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jaguar temple and el castillo 1899 a.d. white/cornell
sacred cenote ovedc
site plan hjpd
great ball court pedro marcano
upper jaguar temple sigvald linne expedition c1932
excavations 2009 canuckle
monjas east structure elilicht
initial series group hjpd
caracol south side sigvald linn expedition 1932
monjas east structure c1840's frederick catherwood
lower jaguar temple runt35
platform of the jaguar & eagle raymundo1972
temple of the warriors keith pomakis
temple of the 3 lintels sigvald linn expedition 1932
temple of the sculptured panels raymundo1972
temple of the sculptured columns hjpd.
akab dzib hjpd
monjas upper temple north view c1895 a.d.white/cornell
nunnery c.1859 desire charnay
el castillo jaguar throne hjpd
temple of the warriors sigvald linne expedition 1932
great ball court south temple carlos delgado
osario and round platform altairisfar
upper jaguar temple hjpd
great ball court north temple carlos delgado
ball court red house plaza laslo varga
temple of the red house wolfgang sauber
great ball court c1932 sigvald linne expedition
platform of the tombs sarvol
great ball court panel bubba73
el castillo c.1890 teobert maler
market regis lachaume
caracol john romkey
monjas upper temple south view hjpd
akab dzib/house of the scribe hjpd
xtoloc temple annagoria
south east group hjpd
north colonnade dronepicir
temple of the big tables wolfgang sauber
great ball court jan zatko
venus platform bubba73
west collonade structure imadanat
initial series group hjpd
la iglesia steve mellard
house of the deer hjpd
caracol/monjas plaza overview dronepicir
el castillo kukulkaneit1mx
chacmool figure agustus le plongeon 1875
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sweatbath regis lachaume
grand terrace overview dronepicir.
CHICHEN ITZA-Yucatan, Mexico
Chichen Itza is a Maya World Heritage site, and has been named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is the most well known and most visited archaeological site in Mexico, and for good reason. The restored Pyramid of Kukulcan is a masterpiece. The Great Ball Court lives up to its name, and the overall restoration and consolidation work is superb. It is located off the autopista between Merida and Cancun at the town of Piste.
The archaeological zone covers about 4 sq miles/10.4 kms sq, though the central core area is much smaller and easily visited. The grounds are well maintained, though the presence of hawking vendors throughout the site is a distraction.
ENTRANCE FEES: U.S. $7.75/65 pesos, add U.S. $3 for video camera
GUIDES: Available U.S. $42 for up to group of 8
SERVICES: Restrooms, food & drink, gift store, handicraft vendors, with a major bus line service to Piste, 1 mile from ruins. Taxis and mini buses run from Piste to the entrance. Plenty of parking
ON-SITE MUSEUM: Yes
ACCOMMODATIOS: Food and lodging can be found in nearby Piste
GPS: 88d 34' 01" N, 20d 41' 05" W
MISC: Light Show included with admission. Winter 7PM, Summer 8PM
HISTORY AND EXPLORATIONS
Chichen Itza (mouth of the well of the Itza) was considered to have been the most important site in the Yucatan. It remains so today. Its sacred well was a pilgrimage destination long after the Spanish conquest. Structures date from the Early Classic (250-600 A.D), and possibly earlier, while others show strong Toltec influence (900-1250 A.D.). It was a common practice of the Maya to build one structure over the other, so these overlaying structures themselves easily span centuries.
Chichen Itza was a powerful entity, with control over a wide area. Its trade and political relationships were vast which brought in not only goods, but a world view of ideas from as far away as central Mexico. These goods and ideas reached Chichen by land and sea, with the site of Isla Cerritos on the north coast being its most important port.
Chichen Itza was already in decline as a regional capital by the time Mayapan began its rise to power c1250.
The first meaningful recorded visit to this site in modern times was done by the extraordinary duo of John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood in the 1840’s. Their books on the cities of the Maya were an astounding success and are a very enjoyable read today. They are: Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, and Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan. Highly recommended.
There followed Desire Charnay 1860; Agustus le Plongeon 1875; Teobert Maler and Alfred Maudsley c1880’s; Edward Thompson 1894; A.D. White 1899; and Adela Breton 1908 amongst others. A number of expeditions were made to the site in the early 1900’s. The Carnegie Institute and the Mexican Government began lengthy excavations and restorations beginning in the 1920’s. Restorations, consolidations, and management of the site continue under the direction of INAH.
