El Caracol, Chichen Itza

The observatory called El Caracol, Chichen Itza, is a pre-Columbian structure from the ancient Mayan Civilization. The name “El Caracol” means “snail” in Spanish. This is because of the spiral stairway found inside the observatory. The building was constructed sometime in the 9th Century A.D. However, the actual date of when the structure was erected is unknown. It was also remodeled sometime between 800 A.D. and 1200 A.D.


The observatory is erected on a large rectangular platform with a round tower that stands 48 feet high. There is a staircase on the west side of the building. The structure has a solid bottom with two galleries. The defining characteristic of the building is its spiral stairway which stands in the center portion and leads to the observation platform. Later, after reconstruction, two platforms were added, one circular and one rectangular.

History of the Observatory

The observatory in Chichen Itza is presumed to have been constructed during the Late Classic period of Mesoamerican history. The flat land of the Yuctan peninsula provided a great landscape for this kind of structure as it had no obstructions. There were no natural markers in Chichen Itza that the locals could use for star gazing purposes. The observers who used the observatory were able to see the sky and study celestial sights over the vegetation and flat land of the Yuctan province.

Mayan Observations

Mayan astronomers would study the stars using naked-eye observations. Venus played a great role in Mayan celestial observations. They believed that the bright planet was a second star and a god of war. Mayan leaders would use the different positions of Venus to help them plan for their raids and battles.

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