As a UNESCO world heritage site of immense cultural significance, Chichen Itza is one of the Yucatan’s grandest archaeological sites. It is, perhaps, one of the most famous and accessible, of the Mayan sites. It is located 125 kilometers west of Cancun and Cozumel.
It is a rugged place with massive temples, soaring pyramids, awesome sports fields and startling carved columns. Here are some cool facts about this 1500 year old sacred city:
1. Chichen Itza was founded in 400 AD by the pre-Columbian Mayan civilization. It spans a history of 1500 years. It is located in north central section of the Yucatan Peninsula.
2. Chichen comes from two different words, Chi, which stands for “mouth” and Chen, which stands for “well”. So, Chichen means “At the mouth of the well”. Itza refers to the Itza tribe. So, Chichen Itza simply means “At the mouth of the well of Itza”.
3. Chichen Itza was governed by priests in the early days. It was the center for Mayan ceremonies.
4. To make their gods happy, the Mayans would throw people, as a sacrifice, from the top down. Those who survive were believed to have special favor from the gods.
5. In the early 1920s, the first official tourism business was started in Yucatan. This was by the grandnephew of a former Yucatan Governor Miguel Barbachano, Fernando Barbachano Peon. Fernando purchased the entire Chichen Itza site in 1944, and constructed a hotel there. This increased the viability of this site as a tourism site, allowing visitors to come to the ruins.
6. The Great Ball Court of Chichen Itza is one of the main contributing attributes to the fame of the site. It has stone rings that are 20 feet high. It also has no vault, and is open to the sky, with no discontinuity between the walls. There are temples supported on each of the southern, northern, and eastern sides. These are thought to have been used for rituals during the sacred games in its earlier days.
7. The most important and largest ceremonial structure at Chichen Itza is the Kukulkan Temple. It is the feathered Serpent god, called Quetzalcoatl, by the Aztecs and the Toltecs. Some early Spaniards referred to it as El Castillo, or simply “the castle”. It does not resemble a castle, and was used for astronomical observations and religious purposes.
8. The interior of Northern Yucatan has no aboveground rivers, and is arid. The only natural water source are sinkholes called cenotes. Some of the cenotes are small, with others being quite large. Sacred Cenote or “Cenote Sagrado” is the larger of the two in Chichen Itza, and is the most famous. This is where the Maya used to throw sacrificial objects and humans to worship their rain god Chaac.
9. One of the Mayan sports was a game that used a soccer-sized ball. This game had some very intricate rules, with a lot of competition and great excitement for the huge spectator crowds. The game was played in the huge Chichen Itza court.
This court is lined with carvings that show the rules and details of this game that was considered sacred. There is even a carving showing a captain being beheaded for loosing a game. These are some of the fascinating facts about Chichen Itza.