Edward Thompson, American Counsel in Merida, purchased the site in 1894 and commenced explorations. He dredged the Sacred Cenote in 1903 donating most of the artifacts to the Peabody Museum resulting in a decades long legal battle with the Mexican Government. The site was sold by Thompson’s heirs to the Barbachano family in 1941. The Mexican government purchased the property (they always owned the structures) in 2009.
The architectural styles include Classic Puuc (c.850 A.D.), Chenes (c.850 A.D.), and Toltec influenced (900-1200 A.D.)
The structures at Chichen are centered around several plazas. The largest plaza, referred to as the Grand Terrace, is immense. It measures about 892ft/272m x 829ft/252m and contains the most notably structures at the site.
El Castillo, a pyramid at nearly 79 feet/26 meters in height, is the tallest structure at the site and is positioned near the center of the plaza. Its final construction phase dates to approx. 1200 A.D. and is also known as the Temple of Kukulcan which translates to Feathered Serpent, a Maya deity. The Feathered Serpent and the jaguar appear in profusion throughout the site.
El Castillo is built over an older, smaller pyramid that is, unfortunately, no longer accessible to tourists. This smaller pyramid has a summit chamber that contains a replica of a jaguar studded with jade encrustations. The original is now in the National Museum in Mexico City.
Recent investigations in 2016 has revealed a third, even older pyramid beneath the the other two pyramids. It dates to the Early Classic Period (250-600 A.D.) The pyramid was located using remote sensing devices. It has also been determined that the entire structure was built over a cenote, an important place in Maya religion and mythology.
El Castillo has 91 steps on each of its four sides equaling 364, and the upper temple platform brings the total to 365, equal to a year of days or Haab in the Yucatec Maya language. The temple commands a beautiful view of the surrounding site. There are carved, stone jambs on the inner doorways of the temple that depict warriors in regal costume.
A main draw to El Castillo, and indeed to the whole site are the events that mark the Spring (March 21) and Fall (Sept 22) equinox that attracts upwards of 30,000 or more visitors, and in the spring signals for the Maya the start of the planting season. At these times the shadow of a body of a serpent appears to descend down the steps of the pyramid to a serpents head, and then on towards the direction of the Sacred Well.
These Equinox gatherings bring the site alive, and one can easily imagine the true purpose of these grand plazas. This is an event that should not be missed.
Excavations in 2009 in the plaza fronting the pyramid have revealed beautiful foundations of earlier Maya structures in a quite different architectural style dating back to the Early Classic (250 A.D.-600 A.D.). Unfortunately the pyramid, like most other structures at Chichen, is now off limits for visitors to climb or enter.
The Great Ballcourt occupies the northwest portion of the Grand Terrace. A sacbe, Sacbe 2 extends 3.5 miles/6km to the northwest passing by the Northwest Group and on out to the small site of Cumtun.
This structure, the floor plan of which is in the shape of a capital “I”, is the largest in the Americas at 450 feet/150 meters long. The imposing size of the Ballcourt, with adjoining walls that measure 26 feet/8 meters in height, is magnificent. It appears to have been constructed between 800-1200A.D.
On these walls appears a series of stone carvings depicting an aspect of the ball game that was played. These scenes show richly attired ball players in the final act of the game. This then would be the decapitation of one of the players. Researchers are divided if it were the winner, loser, or a predetermined player who faced this fate.
The comments of a guide at the site of El Rey, however, offered a contrasting point of view. The ritual killing of the ball player is a metaphorical illustration. He stated that at the Equinox a shadow crosses the figure being shown beheaded. This denotes the ritualistic end of one season and the beginning of the next. This makes perfect sense as the Maya believed in an endless cycle of life, death and renewal with regards to everything. Food for thought at any rate,
At the far end of the ball court is the Temple of the Bearded Man, or North Temple, fronted by two columns and which contain bas relief carvings on its inner walls. The Temple of the Jaguars is incorporated into the east wall of the Ball Court. The Upper Temple is framed by two carved serpent columns and contains remnants of painted murals depicting battle scenes.
The Lower Jaguar Temple is located on the outside wall of the Ball Court below the Upper Jaguar Temple. It is entered between twin columns which contain intricate bas relief carvings. A single chamber has walls also carved in bas relief, along with a jaguar throne similar to that found in the Castillo.
