Part from book "The World of the Maya" by Semir Osmanagich
The Brilliant Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico
The highway now takes me to Chichen Itza. The prices at the toll booths serve to warn me that I am entering a tourist zone. Everything becomes more expensive and more clearly geared to the American (U.S.) pocketbook. In front of this Mayan city dozens of hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops have been built. Spending the night here can cost up to $200. The parking here costs three times the price charged at Uxmal. (At the smaller places there was no charge whatsoever.)
I get out of my car. It is a sunny day. Here there are about a hundred tourist busses from Cancun and Merida. There is a magnificent building at the entrance with a museum, restaurants and shops. Americans in Bermudas and T-shirts – fat and thin, old and young, many couples with small children in strollers – and guides pestering them to offer their services. Welcome to Chichen Itza.
Chi (mouth), chen (source), Itza (the name of the tribe) is not the largest and most impressive Maya city. But because of the large number of tourists it is the best known. Of several hundred buildings on its eight square miles area, about 30 have been restored. The city is divided into three clearly separate parts. Old Chichen (dating from 435 A.D.), the Classic Period (600-900 A.D.), and the Toltecan influence after the 11th century.
The Maya had left the city before 925 A.D. After a pause of about a hundred years, the city once again becomes the center of the Yucatan. After defeat in 1194 the city is again abandoned.
From the points of view of astronomy, architecture and art, Chichen Itza is one of the most interesting cities of the Maya. It is not surprising that it had the status of a holy city during the Classic Period.
The first building we come to on the wide plateau is also the most famous – the “El Castillo” (Palace) pyramid or the Kukulkan pyramid. It deserves its popularity as a picture almost always included in the tourist brochures.
On the square foundation a perfectly symmetrical design arises which contains within it elements of the sophisticated Mayan calendar. Each of the four sides has 91 steps, making a total of 364 plus the platform at the top – symbolizing the number of days in the solar calendar. The additional steps which descend beneath the pyramid are said to signify the road to the underworld.
Each side of the pyramid has 18 terraces, nine on each side of the steps (the Nine Lords of Time). Eighteen is the number of months in a year according to the Mayan calendar. There is a total of 52 panels on the pyramid and this corresponds to the number of year in one Mayan calendar cycle. (This cycle of 52 years is closely connected with the Pleiades Constellation.)
The autumnal and vernal equinoxes (Sept.21 and Mar.21) are the best known phenomena connected with the pyramid. On those days the sun on the northern steps creates a shadow beneath the terrace which in combination with seven triangles of light looks like the body of a snake. At the bottom of the steps the head of a snake has been carved in the stone, so the illusion is complete. In the spring the serpent descends to the earth, in the fall it climbs upward.
This brilliant engineering feat of the Maya attracts 25,000 visitors at the time of the equinoxes.
I have found the head of a snake carved in stone at several other Mayan locations. Their role is still unknown but perhaps with time we may learn of some astronomy-related function which they serve.
The serpent is a Mayan symbol of knowledge, the face of the superior being, Kukulkan, who came to Chichen Itza in the 10th century after leaving Tula (north of Mexico city). Quetzalcoatl was another name for Kukulkan. His spirit was said to have flown (as a serpent) to the east, to the Yucatan. Prior to that the feathered serpent, Quetzalcoatl, had left his mark in the building of the most impressive city in the Western hemisphere – Teotihuacan.
Here we have another still unsolved mystery. We have the impressive Mayan city of Chichen Itza and, two thousand miles to the west, Tula, the capital of the Toltecs. The area between them (central and eastern Mexico) has nothing in common, according to the historians and archeologists. And yet, amazingly enough, the architecture of these two cities corresponds as if they were only twenty, and not two thousand, miles apart.
The explanation the historians give is this: 1) The Toltecs organized a military campaign of 2,000 miles distance, passing by hundreds of other cities, and they militarily conquered Chichen Itza and left their architectural and spiritual stamp on the city. Or this: 2) A group of Maya went on a journey of 2000 miles and then, inspired by the architecture of Tula, upon return they added the symbols of Kukulkan to their buildings.
Both explanation are so far-fetched and illogical they must be rejected. The solution lies in a third explanation, although it is considered “impossible” by official science. We simply accept the legend which says that Kukulkan was a superior being who, using spaceship technology, landed in Chichen Itza and there renewed his rule.
Here the mysteries will never end.
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