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Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is one of the most well known of Maya archeological sites. This slide show includes images of many of its principal attractions.

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Chichen Itza is located midway between Merida and Cancun in the northeast part of Yucatan, Mexico. Chichen Itza is probably most well known for the ceremonies that take place during the Spring and Fall equinoxes to witness the shadow of the serpent, Kukulcán, descend the stairs of the pyramid of the same name. The pyramid of Kukulcán, also known as "El Castillo," a structure built by the Maya probably during the Classic period, like many Maya pyramids, is really a structure on top of another structure. But unlike any other pyramid in Mezo-America, the shadow of the serpent, Kukulcán, descends the stairs at a precise time every equinox. This is no accident. It took the creativity and skill of the Maya's very advanced architects, astronomers engineers and priests to accomplish such a feat. Because they believed in the relationship between what is above and what is below, the Maya built their temples and structures with the stars very much in mind. Modern archeologists know this and have created a new scholarly discipline known as Archeo-Astronomy.

Speaking of astronomy, you will see a structure that looks like a modern day astronomical observatory, El Caracol, which was exactly that, though builit by the Maya of Chichen Itza literally hundreds of years before Gallelio.

Chichen Itza has both Maya and Toltec influences. In fact, Chichen Itza is where the tradition of Kukulcán unites with the Toltec and Aztec tradition of Quetzalcoatl, the legendary feathered serpent. The Temple of the Warriors has many typical Toltec elements including warriors, jaguars and eagles eating hearts. It also has the enigmatic figure of Chac-Mool at the top of the steps. The Temple of the Warriors is also surrounded by the Group of One Thousand Columns, named for the numerous columns next to the temple.

The Temple of the Jaguars is near the entrance to the large ball court where ceremonial games were performed. It is said that the winning team would lose their heads. The significance of the ball game in Maya cosmology can be understood by a reading the saga of the Hero Twins, Hunahpú and Ixbalamqú , as told in the Popol Vuh, which is the only surviving account of Maya cosmogenisis. A very well-written and easy-to-understand translation by Dennis Tedlock is available and recommended for your reading, The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life.

If you decide to go anywhere near Merida or Cancun in the state of Yucatan, Mexico, you are within about a two-hour car ride to Chichen Itza, a must-see in the Maya world. There is an excellent hotel just accross the street from the Chichen Itza site, The Hotel Mayaland.

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