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temple of the 3 lintels sigvald linn expedition 1932
house of the phallus giovanni agostino frassetto
temple of the initial series giovanni agostino frassetto
upper jaguar temple hjpd
el castillo c.1890 teobert maler
market regis lachaume
great ball court jan zatko
caracol/monjas plaza overview dronepicir
ball player disc 2023 discovery inah
jaguar temple and el castillo 1899 a.d. white/cornell
sacred cenote ovedc
monjas upper temple north view c1895 a.d.white/cornell
stela 2 bruce love
caracol john romkey
house of the yoke giovanni agostino frassetto
house of the deer hjpd
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casa de las cabecitas giovanni agostino frassetto
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platform of the jaguar & eagle raymundo1972
house of the drum giovanni agostino frassetto
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temple of the warriors sigvald linne expedition 1932
house of the snails giovanni agostino frassetto
akab dzib/house of the scribe hjpd
la iglesia steve mellard
gallery of the monkeys gioanni agostino frassetto.
monjas east structure c1840's frederick catherwood
owl house lintel willard
NE colonnade & sculptured temple steve mellard .
principal southeast group castillo hjpd
akab dzib hjpd
ball court red house plaza steve mellard
temple of the big tables wolfgang sauber
chacmool figure agustus le plongeon 1875
upper jaguar temple sigvald linne expedition c1932
excavations 2009 canuckle
monjas east structure elilicht
caracol steve mellard
principal southeast group hjpd
gallery of the moon giovanni agostino frassetto
temple of the red house wolfgang sauber
monjas upper temple south view hjpd
el castillo kukulkaneit1mx
warriors temple column schele
initial series group arch giovanni agostino frassetto
great ball court pedro marcano
temple of the sculptured panels raymundo1972
great ball court north temple carlos delgado
great ball court panel steve mellard
house of the atlantean columns giovanni agostino frassetto
casa caracoles table/bench maurico marat/inah
north colonnade steve mellard
west collonade structure imadanat
sweatbath regis lachaume
CHICHEN ITZA-Yucatan, Mexico
Chichen Itza is a Maya World Heritage archaeological zone, and has been named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is the most well known and most visited archaeological zone 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.Numerous, expertly crafted examples of monumental sculpture have been recovered from the site.
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. It is located off the Highway 180 between Merida and Cancun at the town of Piste.
ENTRANCE FEES: U.S. $29.75/571 pesos, add U.S. $10+ for video camera. Pricey.
GUIDES: Available, check current rates
SERVICES: Restrooms, food & drink, gift store, handicraft vendors, with a major bus line service to Piste, 1 mile from the ruins. Taxis and mini buses run from Piste to the entrance. Sufficient parking at $4.50/80 pesos.
ON-SITE MUSEUM: Yes
ACCOMMODATIONS: Food and lodging can be found in nearby Piste
GPS: 88d 34' 01" N, 20d 41' 05" W
MISC: Light Show separate fee, $28/510 pesos. Winter 7PM, Summer 8PM.
HISTORY AND EXPLORATIONS
Chichen Itza (mouth of the well of the Itza) has been historically identified with Itza Maya. It was considered to have been the most important site in the Yucatan during the Late to Terminal Classic 600-1250 CE). It remains so today. Its sacred well was a pilgrimage destination long after the Spanish conquest.
Ceramic evidence points to an early, but limited, occupation beginning in the Middle Preclassic (800-300 BCE). Masonry structures appear by the Late Classic (600-900 CE) showing a pronounced Puuc style of architecture. Many of these structures contain glyphic texts mentioning a lord named K’ak u Pakal (Fire Shield) and date to the late 9th century. Another lord, Lajchan Akbal (Twelve Darkness), has been recently identified in several inscriptions in the Castillo Viejo. All told, over 64 named individuals have been identified from the inscriptions. Most of these individuals owned or sponsored structures or individual rooms, or held a title or office.
The Caracol disc has provided invaluable information. This circular stone depicts two horizontal scenes. A glyph band is incised along the rim. The inscription appears to mention an historically important re-founding ceremony of Chichen Itza in 930 CE by a Central Mexican group in conjunction with the local nobility. The cult of Quetzalcoatl seems to gain in importance in all aspects of ritual and architectural design from this point on. A new style of architecture begins to emerge and emulates certain characteristics of the great Toltec site of Tula in central Mexico. This is dramatically displayed within the Grand Terrace where most structures seen today date from this period, as is exemplified by the Castillo. Whether this change reflected a gradual assimilation of new world views, or was forced through conquest is still a matter of study and debate.
