The Ancient Mayan City of Chichen Itza

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The ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza is one of the main places of interest for tourists visiting the Yucatan peninsula, in Mexico. The name of the city means “At the mouth of the well of the Itza”, and is believed to have reached its apogee during the political and economical dominance of the Itza ethnic group over the northern Yucatan.

Chichen Itza is a large pre-Colombian archeological site built by the advanced (for its time) Mayan civilization. Archaeologists have found signs of previously built settlements in the area, but the most impressive buildings in the city were built around 600 AD.

Reaching Chichen Itza

This very interesting to see archaeological site is located about 2 to 2 ½ hour’s drive from Cancun, Mexico. There are organized tourist trip buses to and from Cancun, but you can also get transportation from your hotel if you request it. You can also rent a car and drive there on your own, arriving at an hour that is best for you.

The Chichen Itza Ruins

Chichen Itza contains many stone buildings in different states of preservation. Some of them have been partly restored, while others are in the state in which they were discovered by the archaeologists. There are also parts of the city that are open only for archaeologists, and are not open for the regular tourist to visit them.

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The city is split into five areas – Great North Platform, Ossario Group, The Casa Colorada Group, Central Group and Old Chichen. Back in time when the city was complete, these areas were separated by walls; but today there are very few walls remaining, and most of the complex is easy to access from one area to another.

The Pyramid of Kulkulkan

The Great North Group is the most popular and most visited area of Chichen Itza, as this is the place where a large step pyramid called “the Castle” is located. It was built by the Maya and they called it The Pyramid of Kulkulkan (Quetzalcoatl), after their feathered serpent deity.

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This breathtaking pyramid shows how great a knowledge and understanding of astronomy the Maya had. There are exactly 365 steps from the base of the pyramid to the top (counting the last platform). In addition, every year on the spring and autumn equinoxes the sun’s rays touch the structure in a way that creates a shadowy illusion of a serpent, winding down the stairs of the pyramid.

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In the base of the Pyramid of Kulkulkan there is an empty field with exceptional acoustics, where various athletics games and competitions were played. The interesting fact about Mayan civilization is that they considered only people of noble blood worthy of participating in such games, which makes this field a place where the best of the best were competing against each other.

The Sacred Cenote

Another noticeable structure on the Great North Group plateau is the Sacred Cenote. It is an opening into the ground, leading to a series of underground rivers. The Maya used it as a place to present gifts to their deities – jade, food and even human beings from enemy tribes, captured during warfare.

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Chichen Itza is opened for visitors from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm. all year round, but most of the tourists visit it around noon. If you are planning to take the trip to Chichen Itza and wish to see it when it is less crowded, you should time your visit so that you arrive early in the morning or later in the afternoon, when there are fewer people. Make sure you bring plenty of water and that you wear comfortable shoes and clothes, as the temperatures can be very high and the weather hot and humid.