenced the Itza in more ways than just architecture, they also imposed their religion on the Itza, which meant human sacrifice on a large scale. They expanded their dominions in northern Yucatan with an alliance with Mayapan and Uxmal. As the political base of Chichen-Itza expanded, the city added even more spectacular buildings: the Observatory, Kukulcan's Pyramid, the Temple of the Warriors, The Ball Court, and The Group of the Thousand Columns corresponding to the Mayan-Toltec Period.
Around 1150 A.D. a new wave of Itzá took over the city and ruled for another 150 years until Chichén Itzá was finally overtaken by the rival city of Mayapan.
Chichén Itzá was abandoned suddenly around 1400 A.D. perhaps because of internal fighting or for lack of food. There are many theories but nobody knows for certain.
Descriptions of some of the buildings as per the attached photos:
Temple of the Warriors (New Chichen - northern group of Ruins))
The Temple of the Warriors has pillars sculptured in bas-relief, which have retained much of their original color. Murals once adorned its walls. It is surrounded by numerous ruined buildings known as the Group of a Thousand Columns.
Kukulcáns Pyramid (New Chichen
Possibly the best known construction on the site is Kukulcán Pyramid. El Castillo (Kukulkan-Quetzalcoatl), a square-based, stepped pyramid that is approximately 75 feet tall. This pyramid was built for astronomical purposes and during the vernal equinox (March 20) and the autumnal equinox (September 21) at about 3pm the sunlight bathes the western balustrade of the pyramid's main stairway. This causes seven isosceles triangles to form imitating the body of a serpent 37 yards long that creeps downwards until it joins the huge serpent's head carved in stone at the bottom of the stairway. Mexican researcher Luis El Arochi calls it "the symbolic descent of Kukulcan" (the feathered serpent), and believes it could have been connected with agricultural rituals.
The Church (Old Chichen - southern group of Ruins)
In the older part of Chichén Itzá we find a complex of buildings, one of which was named Eglesia (Church), by the early Spanish visitors. The Church is one of the most outstanding examples of Puuc ornamentation with elaborately carved masks of Chaac, the Mayan rain god covering the front of the structure.
On either side of the masks are smaller carvings of a crab, a snail, an armadillo and a turtle which some researchers say represent the forces which the Mayas believed supported the sky in each of the four directions.
Above these carvings is an image of a moving snake and a roof with even more big-nosed masks of the rain god.
Chaac, the god of rain, was the guardian of the Maya groups who lived on the Yucatan penninsula from around 600 A.D.. A giver of water, Chaac became the core of a civilization that depended on agriculture for its existence. The engraving of the masks evolved gradully from the beginning in other parts of the Yucatan to the elaborate work on the monuments at Chichen Itza.
The Nunnery (Old Chichen - southern group of Ruins)
The Nunnery, in the southern group of ruins, contains some of the best preserved structures at Chichén Itzá. They appear to be the living quarters of the elite Mayans. Every square foot of wall has reliefs and paintings decorating it.
The Observatory (Old Chichen - southern group of Ruins)
The intense interest of the Maya in the annual travels of the sun across the sky is evident in many structures at Chichén Itzá and other Mayan Sites. South of the Castillo is a strange round building known as the Carocal. Several of its windows point towards the equinox sunset and the southernmost and northernmost points on the horizon where Venus rises.