Pre-Hispanic City of Chichen-Itza

Chichen Itza (nobody but UNESCO hyphenates it) is a large and important city of both the Mayas and the Toltecs, situated an inconvenient distance from the nearest large towns. It is a massive tourist destination and has quite a few hotels located adjacent to the site, one of which I stayed in, so to visit first thing in the morning before the heat and coach parties arrived.

Chichen Itza - outside of the ball court

Chichen Itza - outside of the ball court

The site’s Mayan period was approximately contemporary with that of Uxmal (5th to 10th centuries) and the buildings from that period are in the same Puuc style as found there.

Chichen Itza - "the church"

Chichen Itza - "the church"

This area includes an unusual circular building thought to have been used for astronomical observations. It has a spiral staircase and is nicknamed the snail in Spanish.

Chichen Itza - observatory

Chichen Itza - observatory

In the 10th century the area was invaded by Toltecs migrating from central Mexico. Their style affects the buildings built after this – the larger and more striking ones of the site. This influence includes the depiction of the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl and low relief carvings of warriors.

Chichen Itza - carvings

Chichen Itza - carvings

This part of the Yucatan peninsular is lacking in sources of surface water. Instead the residents caught and stored rainwater and used natural sinkholes called cenotes that form in the limestone. Chichen Itza has a number around the site including one 60m in diameter, referred to as the Cenote Sacrado, from which a great deal of offerings (including the remains of human sacrifices) have been dredged by treasure hunters over the last few centuries. I heard a guide telling a group that to see the results they would have to visit Boston in the USA. I was surprised he didn’t sound bitter and spent ten minutes or so feeling angry on behalf of Mexicans for the looting of their heritage before I remembered the Elgin Marbles about which I am totally ambivalent and thought I should probably shut up.

Chichen Itza - Cenote Sagrado

Chichen Itza - Cenote Sagrado

This cenote is some distance from the rest of the site and is reached by one of the many stone-embanked raised Mayan roadways that criss-cross the site. This would be a lovely peaceful walk through the trees if were not infested, as so much of Chichen Itza is, by stalls selling identikit tourist tat. Crystal pyramids, onyx chess sets, wooden masks, silver jewellery and textiles are the main goods on offer, apparently at ridiculously cheap prices. Mercifully, they were still setting up when I arrived, so weren’t quite so irritating.

Chichen Itza - tat vendors

Chichen Itza - tat vendors

At the centre of the site is the Temple of Kukulkan (the Mayan name for Quetzalcoatl) a structure that pretty much embodies what you imagine as a Mayan pyramid. 

Chichen Itza - Temple of Kukulkan

Chichen Itza - Temple of Kukulkan

Around it at some terrific buildings. There is an utterly enormous ballgame court (four or five times larger than the ones I’ve seen before) but sadly it is closed for renovation so I don’t have a decent photograph for you (but Wikipedia does). Near to that area couple of low platforms, one covered in carvings of skulls

Chichen Itza - skulls

Chichen Itza - skulls

and another with depictions of eagles and jaguars eating presumably human hearts (these images crop up around the site).

Chichen Itza - eagle eating a heart

Chichen Itza - eagle eating a heart

Serpent heads are also numerous, usually on the balustrades of the steps up to platforms and pyramids.

Chichen Itza - serpent balustrades

Chichen Itza - serpent balustrades

One set of buildings stood out for me as different from others I’ve seen in other pre-hispanic cities here. This was the Temple of the Warriors and the associated Group of a Thousand Columns. As the name given to the second part suggests, this is a forest of cylindrical stone columns that would originally have supported roofs of some other material long since decayed. The temple has many square cross-section columns with carvings of warriors on the sides.

Chichen Itza - Group of a Thousand Columns

Chichen Itza - Group of a Thousand Columns

While I was lurking in the shade sitting on one of the scattered bits of column amongst the trees some kind of traditional (or perhaps pseudo traditional) dance was going on (and on). I really couldn’t tell if it was for tourists or actually local people expressing traditional beliefs. It was certainly a very energetic activity for a hot humid day and no one was passing a hat amongst the watchers.

dancers at Chichen Itza

dancers at Chichen Itza

For this Lego model I really felt that I had to do the Temple of Kukulkan, so here it is in very tiny scale:

Lego Chichen Itza

Lego Chichen Itza

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