3 Cool Things You Might Not Known About Chichen Itza

This week’s post features the Mayan city of Chichen Itza and was inspired by a great exhibit currently at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, “Children of the Plumed Serpent: The Legacy of Quetzalcoatl in Ancient Mexico.” It’s on view through July 1st, so check it out if you get a chance! Chichen Itza, located about halfway between Mérida and Cancún, is one of the best-preserved archaeological sites in the Yucatan Peninsula, and definitely worth a side-trip if you’re in the area. Here are three reasons why:

1. The UNESCO World Heritage site of Chichen Itza is a group of ruins densely clustered over 1.9 square miles that tells the story of nearly 1,000 years of Mayan history.  The first settlement occurred as early as 413 CE; the second and more important settlement took place between 967 and 987. Numerous surviving buildings, such as the Warriors’ Temple, El Caracol (“snail” in Spanish, an observatory so named for its circular structure), and “El Castillo,” the Temple of Kukulkan (the Mayan name for Quetzalcoatl) are lauded for the beauty of their proportions and for the elegance of their sculpted decorations.

2. One of the buildings is the Great Ball Court, a 551 x 230 square foot arena that is the most intact of the surviving venues for the famous Mesoamerican sport. Archaeologists and historians are still unsure of the rules of the game, but think that it was similar to racquetball. The stone ball court goals, extant at Chichen Itza, were a late addition to the game. Also late to be associated with the game was human sacrifice, which was nevertheless present at Chichen Itza and depicted in decorative stone panels. It is thought that captives were sacrificed after losing a rigged game, but also possible that the captains of losing teams too were ritually killed.

3. The second phase of Chichen Itza corresponds to the migration of the Toltec people from the Mexican plateau and the integration of their aesthetic styles and technologies into the buildings of the site. After the Toltec took Chichen Itza at the end of the 10th century, their influences became detectable in the site’s architecture.  For example, buildings from this phase, such as El Castillo and El Caracol, display the old Mayan stone-working methods combined with Toltec decorative theme such as battle scenes and plumed serpents (a representation of Quetzalcoatl/ Kukulkan).

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