The Art and Architecture of Ancient America: The Mexican, Maya, and Andean Peoples

By George Kubler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
FROM THE TOLTEC MAYA TO THE SPANIARDS

CHICHÉN ITZA, the metropolitan centre of civilization in Yucatán, was under foreign domination until the thirteenth century. Mexican foreigners began to rule in Yucatán about 1000.1 The worship of a feathered serpent god of Mexican origin, the Mexican manner of human sacrifice by heart excision, with skull racks to display the sacrificial victims, and many other Mexican highland traits prove the ethnic identity between the Mexican overlords in Yucatán and the Toltec masters of Tula. The architectural, sculptural, and ceramic resemblances between Toltec Chichén and Tula in the Valley of Mexico are so close that Chichén has long been treated as a colonial extension of the Toltec state, like Kaminaljuyú in the Guatemalan highlands, which was probably a colonial outpost of Teotihuacán about a millennium earlier.

In the thirteenth century the metropolis was transferred to Mayapán, where dwellings and shrines for a large population were built within a walled precinct, governed by a confederacy of three regional lords, all still under Mexican highland influence. About 1450 this confederacy broke up, and Maya society reverted to local rule, as at Tulum, and to provincial arts of retrograde quality, enduring until the Spanish re-unification of Yucatán in 1544. This sequence has been archaeologically fixed by massive evidence 2 which invalidates the earlier reconstructions based upon deformed and distorted literary sources. It contains three phases -- Late Classic, to about 1000; Toltec Maya, continuing into the thirteenth century; and a Maya re-occupation period until the sixteenth century.3


ARCHITECTURE

Chichén Itza

Chichén Itza (Figure 55) is a loose cluster of buildings occupying an area about 2 by 1 1/4 miles, half the size of Teotihuacán, and smaller than Tikal or Xochicalco.4 At intervals the limestone plain has collapsed into subterranean caverns to produce conical sinks, as well as open pools with steep walls called cenotes. The northernmost cenote is the famous Well of Sacrifice, whence E. H. Thompson dredged the remains of many Toltec Maya offerings. South of this cenote rises an immense primary platform of Toltec date, bearing the principal Toltec edifices, the ball-court, the Castillo, the colonnades, and the Temple of the Warriors. To the south, again, about 550 yards from the Toltec buildings, are two Late Classic buildings in Puuc style, the Nunnery and the Akab Dzib. Other small buildings of the same early period are scattered throughout the bush to the south of these main groups. The two zones, Toltec Maya to the north and Puuc Maya to the south, have a common boundary in the neighbourhood of the cylindrical Caracol and the adjoining Temple of the Wall Panels.

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