Fun Things to Do in Mayan Chichen Itza

by Faith Chandler
El Castillo is a square pyramid, the largest building in Chichen Itza.

El Castillo is a square pyramid, the largest building in Chichen Itza.

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Chichen Itza is an ancient stone city that was built by the Mayan people and served as their capital some 1,000 years ago. It is located on the northern Yucatan Peninsula in modern-day Mexico. The city is a major archaeological site and is frequented by many visitors yearly. Chichen Itza holds important clues to the rich and warriorlike culture of the Mayans, including their major temples, writing and sports.

El Castillo

El Castillo is the largest building in Chichen Itza and was once a temple to Quetzalcoatl, meaning the "feathered serpent." The temple is a square pyramid with steps progressing up each of the four sides of the temple to the top of the building. When visitors walk the steps to the top, they can see over the treetops of the surrounding landscape for miles. During the spring and autumnal equinox, light from the sun hits the steps at an angle, creating what looks like a serpent slithering up the steps of the temple.

Ball Court

The ball court in Chichen Itza is the largest Mayan ball court so far discovered. It sits about 500 feet northwest of the Castillo. It has 39-feet walls and two stone hoops which resemble entwined snakes. While the rules to the game played in this court have been lost in time, it's believed to have been similar to a modern day ball game played in Mexico called Ulama, in which the players hit the ball with their hips.

El Caracol

The Caracol, meaning "snail" in Spanish, is a Mayan observatory. Inside the building is a winding stone staircase reminiscent of a snail's shell. The observatory shows just how astronomically and mathematically advanced the Mayans were during their time. It features several slitted windows that direct the viewer to certain points in the sky. These points correspond with the path of Venus during the year and the sunset during the equinox. The Caracol is about 700 feet southwest of the Castillo.

Segrado Cenote

Cenotes are sinkholes filled with water from underground springs. There are many cenotes throughout the area that once served as a source of pure water for the Mayans. Many cenotes are part of underground cave systems, and the sun's rays filters in through them filling the caves with light. The cenotes were also significant ritualistically as the Mayans dropped offerings and even human sacrifices into them. The Segrado Cenote at Chichen Itza is north of the city and accessible via a ceremonial walkway that leads past the city wall.

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