Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins

El Castillo Serpent
El Castillo Serpent. Photo by grahamc99

Located in the center of an open court stands the 99 feet (30 m) high Temple of Kukulkan, also referred to as El Castillo (the castle in Spanish). Dedicated to the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl, this is the most famous landmark of the Chichén Itzá ruins. On the Spring and Autumn equinox, at the rising and setting of the sun, the corner of the pyramid casts a shadow in the shape of a snake, representing the god Quetzalcoatl. As the sun moves, the serpent slowly descends into the earth.

The temple contains many references to the important Mayan calendar. Each of El Castillo’s four sides has 91 steps which, when added together and including the temple platform , equals the 365 days of the solar year. Each of the nine terraces are divided in two, which makes 18, symbolizing the number of months in the Maya calendar. The terraces contain a total of 52 panels, referring to the 52-year cycle when both the solar and religious calendars converge.

Great Ball Court
Great Ball Court.

The Chichen Itza Mayan ruins contain no less than 8 ball courts, but the Great Ball Court is by far the most impressive. At 545 by 223 feet (166 x 68 m) it is the largest ball court in Mesoamerica measuring. It was dedicated in 864 AD and is radically different than any other Mayan ball court, which are smaller and have sloping sided courts. The two vertical walls of the Great Ball Court are 39 feet high (12 m) high with rings carved with intertwining serpents in the center of each wall. Both walls are carved with scenes showing teams of ball players. One panel shows a headless player kneeling with blood shooting from his neck, while another player holds the head.

Temple of the Skulls
Temple of the Skulls. Photo by theilr

Alongside the Great Ball Court is the Tzompantli (Temple of the Skulls), one of the most gruesome temples in Chichen. It is a low platform covered on all sides by rows of carved skulls. Similar platforms are found in central America. The heads of sacrificial victims were displayed here, together with those of the players who lost the ball game.

Temple of the Warriors
Temple of the Warriors. Photo by jimg944

East of El Castillo is the Temple of the Warriors, named after its carved columns depicting warriors. This temple is similar to Temple B at the Toltec capital of Tula, and indicates some form of cultural contact between the two regions. The one at Chichen Itza, however is much larger. At the top of the stairway on the temple’s summit sits a statue of Chac Mool.

El Caracol. Photo by wEnDaLicious

El Caracol or Observatory is a round building on a large square platform dating to around 906 AD. It was probably an ancient Maya observatory with doors and windows aligned to astronomical events, specifically around the path of Venus. From the tower the Mayans could view the sky above the vegetation without any obstruction. The Spanish name, which means “snail,” refers to the stone spiral staircase inside.