On the south side of the Ball Court is located the South Temple. This structure is in a partially restored condition. It features a single vaulted chamber accessed between 6 square columns. A narrow terrace runs in front of the structure and extends out to the east.
To the east of the Great Ball Court, back towards El Castillo, are a number of intricate platforms. The first encountered is the Platform of the Skulls, or Tzompantli, that depicts a series of skulls that surround its low walls. There follows the Platform of the Jaguars and Eagles which contains panels depicting these animals in a ritual of devouring human hearts. This motif is also found on the carved panels of the North Colonnade. Protruding serpent heads flank the top of each of its four stairways.
The final platform is the Platform of Venus, which is centered between El Castillo and the sacbe, or white stone road, that leads north to the Sacred Well. It is similar in design to the Platform of the Eagles and Jaguars except that the panels have glyphic depictions of the planet Venus.
The Sacred Well, also known as the Well of Sacrifice, lies at the end of the approx. 980 foot/330meter sacbe, Sacbe 1, that leads north from the Platform of Venus. It is a large sinkhole about 200 feet/66 meters across and 100 feet/33 meters in depth. This was indeed a sacred place. Pilgrims from throughout the Maya area ventured here to appease the rain god Chac, The dredging of the cenote in the early 1900’s by Edward Thompson revealed many objects of jade, copper, and gold along with lumps of the sacred Maya blue paint. A small structure identified as a sweat bath overlooks the cenote.
There is an infamous story that relates to the Well of Sacrifice. From at least the Terminal Classic Period (900-1100 A.D.) on there was a constant rivalry between the two main ethnic groups that occupied the Yucatan; the Xiu in the west, and the Itza in the east. Due to a prolonged drought during the early Colonial era, the Xiu wished to make a pilgrimage to the Sacred Well to make offerings to appease the rain god Chac. Chichen Itza and the surrounding areas were controlled by the Itza. Arrangements were made for safe passage to the Sacred Well. Halfway to their destination, the Xiu representatives were massacred at a site known as Otzmal.
The Temple of the Big Tables is located in the Northeast portion of the Grand Terrace. It is a multi-tiered truncated pyramid. A central stairway leads to a summit temple, the entrance of which is flanked by two large serpent columns. The interior of the temple consists of numerous columns which once supported a roof of perishable materials. Just to the north is a colonnaded structure, Structure 2D6, and considered a gallery-courtyard structure.
The Temple of the Warriors is situated just to the south of the Temple of the Big Tables in the northeast section of the Grand Terrace. This large three-tiered stepped pyramid has a temple structure on its leveled top which contains a famous reclining statue known as a Chac Mool. Its entrance is framed by two towering serpent columns. At the rear of the temple wall a long bench is supported by carved, stone Atlantian figures. The high exterior walls of the temple display numerous Chac masks. A central carved panel features a human head emerging from the gaping jaws of the Feathered Serpent. A similar decoration is seen extending from the Palace at Labna.
During investigations by the Carnegie Institution in the 1920’s an interior structure was discovered and named Chacmool Temple.
This sub-structure still exhibits richly colored walls and columns of warriors, serpents, and other individuals.
Facing the front of the Temple of the Warriors appear numerous columns carved with richly attired warriors and other individuals. The scene has recently been interpreted as an actual event that took place at Chichen.
Adjoining the south side of the Temple of the Warriors is the Plaza of a Thousand Columns containing several structures. It is a series of raised platforms supporting hundreds of circular and square columns in orderly rows. It is thought that they were supports for a roof system. At the site of Mayapan there is a striking architectural similarity to Chichen, even though it was constructed at a later time. What is interesting to note here is that at the base of these similar columns located at Mayapan there are stuccoed remains of human feet that were once probably full figures that adorned each column. If this were also true at Chichen it would have made a spectacular display.
The first structure of note is known as the West Colonnade. This structure forms the east side of the Grand Terrace and runs a length of about 600’/183m. A raised platform supports five rows of plain, circular columns that at one time held a massive roof of perishable materials.
Near the center of the structure a passageway exists connecting the Grand Terrace into the Plaza of a Thousand Columns proper. At the southern end a small, colonnaded platform extends out to the west. It contains a structure exhibiting three vaulted chambers. A stairway leads down into the Grand Terrace.
