Observatorio, Chichén Itzá gringo : andar : arqueología

Chichén Itzá, Yucatán

Chichén Itzá – Ruined Ancient Mayan City
20º40 N, 88º35 W.

Forty kilometers west of Valladolid, this huge, attractive site with many and various ruins from monumental to sublime, waits for your visit in northern Yucatan, roughly half-way between Cancún and Mérida.  Its ceremonial core was excavated and reconstructed in the 20th century.  The site is now (as author/scholar Quetzil Castaneda has thesized) a huge machine whose purpose is nothing less than the creation of "the mysterous Maya" culture inside the brains of visiting tourists.  The United Nations (UNESCO) has declared this site to be part of the patrimony of the planet (or something highfalootin like that). 

We will only add that it's an extremely well-oiled machine.  You gotta see it to believe it.  By the way, tens of thousands of Maya still live around there AND speak the language which we Eurocentrics call Yucatec and they call... well, Maya.  This is not fiction.

The architecture in the ruin zone here displays different styles, seemingly from both late-classic Puuc Maya and central Mexican (Toltec) sources.  Scholars and tourguides continue to debate who "conquered" whom, but it seems clear that Chichén was, at its height, a truly Mesoamerican capital, international in outlook and power.  Some believe that the Mixtec king Eight-Deer, whose history is recorded in a surviving ancient Mexican book – or codex, traveled here from Oaxaca to be officially and religiously confirmed as a great ruling lord.

The sacred well ("chichén" = "mouth of well") is one of two cenotes you can easily visit here and gaze down into its depths.  This larger cenote is approached by an ancient road north of the great pyramid.  The sacred well has been a holy place of pilgrimage ever since the creation of the world.  (New agers and gnosticos still soak up meditation vibes at various cenote campsites or resorts around the peninsula.)  Pilgrimages and sacrifices at sacred Chichén continued into the colonial period, centuries after the city was abandoned around 1200 a.d.

YOU Want ME to Climb WHAT?!
In postmodern, millennial times (i.e. 20th-21st century a.d.), the city of has become the focus of a new age pilgrimage to "see the serpent of shadow & light" which slithers up and down the staircases of the main pyramid around equinox date (March 21 and September 21) at dawn and sunset.  Crowds of curious fringe-nicks gather to rub shoulders with anthropologists, tourists and "metaphysical" guides.  The Maya who live everywhere around here just stand back and smile at all the crazy gringos and Mexicans.

New, Old, and "Older" Chichens...

The huge ballcourt, the main pyramid (el castillo) with its serpent stairways, along with various temples, the court of a thousand columns and other associated structures, compile what is commonly called "new" or Toltec Chichén.  Make sure you explore back around the sides of the 1,000-court, into what were possibly old banquet halls, and on another side, the Mercado courtyard.

SEE this pic fullsize
SEE: Michael and Danial AND Their SHADOW TRIPLE Drinking Water ALTOGETHER @ El Mercado
the sacbeob, holy pathways, are still much in evidence here and there around this site

To the south, via one or another raised pathways – sacbeob – holy roads through the thorny woods, you will find the Maya buildings of "old" Chichén – the Observatory (caracol), House of the Deer, Akab-Dzib, Iglesia, las Monjas/Nunnery, etcetera.

Remember, however, that most of the buildings here, in both the "old" and "new" sectors, were probably in use at more or less the same time.  This diversity possibly points to a multi-ethnic culture based on a mixture of Maya and Mexican peoples.  Or maybe that's just what we postmodern politically correct people "want" to think.    ;-)

In addition, just to confuse and delight you, there is another "old" Chichén, whose monuments, semi-reconstructed or still half-buried, can be found scattered about the brush for several kilometers to the south of las Monjas.  The entrance road is around the right-hand side of las Monjas (bring water, good shoes, hat/sunscreen, and don’t get lost).  At the time of our latest visit (1999) construction of touristic facilities like shaded palapas was underway at some of these more removed sites.

If you're a real Maya ruin nut, spend a couple nights in Piste or Valladolid, take advantage of free Sunday admission (or other federal Mexican holiday), and take a few good days to explore it all: New, Old, and old-Old. There is a LOT to see here.  Don't hurry.  Sit down during the hot part of the mid-day.  Walk during the morning and late afternoon hours when the sun is less direct, especially towards five p.m. in winter when the light turns a beautiful golden shade.  [PHILIP: Link to our pictures from then] {okay my brothers here you are

the observatory -- el caracol -- in the golden light after four pm on a February evening

Don't just stomp around the ballcourt in the burning heat of noon and think you've seen it all... and as for those poor hurried tourbusses from Cancun, well, excuse me while I vomit from their hangovers and heat exhaustion.

This city was huge.  The modern archeological zone (of the two main areas), with all of its walkways and some thirty monumental buildings, all this was only the central core.  Buried mounds extend for miles.

Accommodations from cheap ($15) to expensive ($50 and up) for the traveler are available in the small Maya town of Piste, about a mile (two kilometers) from the main entrance to the ruins.  A paved sidewalk parallels the road from town to the gate – a pleasant walk in early morning or late afternoon – and there are also taxis and occasional busses.  A small group of luxury resorts are clustered around the back gate to the zone, for those who wish to pay for comfort and convenience.

Valladolid, Yucatan, cathedral on city plaza

Another hospitable alternative is the attractive and historic colonial town of Valladolid.  Thirty-some miles to the east, it offers a wide range of hotels, services, supplies and sites to see.  After a couple nights in Piste we moseyed over to Valladolid and found a place for $5 and stayed a week.  Went to the town library several times as well as back to Chichén and around the countryside with some philanthopists from the U.S. giving books and stuff to schools.

Valladolid, Yucatan, colonial street near five-corners

If you just want to relax, Valladolid is a small city worth experiencing for its own beauty and charm (not to mention the exquisite and little-visited ruins of Ek Balam forty-some kilometers north of there, off the road to Tizimin).  Regular busses from Valladolid to Mérida stop at the ruins of Chichén Itzá, as well as in Piste.  You can also catch busses from Valladolid terminal to practically anywhere in Yucatan, like Isla Holbox, Tulum, Cobá, as well as Cancun.  The little city is a fantastic mix of colonial and Maya architecture, with very little industrial sprawl to spoil its atmosphere.  Hard to believe it was a place where the Maya slaughtered all the whites during the Caste War a hundred and sixty some years ago, shortly after Stephens and Catherwood passed through.

now go somewhere else                                 V i r t u a l     C  h  i  c  h  e  n

The best map we found on-line of the ruins (but still does not include old old Chichén 1 and 2 kilometers south beyond las Monjas) appears to be a copy of, or based on, the Carnegie map from the 1920s and 30s (which we have seen in an original paper copy at UCSD library) and you may see it at http://www.rose-hulman.edu/~delacova/maya/chichen-map.jpg.........................................

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Andar tras mesoamérica : All text and photos this page are Copyright 2002-2006 Daniel Charles Thomas