Sacred city of the Mayan ancestors

As one of the biggest and greatest cities of the ancient Mayan Mexico civilization, Chichen Itza’s annual equinox festival has a special status in the Yucatan.

After the collapse of the classic Mayan culture in the Petén area of Guatemala, Chichen Itza assumed political power and was recognized as a sacred place. Chichen Itza enjoyed its heyday from the tenth century with the arrival of the Toltecs.

Mesoamerican mythology also attributed a host of magical happenings to this region. One is the story of the arrival of the god-king Kukulcán, as the head of his people, to his ancestral home in the Yucatan after journeying from the Toltec city of Tula in the state of Hidalgo.

In Chichen Itza, the people worshipped the great Kukulcán who was the Mayan representation of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent. As the focus of ritual and the central point of religious and political power, the emblematic pyramid at Chichen Itza, known as Kukulcán or El Castillo, stands in the center of the plaza. There are other buildings worth a photograph: El Observatorio (Observatory), the Templo de los Guerreros (Temple of the Warriors), the famous ball game court, and the Edificio de las Mil Columnas (Building of the Thousand Columns).

In March each year, more than 70,000 visitors flock to Chichen Itza to watch in wonder as the shadow of the snake descends the pyramid, which according to the ancient Maya represents the descent of the great Kukulcán. According to Mayan cosmology, the arrival of the god is a sign that can be used to predict the coming weather, success of the harvest, and fortune of the people, but if the fateful day is overcast or rainy, it can point to bad fortune or even disaster for the region.

Chichen Itza, which in Maya means “at the mouth of the well of the Itza,” is located 75 miles east of Merida on the Merida-Cancun highway in the municipality of Tinum. For visitors staying in Cancun, many tours to Chichen Itza are available; alternatively, one can rent a car and drive, which takes about  2.5 hours.

Another site not to be missed is the caves of Balankanche, 4 2.5 miles west of Chichen Itza. This large network of caves is considered sacred, and, indeed, much of the pottery and other artifacts remain undisturbed, positioned exactly where the pre-Columbian residents left them ages ago.

UNESCO bestowed World Heritage Site status on Chichen Itza in 1988, and on July 7, 2007, it was included in the list of the “New Seven Wonders of the World” in a competition run by Bernard Weber from Switzerland, founder of the New Open World Foundation.

The cosmogony and impressiveness of Chichen Itza’s buildings will astonish and intrique those visitors in search of the secrets of ancient Mexico.

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