The north side of the plaza has a structure similar to the West Colonnade and is named the North Colonnade. Many of the columns here however are square and contain numerous bas relief carvings of eagles and jaguars devouring human hearts, with others depicting warriors. It abuts onto the north side of the Temple of the Warriors. A stairway leads down into the plaza.
Behind this structure is an unexcavated ballcourt. The extreme northeast corner of this platform is occupied by The Northeast Colonnade. This is again a colonnaded structure that functioned as a temple with a central altar decorated with ritual scenes. Running along this structure is a channel that drains rainwater away from the plaza.
The east side of the plaza has several structures. The northeast side houses the Temple of Sculptured Columns. This structure contains numerous sculptured, round columns of warriors. A walled chamber stood behind the columns. There was once a colorful mural covering the east wall behind columns 19 and 20.
The next structure is called the Temple of the Little Tables. It is in an unrestored state. A central stairway led up to a second level containing two rooms with sculptured columns of warriors. A ballcourt and its attendant structures is located behind.
The Southeast Colonnade takes up the southeast corner. It is a colonnaded structure featuring rooms that run both north and west. Behind this structure to the east is a partially restored steam bath. Sacbe 6 leads out from here to the southeast.
The Market is the main structure on the south side of the plaza. It is also of the gallery-courtyard design. The gallery runs 266’/81m on an east/west axis. A small stairway leads up from the Southeast Colonnade onto the gallery terrace. The main stairway is located in the center of the long gallery and leads down into the plaza. From the center of the gallery a sunken, colonnaded courtyard extends out to the south. An unrestored ballcourt is found in the southwest portion of the plaza.
Sacbe 10 leads from the Grand Terrace south to the Osario Plaza. This plaza has a number of structures around its perimeter, and also within the plaza.
The main structure here is the Osario also known as the Temple of the High Priest. It is a stepped pyramid in the central portion of the plaza with staircases on all four sides that lead to its summit. The stairways are flanked by carved, serpent balustrades. The summit temple is entered from the four stairways through walled portals. A roofless, walled interior structure contains four columns with a single entry from the east. The temple was decorated with stucco and polychrome mythological reliefs. An interior shaft descends downward to a sacred cave below the surface where two burials were discovered.
Three small structures form a single line to the east of the Osario through the center of the plaza. The first structure is a low circular platform presumably of a ritual nature. There follows the Venus Platform. This is a smaller version of the platform of the same name in the Grand Terrace.
The last of the three is named the Platform of the Tombs. This is low, square structure with 6 columns which supported a roof of perishable material. It is unusual in that there are no stairs that ascend the platform. Two tombs were located within the structure. A sacbe, Sacbe 15, leads out further east to the Xtoloc Temple which is near the rim of a cenote of the same name. This is a small, walled structure with central columns.
The southwest side of the Osario Plaza has the remains of two structures that were apparently residences of the sites elite. They are named the House of the Metates and the House of the Mestiza. Sacbe 4 leads south from the Osario Plaza to the Plaza of the Red House and the Caracol Plaza.
The Plaza of the Red House is a sub plaza of the Caracol Plaza located in the northwest corner. It contains several structures of which the Red House is the most prominent.
The Red House, also known as Chichanchoob (Little Holes in Yucatek Maya), is on the northwest portion of the sub-plaza and is set on a north/south axis. The temple is located atop a high platform structure. The platform measures about 33’/10 m x 66’/20m. A stairway on the west side leads up to a single corbeled vaulted temple with two attractive roof combs. It is situated on the center-line of the platform. It has three entrances on the west side. A partially restored ballcourt is located against the east side of the Red House platform.
The Temple of the Deer is found on the northwest section of the sub-plaza and runs on an east/west axis. Again, the structure is located atop a high platform. It is in partially restored condition with the south side of the structure completely in ruins.
There are small mounds of rubble that exist on both the west and south sides of the sub-plaza. A sacbe, Sacbe 10, runs along the east side of the sub-plaza south from the Osario Group and into the Caracol Plaza proper.
The Caracol (snail in Spanish) is located on the west side of the plaza and is its main structure. It is of a unique circular design and is considered by most researchers to be an astronomical observatory. A spiral stairway once led to a second story. This part of the structure is in a partially restored state. The windows that ran along the walls have been identified as observation points for observing celestial events and alignments such as the moon and the passage of Venus.