Chichen Itza had strong ties to the kingdom of Ek Balam as testified through its inscriptions. Its relationship to the major Kingdom of Coba, however, was more adversarial in nature. Evidence at Yaxuna indicates a violent takeover of this Coba aligned site.
Chichen Itza was a powerful entity, with control over a wide area of the Yucatan Peninsula. 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. The site was already in decline as a regional capital by the time Mayapan began its rise to power c.1250 CE.
The earliest mention of the site is from Frey Diego Landa in the early 16th century. 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.
In 1841 Emanuel von Friedrichsthal produced the first daguerreotype photographs of the site.There followed Benjamin Norman 1843, Desire Charnay 1860; Augustus le Plongeon 1875; Teobert Maler and Alfred Maudsley c1880’s; Edward Thompson 1894; A.D. White 1899; Adela Breton 1900, and Eduard Seler 1902, 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. The late Peter Schmidt who was resident at Chichen for many years contributed a vast amount of knowledge to our understanding of the site.
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 CE), Chenes (c.850 CE), and Toltec influenced (900-1200 CE)
The structural groups 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 notable structures at the site. Most of the structures here date from the Terminal to Early Post Classic (900-1250 CE).
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 CE, 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. It has been tentatively dated to 870-900 CE. This smaller pyramid housed two summit chambers, one 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 revealed a third, even older pyramid beneath the other two pyramids. It dates to the Early Classic Period (200-600 CE) It was a common practice of the Maya to build one structure over the other, so these overlaying structures themselves easily span centuries. 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. The pyramid itself lies at the central axis of four cenotes.
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 serpent's 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, earlier architectural style. 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 to the northwest passing by the Northwest Group and on out to the small site of Cumtun about 4 miles/6.5 km, then beyond towards Xuku. . 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 in length. The imposing size of the Ballcourt, with adjoining walls that measure 26 feet/8 meters in height, is magnificent. A text from an associated sculpture reveals an inauguration date of 10.1.15.3.7, 12 Manik 15 Pax, November 16, 864 CE, involving the lord named K’ak u Pakal.
On these walls appears a long line of carved stone blocks depicting an aspect of the ball game that was played. These scenes show richly attired individuals, and 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. Mural paintings are evident as well.
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. The chamber also contains remnants of painted murals that once covered the interior walls, and depict scenes of warfare. These, and others, have severely degraded since their discovery.
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 at the entrance similar to that found in the early pyramid chamber 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 rows 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. 1,082 foot/330meter sacbe, Sacbe 1, that leads north from the Platform of Venus. It is a large sinkhole about 217 feet/66 meters across and 108 feet/33 meters in depth. This was indeed a sacred place. Pilgrims from throughout the Maya area ventured here to appease the rain god Chaac. 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 ritual 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 CE) 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 Chaac. 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 Atlantean figures. The high exterior walls of the temple display numerous Chaac 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. Recently, an Early Post Classic pyrite disc was discovered here that brings the known total to four recovered from the site.
Facing the front of the Temple of the Warriors appear numerous square 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 contains 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.
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 now plain, circular columns that at one time held a massive roof of perishable materials. 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.
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 appropriately the North Colonnade. It contains 243 columns and 13 pillars, many displaying bas relief carvings of eagles and jaguars devouring human hearts, while others depict warriors. It abuts onto the north side of the Temple of the Warriors. An altar displays a ritual scene depicting incense offerings. Two stairways lead down into the plaza. A bench is located along the length of the back wall, while a passageway leads under the structure to a courtyard located behind the Temple of the Warriors containing a small ballcourt.
In the northeast corner of the plaza is a structure called the Northeast Colonnade (Are we confused yet?). This structure exhibits two construction phases that occurred between 900-1200 CE. The first featured a colonnaded gallery with four chambers, and a south facing stairway onto a raised, terrace/courtyard. The second phase added a second floor to support additional chambers. Running along the base of this structure is a channel that drains rainwater away from the plaza. A sacbe goes east from here to the Far East Group.
The east side of the plaza is made up of several structures, including the aforementioned Northeast Colonnade. Next to it is the Temple of Sculptured Columns, which shares the same terrace, and is recessed off it on the far east side. It has a west facing gallery that has openings to interior chambers. The structure contains numerous sculptured, round columns of warriors. There was once a colorful mural covering an east chamber wall behind columns 19 and 20. A Chac Mool sculpture, and altar are located within the structure.
In front of the Temple of the Sculptured Columns is part of the frieze that once adorned the upper part of the structure. It has decorative elements that resemble X’s and O’s.
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 are located behind it.
