Chichen itza, Yucatan, Mexico

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, Universityof Wisconsin - Green Bay

Left and below: countryside on the way to Chichen itza. Yucatan is surprisingly dry and covered with thin soils and scrubby forest. The karst bedrock keeps it from being wet enough for jungle.
Below: license plates you don't see very often in the U.S.
Left and below: entrance to Chichen itza

Model Views

Looking south and slightly west. In the foreground is the Ball Court. El Castillo (the main pyramid) is in the center and the Plaza of a Thousand Columns is behind it. Left of the plaza is the Temple of the Warriors.
Looking west from the Sacred Cenote to the pyramid. The Temple of the Warriors and Plaza of a Thousand Columns is left of the pyramid, the Ball Court to the right.
Looking slightly northeast over the Plaza of a Thousand Columns with the pyramid beyond.
Looking east. The "Nunnery" is in the forgeround, the Caracol or Observatory is beyond it with the main pyramid in the distance. The smaller pyramid on the left is the "Ossuary."
Model of the Temple of the Warriors and the Plaza of a Thousand Columns.
Overall view, with the Plaza of the Thousand Columns on the left, the great pyramid in the center, and the ball court on the right. The path to the sacred cenote leads toward the bottom.
Old dredge used in early archeological work in the Sacred Cenote.

El Castillo

The Spanish names for features are somewhat fanciful and don't always reflect the actual function of the feature. The main pyramid is called El Castillo (The Castle).
Left: the pyramid was built over an existing temple, which is still accessible. Time and a desire not to spend an hour in sweltering humidity dissuaded me from waiting in line.


Left and below: the pyramid steps.

Climbing the Pyramid

According to one site, you can't do this any more because a tourist (an American, from California need I add?) fell and was killed in 2006. Where are the defenders against American cultural imperialism when it comes to the globalization of protecting people from their own actions?

Looking east at the Temple of Venus
Looking south to the Temple of the Warriors and the Plaza of a Thousand Columns
Looking north at the ball court and the Temple of the Jaguars.
Left and below: the temple atop the pyramid.
Left: corbelled roofs like this were the only way the Maya knew to span wide openings with stone.

Temple of the Jaguars

Temple of Venus

Temple of the Warriors

So called for the sculptures of warriors on its pillars. At the top is a reclining statue of Chac-Mool, unfortunately not available for close inspection.

Plaza of a Thousand Columns

The "Ossuary"

The Caracol (Observatory)

The Caracol (Spanish for "snail") is so called because of the winding stairway within. It seems to have been an ancient astronomical observatory. Access was closed when these pictures were taken in January 2004.

The "Church" and "Nunnery"

Left and below: the Nunnery, more massive than beautiful

Other Buildings

Left and below: this shelter protects the reliefs and paintings below.

The Ball Court

A small temple occupies the eastern end of the court.
The four photos below show the "scoring rings." It is generally believed players had to maneuver the ball without using their hands and scored by sending the ball through the rings.
Above: the Temple of the Jaguars occupies the southwest corner of the court. Below: views of the main pyramid from the end of the ball court.

Sacred Cenote

The Sacred Cenote is a large sinkhole in the limestone
Left: limestone is never far below the surface in Yucatan.

Sound and Light

A sound and light show illuminates the pyramid at night. The bright star above the pyramid is Sirius, and the star at left center is Canopus.
Left and below: moonrise
Left and below: night views of the entrance.

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Created 28 March 2007, Last Update 03 June 2020