Chichen Itza

By Rowe, Diana | The World and I, November 2007 | Go to article overview
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Chichen Itza


Rowe, Diana, The World and I


One of New Seven Wonders of the World

Clap your hands at the bottom of the stairs of the 1,100-year-old Temple of Kukulcan, in the ancient city of Chichen Itza, and the responding echo will sound like the cawing of a sacred quetzal bird. Interesting phenomenon or acoustical masterpiece? Many believe the Maya were engineering geniuses, and this is not sheer coincidence.

Imagine four square miles in the midst of a tropical jungle, in the state of Yucatan in Mexico, where the sweat of hundreds of Maya people literally carved a home to create dozens of buildings to form a city called Chichen Itza. Between 800 and 1250 A.D, this ancient city was the center of political, economic, religious, and military power, not only in Yucatan but also the entire southern part of Mesoamerica. This was a time when life was good and plentiful, when this Maya community celebrated its glory and grandeur, building grand temples and palaces.

Before modern conveniences like electricity or motorized vehicles, the Mayans created what is considered one of the most important civilizations to exist in the ancient world. Chichen Itza is pronounced chee-chehn eet-sah, derived from the Mayan language: Chi--mouth, Chen--well, and Itza--the tribe that inhabited the area. These archaeological ruins are probably the best-known classical civilization of Mesoamerica, perhaps even the world.

In addition to its UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, the New7Wonders Organization announced in 2007 that Chichen Itza's nomination and subsequent assignment is to represent global heritage throughout history as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

Probably the best known is the famous El Castillo, also known as Kukulcan's Pyramid, a structure that stretches 75 feet tall rising regally to the heavens as it is meant to be, celebrating a culture that is now scattered throughout Latin America. Today, the ancient civilization, known as Mundo Maya or Maya World, is alive in a legacy of stone at Chichen Itza and through its seven million descendants.

The Maya

But who were the Maya and this amazing archaeological masterpiece they left for our enjoyment? Perhaps the best way to get to know these great people is to explore their past before we dig into the ruins of Chichen Itza.

Mystery still surrounds the crumbling ruins of the once magnificent pyramids and temples of Chichen Itza. The biggest mystery of all is why would a successful culture suddenly abandon a commercially successful location? Were they conquered by another people? Or perhaps disease or a drought sent the survivors to a safer haven?

The real reason these amazing inhabitants may have left Chichen Itza may never be known for certain. However, what we do know is that the Maya people were masters at almost any skill they attempted, leaving behind the evidence of highly skilled architects, scientists, and mathematicians, talents formerly only credited to the Egyptians. While Europe was in the midst of the Dark Ages, the Maya had mapped the heavens, mastered mathematics, built pyramids extending into the heavens, and evolved the only true writing system native to the Americas.

Chichen Itza is the second most visited of Mexico's archaeological sites, likely due to its prime location midway between the tourist playground of Cancun and Merida in the northern center of the Yucatan Peninsula in present day Mexico. The remains of the ancient Mayan civilization of Chichen Itza were once hidden beneath an overgrown jungle. This pre-Columbian site has been widely studied, excavated and restored since the early 1800's.

There are numerous stories about the Maya, the Toltecs, and a host of gods, but it is widely agreed the Maya originated in the Yucatan around 2600 B.C., rising to prominence around 250 A.D. in present-day Mexico, Guatemala, northern Belize, and western Honduras. Chichen Itza was first populated between 500 and 900 AD by Mayans, abandoned and resettled, invaded by the Toltecs from the North and then abandoned for the last time sometime around 1300.

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