Chichen Itza is an impressive archaeological site located to the southeast of Merida, Yucatan's capital city. During its golden years, Chichen Itza was the most important political, economic and religious center for the Mayan civilization.
Although, unlike most of the existing archaeological sites nowadays, it lacks the intense colored pigments the Mayans used to decorate their temples, markets and ball courts, Chichen Itza continues to impress national and foreign travelers with its architectonic beauty. Another fascinating facet of the Mayans is the perfect harmony they had with nature, reflected through the special arrangement of the buildings in the city, built to coincide with significant astronomical phenomena.
Chichen Itza was recently named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, after a worldwide voting via the internet. UNESCO has considered the archeological city as a World Heritage Site since 1988. These titles are well deserved by Chichen Itza, since it is only through the understanding of the rituals held there and the engravings on buildings throughout the city that we can fully comprehend the ancient wisdom the Mayans, some of which is still relevant today!
Nowadays, the part of Chichen Itza open to the public consists of 17 constructions, many of which have partially been restored or reconstructed, using the same materials as the Maya. There are also two cenotes definitely worth visiting, which are natural water wells formed by rainwater filtered through the limestone walls.
Once In the center of the archaeological site, visitors immediately focus their attention on the imposing beauty and impressive size of the Temple of Kukulcan, also known as ''El Castillo'' (The Castle), for it is one of the highest buildings constructed by the Mayans. The temples four sides each has a stairway running up it and the base of the north side is watched over by two gigantic snake heads, representing the plumed serpent or god Kukulcan.
There's another part of Chichen Itza not yet open to visitors known as ''Chichen Viejo'' (Old Chichen). This part of the site has 13 more structures of varying dimensions and two large plazas. Once this area is ready for tourists, visitors may be able to wander through the almost 19 square miles that this city covered in its heyday.
According to archeologists, in its initial stages Chichen Itza was no more than a small town formed by small huts of wood and straw built around the Xtoloc cenote, and it was not until around 325 A.D. that Chichen Itza started acquiring the city-like shape, it still keeps, with the construction of the now world-famous huge stone temples started.
Urban planning was a little bit messy and erratic at first, although later great care was taken to plan the city and leave more space among the buildings and temples by making causeways called sacbe or sacbeob in plural, meaning 'white ways', which also joined the city with other towns. The causeways were paved with quicklime and they were slightly elevated above ground. All of the causeways still exist today and some have even been turned into modern day highways.
It is believed that by 1000 A.D. war broke out in the Mayan kingdoms causing the fall of Chichen Itza. Evidence gathered on site shows that the thatched and wooden roofs on top of some of the temples such as the Temple of the Warriors and the Market were burned down. Chichen Itza's fall is also directly related to the rise of Mayapan in Southern Yucatan, as the new political and economic center of the Mayan World. Nevertheless, there is evidence that up to the 16th century, Chichen Itza remained a sacred center, where Mayans carried out pilgrimages and ceremonies to the temple of Kukulcan.
Chichen Itza is an enigmatic place that holds invaluable mysteries and secrets yet to be uncovered of the many achievements reached by the Mayans. It has been proven that each and every temple in the city was built in accordance with the position of the stars and planets. The Castle, for instance, registers the equinoxes (when day and night last the same length) and the summer solstice (when the sun reaches its peak over the Tropic of Cancer). Another similar case is the Snail or Observatory that registers the cycles of the moon, which together with the sun's positioning are important indicators of the planting and harvest seasons.
You can't miss the opportunity to visit this magical place, since it has recently been voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Chichen Itza comprises exuberant vegetation, magnificent architectural treasures, and invaluable knowledge of astronomy, mathematics and even acoustics. It is one of the most important indigenous settlements of all the civilizations in the Americas and one of the best preserved archaeological sites in Mexico. It is a gift to the world that must be preserved for future generations and the invaluable knowledge discovered should be disseminated throughout the world.