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CHICHEN ITZA

MEXICO

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CHICHEN ITZA

MEXICO

It is the most famous Mayan city in the world. A place that marks and leaves its trace due to its formidable platforms, walls, altars and imposing stone pyramids in which time and the evolution of the stars were measured, or where offerings to the Maya and Tolteca gods took place, civilisations these that synthesise the creative spirit of the Mesoamerican peoples.

The history of Chichén Itzá begins in the year 550 AD, when the Mayas coming from Guatemala settled themselves closed to the cenotes (water pits) existing in the zone. It was during this first period that magnificent constructions emerged, such as the Covent of the Nuns, called like this due to its similarity with the western cloisters, as the Spanish conquistadors could verify.

In those times the Mayas were known as Itzaes or "Water Sorcerers", and there is where the name of the city comes from, which in English means "Mouth of the Pit of the Itzaes" or "Home of the Itzaes". Centuries later, around the year 800 AD, they were invaded by the Toltecas of Tula, a combatant and brave people who far from destroying what they had conquered, enhanced it with superb structures.

For this reason it became the most important sacred city of Yucatan, reaching its peak between the X and XIII centuries; a time of splendour and merges between the religions of both cultures, where you can watch both the representation of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent of the Toltecas and Aztecs, and the image of Chaac, the Mayan rain god.

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And it is the representation of the latter which is amongst the most important ones, because Chichén Itzá is located in an area with no rivers and the city could only calm its thirst with water coming in the form of rain, which would concentrate in the cenotes or sacred pits, thus allowing them to live and develop, along with the admirable technology of both civilisations.

Nowadays, Chichén Itzá, at 120 kilometres from Mérida, is one of the best restored pre Hispanic cities in Mexico. Magnificent buildings, whose cultural and historical values were acknowledged by UNESCO in 1988, by declaring it Patrimony of Humanity, rise in its roughly 10 square kilometres (it may have stretched for 100 during its time of splendour according to specialists).

Investigators have come to identify two architectonic stages or styles: the classical Mayan period (VII to X centuries) whose main constructions are on the southern side, in the zone known as Old Chichén; and the Maya - Tolteca period (late X and early XIII centuries, a time known as sacred cenote) when the most important constructions were built.

Amongst the constructions that have withstood the passing of time, we have the unmatchable pyramid of Kukulkán, a gigantic calendar in the centre of the plaza, standing out; a precinct almost as notable as The Spiral, used for astronomic studies, and considered to be the top masterpiece in Mayan architecture due to its characteristics.

Another precinct standing out for the beauty of its shapes is the Temple of the Warriors. It keeps numerous sculptures in its interior acting as columns, being the most attractive that of Chac Mool, the messenger of the gods, represented by a man sitting with his legs bent and his head leaned.

A singular space is the patio of the Ball Game, the largest in Mexico. A religious ritual, consisting on introducing a heavy rubber ball through a stone loop placed high on a wall, was practiced at this court. The ball could not fall to the ground because it represented the sun and the heavens.

Those taking part on the game could not touch the ball with their hands, which complicated the task. It is believed that the team losing the game were sacrificed during the Tolteca presence in Chichén Itzá; a macabre habit that generates many question even in our times.

Another key place in Mayan religiosity is the Sacred Cenote, regarded as the dwelling of the rain god, a belief that turned the city into a pilgrimage centre, even after the zone was abandoned by its settlers.

The cenote is 20 metres deep with a diameter of 60 metres. Sacrifices and offerings took place in it, having thus far been found in its depths innumerable gold and jade objects, vessels and sculptures, besides human bones, including those of a child.

Chichén Itzá seems to talk through its monumental stone constructions, an invaluable legacy that reflects the way of life of the Mayan people, their great religiosity, their brilliant architecture and their amazing knowledge, which allowed them to measure time and to design their own calendar. Pre Hispanic wonders that attract travellers from all over the world, who admire the mysterious and spectacular Mayan legacy.

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