Sunday, March 21, 2010


It's the first day of spring.  And, here in Central Texas, we're having a cold spell.  Yesterday, was warm and sunny.  Today, it's cold and blustery, with a strong chance of a freeze tonight.  Hopefully, it's the last one of the season.

Two weeks ago today, we were in Mexico...lounging in the sun, beside the blue Caribbean Sea.  I thought I'd talk about that, in contrast to the weather outside.

But, it's the first day of spring....the Vernal Equinox.  That was a very important time, for the Mayan people.  Since we visited one of their famous sites, I'll share that with you.

El Castillo~~Pyramid of Kukulcan

Chichen Itza is a large pre-columbian Mayan city.  In the last few years, it has been designated one of the seven modern wonders of the world.  The last time we were there....twenty years ago (ugh) were allowed to climb the pyramids and go into some of the structures.  Today, that is forbidden. 

The main attraction is El Castillo...the castle...or the Pyramid of Kukulcan.  Kukulcan was a feather serpent god.  His likeness is represented in carvings and structures throughout the area.  He was worshipped throughout the region.  The Aztec worshipped him as Quetzalcoatl.

The Mayans were fairly advanced in mathematics and astronomy.  I'm sure you've heard the rumors about their calendar, and that the world will end in 2012.  That depends on interpretation.  But, I digress.  Suffice it to say, the Mayans put together some amazing things. 

El Castillo is more than 75 feet high.  Each side has 90 steps.  Those, plus the step up from the plaza on each side, and the final platform at the top, number 365 steps.  At the bottom of each stairway, are the heads of serpents.  At 3:00 p.m. on the afternoons of the vernal and atumnal equinoxes, the sun casts a jagged shadow along the sides of the stairway.  As the sun goes down, it gives the effect of the serpent descending into the earth.  There will be thousands there today, to see the phenomenon. 

There are concerts presented here, in the plaza.  Elton John will be there April 3.  The acoustics are such, that the performers don't need microphones.....amazing.

The ball court, was an important part of this Mayan city.

 The game was more than just sport.  It seems to have been at least in part, a religious ceremony.  Something like March Madness?  It was a bit more serious.

The game was played with a leather ball.  The players would bounce the ball off of their hips, to another player.  The strongest and best player, would be named captain.  His job was to put the ball through the ring, high up on the wall.

It seems, they also used sticks and some kind of device on their arm.  Also, they had a boot on one foot.

Decorative carvings, along the sides of the ball court, show players in full headdress and the game 'uniforms'.  

The winning captain would present his head, to the ruling Mayan King, who sat in this box.  The king would then decapitate the captain.  Strange reward....but, that was supposed to let the captain skip the 13 high steps of purification, and go directly to heaven.  I hope it worked.

Heads of the winners would then be displayed on the Tzompantli, or Wall of Skulls.  Sacrifice and bloody rituals were a large part of the Mayan culture.

As our guide, Victor, explained, the Mayan priests and lords ruled the people with fear.  As an agricultural culture, they depended on the weather for good crops.  The knowledge of mathematics and astronomy gave the rulers an advantage.  They understood just when the rainy season was due to start....when spring started for planting and autumn for harvest.  They used this knowledge to control the people.  If the rain started after a sacrifice, the people would think the rulers were all powerful.

Victor seemed to really love his job.  You could tell he is quite interested in Mayan history.  In fact, he kept us overlong for his part of the tour.  We had less free time left than was scheduled.  But, I wish he'd been with us throughout the whole complex.  He was very interesting, and we learned a lot.

For instance, we're not sure what the Temple of Warriors was actually used for.  There are square columns and round columns.  We were told the square columns were to represent the warriors.  They have carvings of warriors on each side. 

Up on the top, you can see the tails of more serpents.  Also, the reclining figure you see in ads for the Yucatan is up there.  You just can't see him from below.

Next, we trekked off to the observatory....El Caracol.  I learned later, that it is situated to have perfect views of the equinoxes and the motion of Venus.  Venus, being the brightest star, was believed to be the sun's twin and a war god.

You can see the resemblance to our observatories today.

There are several buildings around the observatory.  But, there are no signs to tell you what they are.

From later research, I think this is Las Monjas.  It reminded the Spanish of a nunnery.  But, nobody seems to know what it was for.

All the building have decorations.


....and more serpents.

And, jaguars.....symbols everywhere.

And, new areas being discovered.  It might be worth another trip, some day.  I'll do more research first.

Oh...and, Victor told us that the stones missing from the structures, were taken by the Spanish, to build churches.

We drove past one, on our way through the small village, outside Chichen Itza, as we left.

Hope you enjoyed this part of the trip.  Next time, I'll show the Cenote, where we stopped for lunch and a swim.

Happy first day of Spring.  I hope you're warm and cozy, wherever you are.

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