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A Journey Through Time - Chichén Itzá

MEXICO | Saturday, 2 April 2011 | Views [610]

It is no WONDER Chichen Itza (pronounced "chee-CHEN eet-ZAH") is one of the most famous, ancient and spectacular of the seven wonders of the world - built as early as 600 AD! The Mayans succeeded in an almost impossible mission with the completion of their structures here. A poetic combination of form, style, function, religion, philosophy, mathematics and geometry. A true symbiosis of all of their intelligence and art in one location, to be studied and admired by all that visit. I feel privileged to have experienced all that is Chichen Itza, and to have explored and educated myself amongst its ruins. Needless to say, it was an otherworldly experience. I feel it's partly my duty to further educate and inspire others about this incredible place too so that hopefully they might one day want to visit and pay credit to one of the most advanced ancient civilisations of mankind. It was an incredibly long, hot and exhausting day touring our way through the jungle to Chichen Itza - 13 hours in total!! The tour hit a cornucopia of remarkable cities, ruins, cenotes, caves, tiny villages and cultural treasures like colonial henequen haciendas. Worth every minute (and cent), the day was one not to be forgotten... 

I find it amazing that despite how widely studied, excavated and restored Chichen Itza has been, its history is still clouded in mystery and there are many contradicting theories and legends. In fact, archaeologists and scientists have had to take educated guesses on much of the findings because there is just so much uncertainty. It was easy to imagine the large Mayan community that thrived here between around 700AD and 900AD who built these fascinating structures, but mind boggling as to how they did it…Without the use of metal tools, beasts of burden or even the wheel they were able to construct vast cities across a huge jungle landscape with an amazing degree of architectural perfection and variety. While Europe was still in the midst of the Dark Ages, these amazing people had mapped the heavens, evolved the only true writing system native to the Americas and were masters of mathematics. They even invented the calendars we use today. Their legacy in stone, which has survived in a spectacular fashion, Chichen Itza lives on, as do the seven million descendants of the classic Maya civilization.

The Maya were a fascinating people. They developed astronomy, calendrical systems and hieroglyphic writing. The Maya were noted for elaborate and highly decorated ceremonial architecture, including temple-pyramids, palaces and observatories, all built without metal tools. They were skilled farmers, clearing large sections of tropical rain forest and, where groundwater was scarce, building sizable underground reservoirs for the storage of rainwater. The Maya were equally skilled as weavers and potters, and cleared routes through jungles and swamps to foster extensive trade networks with distant peoples.

It's definitely an all day thing to explore the extensive ruins of Chichen Itza, and there's plenty of walking to be done so wear appropriate footwear. It is also one of the hottest places I have ever been, sickly hot, so take plenty of water, a hat and some sunscreen. I would highly recommend getting a licensed guide (which you can hire from the visitors centre) as they can point out details you might otherwise miss, tell interesting stories and provide recent information about the ruins. Our guide, Simon, was fantastic!! Bilingual, funny and extremely educated we got a full 13 hour guide, from start to finish of the day trip; he literally didn't stop talking the entire day.  

The highlight of Chichen Itza was the Kukulkan Pyramid aka “El Castillo"By far the most impressive aspect of the Pyramid of Kukulkan is it's relationship with the sun and how it reflects the equinoxes and solstices of our solar year with stunning accuracy.  El Castillo's design is thought to relate to the Mayan calendar. Every year during the spring and fall equinoxes (March 21 and September 22) the sun aligns with the Kukulkan pyramid to reveal the shadowy figure of a giant snake slithering down the steps. 

This pyramid was dedicated to the feathered serpent deity, Kukulkan. It was designed with four staircases having 91 steps on each side and a top platform, for a total of 365, which represents the individual days of the year. The Temple of Kukulkan is not just a fancy looking pyramid; it is actually a three dimensional solar year Mayan calendar. Like they say, the Mayans were truly light years ahead of their time. Furthermore, the four staircases of Kukulkan reflect the Mayan concept of the four World Ages, making this unique pyramid an ideal World Age calendar as well. The Mayans believed that there were three worlds created before ours and that we are residing in the fourth and final world. 

Tourists, such as myself, delight in the strange, enigmatic echoes they produce when they clap their hands at the base of the steep staircases that sweep up the face of Kukulkan. The echoes are eerily reminiscent of the call of the quetzal, a bird the Maya considered a representative of the gods, and sound like chirps because the sound from the clapping doesn't hit a solid wall but hundreds of small steps, producing hundreds of echoes. When the echoes reach a listener's ear, the change in pitch sounds like a chirping bird. "While amusing themselves, the tourists may unwittingly be replicating an ancient Mayan ritual".. Woopsy! Regardless, it makes a pretty cool sound!

The other highlight of Chichen Itza was the Sacred Cenote, also known as the Cenote Segrado which translates to "Well of Sacrifice". The use of this Cenote was exclusively sacrificial and ceremonialAccording to post-Conquest sources (Maya and Spanish), pre-Columbian Maya sacrificed objects and human beings into the cenote as a form of worship to the Maya rain god Chaac. In Maya rituals, people (commonly children) were killed by having their arms and legs held while a priest cut the the chest open and tore out the heart as an offering. Then they were thrown in. Edward Thompson dredged the Cenote Sagrado at the turn of the century and recovered artefacts of gold, jade, pottery, and incense, as well as human remains. CREEEPPYYY!

You simply must drive the Yucatan peninsula at least once in your lifetime. It’s a genuinely wondrous journey, memories of which you’ll treasure forever. We’ve all heard horror stories about driving in Mexico, but those tales are ludicrously outdated. Mexican roads these days are better-built and maintained than a lot of New Zealand highways, and the only threats they might pose in remote areas are dozing cows, who love sleeping on warm pavement, so don’t drive at night. The trip was splendidly-immersive. We travelled the roads the locals use, along which tiny, traditional villages are strung like simple, unpolished gems of local culture. Here, goats wander, thick shipping ropes wound together form topes (speed bumps) that slow cars coming through road-bisected villages, and children gape in wonder as the Norte Americanos pass in their shiny vehicles. You’re driving into colourful and unique cultural history, and it’s well worth savouring.

When I first came across the term ‘lost cities’ as a kid I was mesmerized. A whole city lost? Lost?! This is my first experience visiting a lost city, and it was in every sense magical. I remember watching Disney's 'The Road to Eldorado'  and being fascinated with the idea of a utopian civilization like that of the Aztecs, Maya, Incas, and Atlantis. I hope I will have the opportunity to explore many more 'lost' cities, civilisations and ruins in time to come. I also hope I'll one day come back to Chichen Itza in the future.

Tags: ancient civilisation, cenotes, chichen itza, ik kil, maya, one of the seven wonders of the world


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