The Caracol is built atop a huge platform measuring about 164ft/50m x 142ft/43 m. A broad, west facing stairway leads up from the plaza to the platform. A second stairway extends up to a smaller, secondary platform that houses the Caracol itself.
A smaller platform extends out to the southwest from the Caracol platform. A single structure occupies the platform. A colonnaded anterior room leads into a single rear chamber.
A sacbe, Sacbe 24, runs along the east side of the Caracol, and connects with Sacbe 3 before intersecting with Sacbe 15 at the Xtoloc Temple. From there it continues north to the Plaza of a Thousand Columns.
On the south side of the Caracol are a number of structures in a degraded state. The most notable of these being a steam bath. These structures form the north side of the Monjas Plaza.
The Monjas Plaza has several structures arranged around its perimeter. They mostly exhibit a Puuc style of architecture, and date from the late 9th century. Numerous glyphic inscriptions appear within some of the structures. An individual named Kakupakal appears often. The west side of the plaza comprises a number of low mounds of rubble that join up at the southeast corner of the Red House Sub-Plaza.
The east side of the plaza is taken up by the Temple of the Sculptured Panels. This two-story structure is similar in design to the Temple of the Big Temples in the Grand Terrace. A nice archway passes under a ruined stairway. The ground floor has a dozen or so columns within an open chamber. The second story temple has an open front with a twin column entrance. A rear opening faces east.
Behind the Temple of the Sculptured Panels is a structure termed the Akab Dzib, House of Dark Writing in Yucatec Maya.
It is noted for the glyphic inscriptions which were discovered within. It bears an early inscribed date of 880 A.D., and also mentions a ruler or official named Yahawal Cho K’ak. This multi-roomed, palace type structure is on a north/south axis. The east side overlooks a dry cenote and has a stairway that leads to a ruined second story structure.
The main structure of the south side of the plaza is called the Monjas, a fantasy name that means nunnery in Spanish. This massive structure holds a temple atop a very high, straight-walled platform. An impressive, plaza facing stairway leads to the top of the platform. A ruined portion of the platform wall reveals an earlier construction phase. The upper portion of the platform wall contains numerous Chac masks along with other decorative elements. The temple itself has 12 entrances, most interspersed between panels of a mosaic design similar to that of the Red House. A central stairway leads up to a third story containing the partial remains of a small temple structure with a single entrance on its north and south sides.
Extending from the east side of the Monjas is a small one-story structure with several entrances. The east facing entrance has some extraordinary, ornate stone mosaic work including a central figure encased within a medallion element. Chac masks adorn both the upper and lower façade. This entrance forms the west side of a courtyard named the Annex Courtyard containing several structures.
The Iglesia is a fabulous example of pure Puuc architecture located on the northwest corner of the courtyard. It is a one-story, single chambered structure with a west facing entrance. Chac masks adorn the upper façade. A west facing roof comb contains Chac masks as well, and only adds to the grandeur of this small structure.
The northeast and east side of the courtyard is taken up by the remains of three structures having lows walls and interior columns. The south side structure gives the courtyard its name. This is a small, one-story, corbeled roof structure with a single entryway to the north and one to the east. Chac masks adorn the upper façade. The southwest corner of the courtyard has a ruined structure that leads into yet a smaller courtyard behind the Monjas structure. A number of other structures in a reduced state of preservation are located within this small courtyard as well as another group behind it to the immediate south.
To the west of the Monjas structure is a sacbe, Sacbe 7, that leads further south to The Initial Series Group. This area is not open to the public. Several structures are set about a plaza. The most important is the Temple of the Initial Series, also known as Structure 5C4, located on the northeast side of the plaza. Within this structure a lintel was discovered which has the only Long Count date found at Chichen Itza: 10.2.9.1.9- 9 Muluk 7 Sak which translates to July 30, 878 A.D. Excavations have revealed an earlier structure beneath named the Temple of the Stuccos whose construction dates to c.650 A.D.
There are other smaller groups and individual structures located throughout the archaeological zone. These include the Temple of the Phallus, the House of Three Lintels, the House of Four Lintels, and the Old Castillo among others. As sufficient information becomes available they will be reported on.