The Southeast Colonnade takes up the southeast corner. It is an “L” shaped, colonnaded structure featuring rooms that run both south and west. Behind this structure, and to the east, is a partially restored steam bath. Sacbe 6 leads out from here to the southeast to the Bovedas and Plazas Groups. A separate sacbe leads first to the Caritas Group, and then further southeast to the Chultun Group which houses a ball court indicating this groups’ importance.
The Market/Mercado, 3D11, is the main structure on the south side of the plaza. It is of the gallery-courtyard design set on a base platform about 6.5 feet/2 meters in height, and about 266 feet/81 meters in length, and runs on an east/west axis. The gallery roof was supported by 34 columns that alternate between round and rectangular, and were decorated with multicolored bands. Small stairways lead up from the Southeast Colonnade and from the west side onto the gallery terrace. The main stairway is located facing the center of the single, vaulted gallery that leads up from the plaza. A single doorway on the south side of the gallery leads to a sunken patio. Flanking the doorway are carved stone columns. Next to the east column a richly decorated altar/bench was discovered that features a line of captives and a single figure holding weapons.
The sunken patio is ringed by 25 columns with several still standing. A rich cache offering of jade and shell was recovered within the patio. An unrestored ballcourt, 3D4, is located 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, interior chamber contains four columns with a single entry from the east. The columns are decorated in bas relief. The temple walls were decorated with bas-relief panels, stucco and polychrome mythological scenes, including that of 96 supernatural birds. This numeral seems to have a symbolic meaning as other text such as those found at Ek Balam, Palenque, Pomona and elsewhere also contain 96 elements. The glyphic texts indicate a mid-ninth century date. 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 west facing, two-chamber structure exhibiting a double row of interior 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. A fragmented stela, Stela 2, was found here in 1990. Unfortunately, the glyphic text is severely eroded. The plaza contains several structures of which the Red House is the most prominent.
The Red House (Casa Colorado), also known as Chichanchoob (Little Holes in Yucatek Maya), is on the west portion of the sub-plaza. The temple is located atop a high platform base. 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 decorative roof combs. It is situated on the center-line of the platform, and exhibits three entrances on the west side. A partially restored ballcourt is located against the east side of the platform.
An important text was recovered from within the Red House that includes references to four fire rituals that took place between 869-871 CE under the direction of a lord named K’ak u Pakal. Also present was a known ruler from Ek Balam, Hun Pik Tok.
The small ball court is located next to the Red House on its east side. The north side of the playing field is closed. A recent discovery was announced in April 2023, of a carved, stone ball player disc that apparently was part of a collapsed archway, Structure 3C27, which afforded access to the ballcourt area. A possible Short Count date of 12 Eb 10 Kumku has been tentatively reconstructed as 10.3.5.12.12, December 14, 894 CE. Unfortunately, the glyphs are very eroded. The central scene displays two richly attired ball players.
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.
The Caracol (snail in Spanish) is located on the west side of the Caracol Plaza and is its main structure. It is set upon a large, square platform base, and is of a unique circular design. It 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 are interspaced 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 then extends up to a smaller, secondary platform that houses the Caracol itself.
Two inscribed monuments have been located with the Caracol structure. The first is a panel, Panel 1/Stela1, that is inscribed with glyphic text. The text records three dates between 884-890 CE, and mentions the lord K’ak u Pakal. The second monument is the previously mentioned Caracol Disk. The two scenes on the disk represent a ritual. The upper ritual is a conjuring ceremony of the “Feathered Serpent”, while the lower ceremony is directed to Xolotl, both of whom are supernatural manifestations of Quetzalcoatl.
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.
On the south side of the Caracol platform are a number of structures in a degraded state. The most notable of these being a ritual 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 previously discussed, K’ak u Pakal, 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 Tables in the Grand Terrace. It features a ‘flying stairway’, an architectural innovation that enabled a passageway beneath the 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 to the east.
The north and south walls of the colonnade depict bas relief scenes of people, animals and plants, both real and supernatural. Excavations revealed offerings related to the fire ritual ceremonies.
Behind the Temple of the Sculptured Panels is a structure termed the Akab Dzib, ‘House of Dark Writing’ in Yucatec Maya. Its original name has been identified as Wa(k)wak Pu Ak Na’, Flat House with Excessive Rooms.
This 18-room palace structure is on ground level, situated on a north/south axis, and is noted for the glyphic inscriptions which were discovered within. The structure is over 163 feet/50 meters in length, and 49 feet/15 meters wide. The west facing side has seven entryways, while the east side has four. There are single entrances on both the north and the south side. The east side overlooks a dry cenote and has a stairway that leads to a ruined second story.
