Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Yucatan: Chichen Itza


El Castillo
Wanting to escape the cold and snow at the end of January, we loaded up the family and flew to Cancun, Mexico.  Pre-trip, the family's main planned activity consisted primarily of sitting on the beach with drink in hand and grandkids in water.  At the top of my list was one day trip into the Yucatan to visit Mayan sites I have yet to scramble around.  Perhaps more if time allowed.
El Castillo
At first, I figured I might be heading out alone since my wife indicated she was not interested in seeing more Mayan ruins.  Nancy is a good sport and has joined along on many of the excursions to visit yet another ancient ruin or battlefield.  Several good stories originate in those excursions including an interaction with a Guatemalan army patrol on the Belize-Guatemala border in 2006.  

After discussing my plans at dinner for a day trip to Chichen Itza, interest increased.   Without much convincing, all agreed that a daylong excursion out into the Yucatan jungles would be a fun family event.  With all joining in, a motor coach, driver, and guide were booked and off we went.  After a two and a half hour drive, we reached Chichen Itza, purchased tickets, and entered the park grounds.

Upon entering the gate, visitors almost immediately encounter the most famous structure of Chichen Itza.  Of course, one reaches the main plaza only after winding one's way through rows of vendors.  Luckily, we arrived early in the morning and the vendors were still setting up their tables for the day.  Emerging from the labyrinth of vendors, we faced the imposing temple of the Kukulcan or El Castillo.  From our vantage point, the temple dominated the landscape.  The stone head of the serpent, Kukulcan, can be seen at the base of the main temple stairway. 
El Castillo
Unfortunately climbing El Castillo is no longer permitted due to a visitor's fall.  El Castillo has been restored to its prior glory with the exception of the eastern stairs.  
El Castillo showing unrenovated east face
The eastern stairs are still in a state of disrepair following years of stone removal from the structure.  Local builders once raided the temple to reuse the stones in their own building projects.  One hotel in the vicinity is composed of stones "quarried" from Chichen Itza. 
El Castillo showing unrestored east face stairs
Having wandered around El Castillo, we turned west and headed in the direction of the Grand Ballcourt.  On the way, a small alter was passed.  Notice the pair of Kukulcan heads framing the stairs.  Also note the fine engravings on the face of the platform. 
Tzompantli platform
Tzompantli platform
Also on the brief walk to the Grand Ballcourt, we passed the Temple of the Jaguar.  Notice the worn statue of the jaguar upon which dignitaries would sit to receive guests and the fine carvings on the interior walls.
Jaguar Temple
Carvings inside Jaguar Temple
As one enters the Grand Ballcourt, a stairway leading up to the top of the ballcourt wall is passed.  From here, spectators would climb these stairs to take up positions overlooking the action on the court below.
Grand Ballcourt Entrance with stairs to spectator area
Detail of temple on top of ballcourt wall showing weathering
Ubiquitous to Chichen Itza, the serpent's head protects the entrance to the Grand Ballcourt.
Grand Ballcourt Entrance with serpent head
Upon entering the ballcourt playing area, one is immediately struck by the size and scale of this structure.  While the design of Mayan ballcourts take many forms, the Grand Ballcourt at Chichen Itza is the largest such Mayan ballcourt yet discovered.  The two scoring rings on either side of the ball-court are about 30 feet off the ground.  Spectators would sit on top of the two walls enclosing the court to watch the game.  
Grand Ballcourt
Grand Ballcourt
Grand Ballcourt
Between the "scorers" platform and the playing field, a gruesome story is depicted in carvings on the wall.  In the carvings, the two teams of six (or was it seven?) players face each other.  The two scorers from each team face one another with teammates lined up behind.  One scorer is kneeling before the other other sans head while the other scorer is standing holding a long knife and his opponent's head.  It was not the scorer from the losing team that lost his head but that of the winner! 
Scoring Ring
Dignitaries Viewing Stand: Grand Ballcourt
Dignitaries Viewing Stand: Grand Ballcourt
Leaving the Grand Ballcourt from the other end, one passes a long line of blocks, each with a carved skull.  This is the Tzompantli Altar or "Skull Platform."  "Winners" of the ball games, would have their heads impaled and planted on the Tzompantli for all to admire.  I am sure others had the honor of having their heads planted here too.
Skull Platform
Skull Platform
After once around the ballcourt, a short walk to took us through the city walls and up to the Sacred Cenote.  While the Yucatan is pocked with cenotes used as sources for drinking water, this cenote was reserved only for religious purposes.  Jewelry, pottery, and skeletons have been brought up from the Sacred Cenote.
Sacred Cenote
Our guide told the story of one of the rituals that would take place at the Sacred Cenote.  The "honoree" would be dressed in celebratory garb and jewels and then confined in a sauna (stone ruins adjacent to cenote in photo below).  The heat and humidity from the sauna would cleanse the human offering and well as put the recipient into a state of trance due to a combination of dehydration and medicines.  In such a state, the victim was lead out of the sauna and pushed into the cenote below.  The state of the victim and weight of accoutrements prompted the sacrificial offering to sink quickly to the bottom of the pool.  
Sacred Cenote with sauna ruins
Back from the stroll to the Sacred Cenote and again on the main plaza, we reach the Temple of the Warriors.  This is a massive structure.  A statue of Chac Mool rests atop the temple.  Fronting two sides of the Temple are the "Thousand Columns" each ornately carved.
Temple of the Warriors
Chac Mool
Temple of the Warriors
Thousand Columns
Thousand Columns
Thousand Columns
Having spent about two and a half hours at Chichen Itza walking the grounds, our guide herded us back to the motor coach to continue our journey.  The second stop for the day would be a cenote where we could take a swim and have lunch before heading out for our final stop of the day at Ek Balam.

22 comments:

  1. Awesome! Thank You for a travel photos :)

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  2. Really engrossing. I do have to say, though, that I can only wonder at the fortitude of anyone who can turn around and jump into a Cenote right after visiting to the Sacred Cenote (I certainly would be sniffing the lunch for "medicines")!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed the travelogue to Chichen Itza!

      Swim first, lunch second...

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  3. Thanks for sharing pictures from your travels, Jon. I always enjoy seeing them.

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    1. Scott, it is gratifying to know you enjoy the travel photos. One day, we must set off on an exploration together.

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  4. Lovely photos Jonathan!
    Best Iain

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  5. I wish I'll be there one day, so tempting...Meanwhile, thanks for sharing these wonderful pictures with us!

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    1. Come visit the New World, Phil!
      Glad you enjoyed the photos.

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  6. Very nice and interesting....one day perhaps 🤔

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    1. You must! It is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

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  7. A really interesting post Jonathan.

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    1. Thanks, Mark! Another destination to add onto YOUR Bucket List!

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  8. Very cool pictures Jonathan. Thanks for sharing.

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  9. Spectacular shots, Jon. I greatly enjopyed our visit to a remote Mayan site, also near Beklize, 10 or so years ago, and would love to visit this one as well. When we were in Cancun/Playa del Carmen area, we visited the Xel-ha "natural water park", which was quite well worth the trip. Cenotes, underwater caves and canals, bays and beaches.

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    1. The Mayan Ruins hold a great attraction for me and I have seen a number of them. Do you remember the Belize ruins you visited? If you visited Xel-Ha did you stop at Tulum too?

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