The History of the Sacrificial Cenote of Chichen Itza


Chichen Itza was the spiritual and social hub of the late Mayan World. It was the centerpiece of the Mayan civilization in the Yucatan Peninsula since the early 700’s. The city was the center of sacrifice for the area as well. The city owed that sacrificial reputation to an ancient Mayan and the mysterious cenotes in the area. A cenote is a natural well that reaches deep into the land, possibly connecting to other underground tunnels.

The Sacrificial Cenote wasn’t used for drinking, or cleaning, another set of cenotes and artificial wells were used for that. A Bishop in the mid 1500’s is the first to mention the sacrifices that occur at the ancient Sacrificial Cenote. The Bishop claimed that Chichen Itza had a huge chamber inside which they would herd thousands of slaves and citizens to be sacrificed at the cenotes.


The victims were thrown head first into the cenote, hitting the water below with immense force. Around the structure the Bishop reported seeing small idols that had been carefully hand-carved. Bishop Landa, was led to believe that those sacrificed were not believed to die, but live on with the gods forever. Along with men and women, the Mayans would often throw in their own jewels, gold, and other precious objects. The cenotes around Chichen Itza have been known for holding quite a few precious stones.

In past expeditions at the Sacrificial Cenote, the tools have been nothing more than a steel claw, in modern times things have gotten a bit gentler. Due to that rough treatment early on, much of the restoration done in current times has been needed because of the sloppy expeditions done by explorers of the early 1900’s.


The main pyramid of Chichen Itza, El Castillo, sits between two large cenotes. One of them was called the Sacrificial Cenote. Long before Chichen Itza was founded, an ancient Indian lived beside the Sacrificial Cenote. His name was Ah Kin Itza.

It was tradition for the ancient lords and nobles of the area to fast for two months, keeping their eyes closed for the entire time. Then, when called at the end of the two months, Ah Kin Itza would lead them and one Indian woman, whom the nobles chose with a blind grasp, to the cenote. At the Sacrificial Cenote, Ah Kin Itza would allow them to open their eyes as they watch the woman of their random choosing fall into the watery abyss below.

If any of the women lived, by the next day they would be drawn out at noon. The Mayans would ask the survivors if the gods had decided if they would have a good year or a bad year. It was after that ancient Mayan, Ah Kin Itza, that Chichen Itza was named. Since then, the Sacrificial Cenote had been used to give sacrifices to their god, Chac, before, during, and after the creation of Chichen Itza. In modern times, these types of sacrifices may seem unthinkable, but to them it was the only way to ensure life’ with death.


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