Chichen Itza: Glory of the Mayan World
It must have seem something.
In the height of its glory, the gleaming white structures of Chichen Itza stood in vivid contrast against the surrounding emerald green jungle. The brilliant white buildings were trimmed with bright red, their walls covered with colorful murals, and massive columns carved with intricate designs.
This once-thriving city attracted thousands from throughout the Mayan world, which included Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. The area was rich in natural resources including ample water supply and good soil for agricultural needs. Location near the coast made it an important center for trade. Markets were plentiful with foods and ceramic pots. The city was pulsating with activities and a blend of cultures that gave it a distinctive look and feel. Foreigners brought the influence of the cult of the god Kukulkan, the plumed serpent whose heads are evident in the main temple of El Castillo. An interesting fact is that the family name Itza is not Mayan and nor is it apparent why this particular family became so important in the history of Chichen.
A strong and vibrant city, Chichen was a military center, with its Temple of the Warriors diagonally across from El Castillo. Upper class citizens lived in the palace-like structures of the Temple of the Thousand columns, directly behind the Temple of the Warriors. Steam baths behind their palace were used for purification.
One of the most impressive structures of the ancient city is the Ball Court, the largest in pre-columbian America. Used for ceremonial and religious events, the Ball Court had special significance because the Mayan Book of Creation states that rulership is decided by the outcome of a ball game. Perhaps something we should keep in mind for our next presidential election?
The beauty of the city and the struggle to maintain it may have led to the demise of the grandest city of the Mayan civilization. In order to create the white material that covered the stunning buildings, land was cleared to access the limestone needed to create the stucco coating. This bright white stucco completely covered the buildings, some of which had nearly 6 inches coating every square inch. As the forest was stripped away, drought set in and soon water was not sufficient to support the growing population of this bustling city.
The ruling class of Chichen Itza left the city around 1200 AD and moved south. Deforestation was nearly complete and the beauty of the gleaming white city began to fade to its present rough gray stone. Gone is the dazzling city but the spirit of the Mayan civilization remains along with thousands of Mayan men and women who still call this area of the Yucatan home.
Explore this incredible site and learn more about the history and culture of the Mayan world. To make the most of your visit, pay a guide who can give you a thorough and informative tour.
If you're interested in other Mayan ruins, don't miss Tulum and Coba. The ruins of San Gervasio on Cozumel are small, but the history is interesting.