The south entryway into the Akab Dzib opens into a single chamber. The rear of this chamber exhibits an additional entryway into a second chamber. This entryway features a lintel with glyphs on its front face, and an inscribed panel on its under surface. It bears a date of 10.2.10.0.0, 2 Ahaw 13 Chen, June 26, 879 CE., and mentions a lord named Yahawal Cho K’ak.
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 Chaac masks along with other decorative elements.
The temple itself has 12 entrances, most interspersed between panels of a mosaic design. A number of inscriptions appear on the lintels. A central stairway then leads up to a third story housing a small temple structure with a single entrance on both its north and south sides. It features designs of a geometric nature that extends around the exterior of the temple.
A one-story extension is connected to the east side of the Monjas structure. It has entryways that face to the north, east and south. The east facing entrance has some extraordinary, ornate stone mosaic work including a central figure encased within a medallion element. Chaac 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 Puuc architecture located on the southeast corner of the Monjas Plaza. It is a one-story, single chambered structure with a west facing entrance. Elaborate Chaac masks adorn the upper façade. A west facing roof comb contains Chaac masks as well, and only adds to the grandeur of this small structure.
The north and east side of the Annex Courtyard is taken up by the remains of three structures exhibiting 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. Chaac masks adorn the 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 about ½ mile/800 meters further south to important secondary groups collectively known as Old Chichen. This area is not open to the public, but due to open mid-2023.
Recent investigations have identified 5 new architectural groups between the Monjas structure and Old Chichen. Four have been described as residential, and the fifth a small ceremonial complex. The ceremonial complex is dominated by a 16 foot/5 meter high pyramid, with a two chamber summit temple, and associated staircase. Two of these groups have been named as the Hoche and Ek Xux. When more information becomes available it will be reported on here.
OLD CHICHEN (This section is due to open to the public in 2023)
This section has some of the earliest structures found at Chichen Itza. It is composed of several groups, the most important being the Initial Series Group, and the Principal Southwest Group.
The Initial Series Group is set upon a broad, raised plaza and consists of several large structures, a palace complex, and numerous minor structures. Symbols of cacao are found in abundance on the facades of the structures as well as within. The group is entered from the northwest corner through a nicely restored archway and exhibits a mostly Puuc style of architecture. The main plaza is broken up into two sub-plazas; the North Plaza, and the Southwest Plaza.
The most important structure is the Temple of the Initial Series, also known as Structure 5C4, located on the east side of North Plaza. It features a two-chamber temple set upon a platform base with a west facing stairway. A Chac Mool sculpture is located on the west side of the structure, while a plaza level entryway is observed on the south side. Within this structure a lintel was discovered which contains the only Long Count date found at Chichen Itza: 10.2.9.1.9- 9 Muluk 7 Sak; July 30, 878 CE. The temple façade featured serpent motifs with each corner displaying stacked Chaac masks, and also incorporating Venus star emblems on all sides. Excavations have revealed an earlier structure beneath named the Temple of the Stuccos, whose construction dates to c.650 CE.
Casa del Yugo, 5C2, and Casa del Tambor, 5C1, are located on the north side of the North Plaza. Casa del Yugo is a colonnaded structure measuring about 72 feet/22 meters x 29 feet/9 meters. It has a broad, south facing stairway that leads up to an open chamber. It still contains numerous columns that once supported a flat roof, and may have been of a civic nature. Casa del Tambor is a multi-chambered structure set upon a low platform. It has a west facing stairway.
Between these structures and the main entry arch is a small altar, 5C1a. A number of burials were discovered within and about the altar.
In the center of the North Plaza is a circular platform, the Platform of the Turtle, 5C17,used for dance or other ritual. A burial and an offering of flint knives were located within a sub-structure of the platform. It has a diameter of 31 feet/9.5 meters. Other burials have been located beneath the plaza floor.
Casa Chac Mool, 5C12, is a small platform housing a single chamber, located on the west side of the North Plaza. It is named after a Chacmool monument set in front of the structure. Within this structure a rich burial was uncovered of a high-ranking individual named 10 Deer. He is also represented in a relief on the façade of the Gallery of the Monkeys.
Tucked into the southeast corner of the North Plaza is the Temple of the Columns, also known as the Gallery of the Moon, 5C11. This structure is set upon a base roughly 104 feet/32 meters square, slightly larger than the Initial Series structure. A long, lengthwise chamber is entered between four round columns. The columns and their capstones are intricately carved. A rear doorway leads into a square patio that contains 36 columns about 6.5 feet/2 meters in height that once supported a flat roof of perishable materials.
