Chichen Itza was one of the largest and longest-lasting cities in Mayan history. It may even have been one of the Tollans – the great cities of Maya myth.
Chichen Itza was established more than a thousand years ago, first rising to prominence around 600 C.E. It became a major city between 750 and 900, and soon after became a powerful regional capital. By 1250, it was no longer a regional center, but it may have been inhabited through the Spanish conquest.
At the center of the archaeological site is the massive pyramid. Though the Spanish called it El Castillo, for “the castle,” it was actually a temple to the Maya god Kukulkan, a feathered serpent similar to the Aztec Quetzalcoatl. The step pyramid towers about 100 feet tall.
It’s actually not the first temple to stand on that site. El Castillo was built atop another, earlier temple. In the late afternoon each spring and autumn equinox, a wriggling shadow seems to flow down the staircase. Some visitors and archaeologists think it looks like Kukulkan.
Though El Castillo was the architectural treasure added to the New7Wonders, the ruins of Chichen Itza contain a number of other fascinating sites.
The Great Ballcourt is the largest and best preserved court archaeologists have found in Mesoamerica. On one end of the court is the North Temple, and built into the east wall is the Temple of the Jaguar.
The Sacred Cenote, a small, very deep sinkhole that holds water, was the site of sacrifices during times of drought. Thousands of objects made of gold, jade, pottery, and obsidian have been retrieved from the bottom. Skeletons of both adults and children have been found as well.
The Temple of the Warriors is another large step pyramid, with one thousand columns beside the south wall. Archaeologists speculate that the columns once held a roof.
Several other step pyramids are found throughout Chichen Itza.
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