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20th Dec 2011 - Chichen Itza

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Dr Manaan Kar Ray
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 10, 2012 10:38 pm    Post subject: 20th Dec 2011 - Chichen Itza Reply with quote

Chichen Itza Gallery

The body clock takes a while to adjust so I was up by 4 am. Within 15 minutes or so the birds started chirping, it has been quite a while since I have heard so many bird songs, the last time like this would have been in Kenya. We were on the first floor and facing the room was a long balcony with rocking chairs. Spent about a hour listening to the birds, soaking in the atmosphere and enjoying the mild tropical morning breeze. By this time Mon and the kids got up as well. I told them to get ready and I went out for a short drive. When I returned the kids were ready. So about 7ish we went out to look around Piste.

Its a small sleepy town and essentially provides a sleep over for people who want to beat the crowds of people who come in from Cancun around 11 am. We looked around the town, some fruit shops were opening up and we had a platter. We also noticed that some locals were selling wodden handicrafts to other locals. I figured that this must be for resale. We bought some other stuff at an Oxo (a multi purpose shop) and then headed of to Chichen Itza.

At Chichen Itza, there was plenty of parking space. Hold on to your parking ticket as it can be used again for the light and sound show (different rules in Uxmal though). We bought two sets of ticket, paid for the video camera ticket, checked about tripods and was quoted 8000 pesos to take in a tripod, so decided not to bother.

As one enters the site El Castillo is right in front, quite an amazing site.

El Castillo (Spanish for "castle"), also known as the Temple of Kukulkan, is a Mesoamerican step-pyramid that dominates the center of the Chichen Itza archaeological site. Built by the pre-Columbian Maya sometime between the 9th and 12th centuries AD, El Castillo served as a temple to the god Kukulkan, the Yucatec Maya Feathered Serpent deity closely related to the deity figure Quetzalcoatl known to the Aztecs and other central Mexican cultures of the Postclassic period.

The pyramid consists of a series of square terraces with stairways up each of the four sides to the temple on top. Sculptures of plumed serpents run down the sides of the northern balustrade. During the spring and autumn equinoxes, the late afternoon sun strikes off the northwest corner of the pyramid and casts a series of triangular shadows against the northwest balustrade, which some believe creates the illusion of a feathered serpent "crawling" down the pyramid. Each of the pyramid's four sides has 91 steps which, when added together and including the temple platform on top as the final 'step', produces a total of 365 steps (which is equal to the number of days of the Haab' year).

The structure is 24 m high, plus an additional 6 m for the temple. The square base measures 55.3 m across.

It was not uncommon for Mesoamerican pyramids to be successively built over the core and foundations of earlier structures, and this is one example. In the mid 1930s, the Mexican government sponsored an excavation into El Castillo. After several false starts, they discovered a staircase under the north side of the pyramid. By digging from the top, they found another temple buried below the current one. Inside the temple chamber is a Chac Mool statue and a throne in the shape of jaguar, painted red with spots made of inlaid jade. The Mexican government excavated a tunnel from the base of the north staircase, up the earlier pyramid’s stairway to the hidden temple. While visitors can walk around them, they can no longer climb them or go inside their chambers. Climbing El Castillo was stopped in 2006.

It is worth reading up on the layout and the path that one should take, it is quite a large site with lots of monuments and it is quite easy to miss out sections. Here is a handy layout which shows the must see buildings.

After walking around the El Castillo, we walked around the platform of Venus and then went towards the Temple of Warriors and the group of thousand columns. The entire area around th green locals are selling handicrafts. Mon got interested and we bought a statue made of resin that featured a jaugar warrior with an Eagle standing on El Castillo. By this time we had already spent a couple of hours and Mayank was starting to play up. To be fair to them I think he was still tired from the journey before. Thus the rest of the site Mon and I had to take turns seeing.

It was first my turn to go of and see the ball court, they are restoring the place so we were not allowed to walk through the ball court. This is the longest one in Mesoamerica. The whole sport however is shrowded in mystrey and some of the practices does make one's hair stand, saying that it is completely out of context to say that as we are not in the shoes of the people who belonged to those times. I guess the Roman gladiatorial combats were no different.

After Mon had a look, Mayank was playing up big time and it was quite hot, so we decided to head back. However completely by error we wandered of towards the southern part of the site. I asked Mon to wait with the kids by the El Osario and decided to have look around. Thank heavens for this error, otherwise we would have missed out on half the site, including major buildings like the El Caracol and the Nunnery.

El Caracol, the Observatory, is a unique structure. It means 'snail' in Spanish, is so named due to the spiral staircase inside the tower. It is suggested that the El Caracol was an ancient Maya observatory building and served as a man-made marker, and provided a way for the Ancient Maya people to observe changes in the sky due to the flattened landscape of the Yucatán with no natural markers for this function around Chichen Itza. Mayan astronomers knew from naked-eye observations that Venus appeared on the western and disappeared on the eastern horizons at different times in the year, and that it took 584 days to complete one cycle. They also knew that five of these Venus cycles equaled eight solar years. Venus would therefore make an appearance at the northerly and southerly extremes at eight-year intervals. Of 29 possible astronomical events (eclipses, equinoxes, solstices, etc) believed to be of interest to the Mesoamerican residents of Chichén Itzá, sight lines for 20 can be found in the structure. Since a portion of the tower resting on El Caracol has been lost, it is possible that the other measurements will never be ascertained to have been observed.

Along with the Nunnery, the other striking building is the annex. This building is of the Chenes style, which is a local Yucatan style. It has a lattice motif on the roof comb, complete with Chac masks, but it also includes an undulating serpent running along its cornice. The decoration begins at the base and goes up to the cornice, with the façade completely covered with several rain god masks with a central richly clad human figure over the doorway. A hieroglyphic inscription is on the lintel. But the best thing about the Nunnery Annex is that, from a distance, the whole building is a chac mask, with the human figure as the nose and the doorway the mouth of the mask.

Again we took turns seeing these structures, one of us baby sitting and keeping them entertained. While retreating our way back to the entrance, suddenly the skies opened up with thunder and rain. In a way it was a good thing it did as we had to seek refuge in a book stall and ended up buying a book called '1, 2, 3 of the Mayan World'. It describes before, during and after the journeys of Stephens and Catherwood. It has color plates from Fredrick Catherwood's drawings as well as excerpts from John Loyd Stephens writings from Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, 1843. This book did help bring to life how these ruins were originally found by exploers and using acetate recreations they showed how they would have been in the hay day of Maya civilization.

After the short downpur we retreated back to the hotel. Had a nice buffet lunch at Hotel Chichen Itza and then dropped off for a fairly long afternoon nap. The kids were asleep for almost 3 hours and I was getting concerned that they might not sleep at night, so woke them up as I wanted there body clocks to reset as well. So after the nap Mahi and I had a swim in the hotel pool. The water was quite cold, I had thought that it would have warmed up in the heat.

In the evening it was time to go to the light and sound show. It was an extremely long que. We knew that the commentary was in spansih so we took machines which were supposed to interpret it into english. Alas they did not work, I later learnt that you have to point it to one of the transmitters. We also missed the start due to the que. Although El Castillo under lights looks quite stunning, without the english translation of the commentary it does get a bit boring after a little while. One just has to entertain themselves by staring at the night sky which I must say was quite beautiful as well. After that we retreated to the hotel for some dinner. Going to bed that night, over all it felt like a day well spent and worth the 11 hour flight to Mexico.

Chichen Itza Gallery
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