Casa de las Cabacitas, 5C3, is a small, single chambered structure located on the plaza level of the south side of the North Plaza. It has a south facing stairway that opens up onto the Southwest Plaza.
The main group in the Southwest Plaza is the palace complex named Palacio de los Falos having three interconnected palace structures containing numerous chambers. Most of the chambers are connected by interior galleries and courtyards, while others simply face out onto the plaza.
The largest of the palace structures is the Casa de los Caracoles, 5C5, and takes up the southwest portion of the palace complex. It is also known as House of the Shells. This is a two-story, elongated building and features a range-type construction with multiple, corbeled arched roofs. It has a number of entryways with one featuring a pair of Atlantean columns that faces onto the Southwest Plaza. Within this structure a unique, four-part, carved table/bench was recently discovered. The stone bench has 34 carved characters along the rim; 18 of them identified as prisoners and 16 as warriors. It has been tentatively dated between 900-1000 CE. An interior courtyard exhibits a stairway to the second level, and to the Temple of the Dancing Jaguars which contains multiple chambers entered between a set of twin columns.
The north side of the complex contains the House of the Phalli, 5C14, so named for the numerous phallic decorations, and images of self-sacrifice. The southeast corner of the complex contains the House of the Atlantean Columns, 5C15. This structure is named after the two Atlantean columns that once supported a flat roof of perishable material.
The Temple of the Owls, Structure 5C7, is a one-story structure located in the original center of the Southwest Plaza. It sits upon a low platform and has a height of 14 feet/4.2 meters. The collapsed building was completely reconstructed between 1999-2002. It features a striple entryway between two pillars carved in low relief on all four sides. The door jambs are carved as well, while a frieze extends across the upper façade. A now destroyed painted capstone within the structure has given it a tentative date of c.870 CE. An interior sanctuary contains a single bench. The upper portions of the interior walls once contained vivid murals now destroyed. A burial was recovered within the structure that contained a lidded, stone box with an offering of jade beads and shells.
A large owl figure consisting of five blocks was discovered and restored from within the structure. The upper façade features ten owl decorations interspersed between human/bird figures. The façade is bordered by two rows of turtles. At the corners are Chaac masks. Over the entryway is a figural decoration, and representations of cacao pods.
A vividly painted panel within the structure depicts the Maya god K’awiil emerging from a serpent holding a bowl possibly containing cacao, and jade earspools. An incomplete date is mentioned in the glyphic text. Sky bands frame the sides of the panel.
The Gallery of the Monkeys, 5C6, is located on the west side of the Southwest Plaza. It is a range-type structure with the main structure on the south end, and a long colonnaded gallery extending to the north. This structure is named for the numerous depictions of monkeys that appear within two bands of a frieze. The Maya associated monkeys with cacao, fertility and sexuality.
The Principal Southwest Group is located located about 820 feet/250 meters southwest of The Initial Series Group. This group consists of a dozen or so structures set around numerous plazas and courtyards. The main structure of importance here is the Castillo Viejo, Structure 18, on the southwest side of the main plaza. This is a radial pyramid surmounted by a temple entered between two columns. Recent investigations have revealed new glyphic texts on the temple door jambs and columns having a repeating text that reads: “The image of the flowers of the grandfather of Lajchan Akbal, ‘Bone Nose’, ch’ajoom ajaw”. This lord was previously unknown at Chichen Itza.
There are a few other structures associated with Old Chichen that are worth mentioning most notably the House of the Three Lintels. This beautiful structure has three chambers whose entranceway lintels display glyphic inscriptions and a date to the year 871 CE. Beneath the floor of this structure a number of burials have been discovered that date to 600-650 CE. The exterior displays a fine example of Puuc Mosaic Style decorative architecture including Chaac masks positioned on the upper corners.
The House of the Four Lintels is a collapsed structure whose lintels contain glyphic inscriptions that reference fire ceremonies, and has been dated to 881 ce.
As further information becomes available, it will be reported on here.
updated April 2023
recoverd ceramics initial series group skidmore/zender
temple of the owls giovanni agostino frassetto
casa del chac mool giovanni agostino frassetto
temple of the dancing jaguars giovanni agostino frassetto
southwest group site plan carnegie institution
site map hjpd
temple of the warriors keith pomakis
great ball court south temple carlos delgado
osario and round platform altairisfar
platform of the turtle giovanni agostino frassetto
initial series site map giovanni agostino frassetto
venus platform steve mellard
el castillo jaguar throne hjpd
xtoloc temple annagoria
great ballcourt serpent & panel Steve mellard
platform of the tombs sarvol
grand terrace overview dronepicir.