This is an expanded collection of photos taken on our day in Chichen Itza. In this gallery I will share photos as I created them and offer added information prior to the photo in most cases.
Entering the Zona under the gaze of El Castillo
Located in the center of the Great Plaza stands the Temple of Kukulkan, also referred to as El Castillo (the castle in Spanish). Dedicated to the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl, this is easily the most famous landmark of Chichén Itzá. The pyramid rises 79 feet (24 meters) above the plaza, plus an additional 20 feet (6 meters) for the temple on top. The base of the pyramid is 181 feet (55.3 meters) on each side. El Castillo represents the Snake Mountain, a mystic place in Maya folklore where creation first occurred. Snake Mountain is a design practice adopted in Teotihuican as well as the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. At Chichen Itza the design is brought to its full artistic maturity.
Perhaps the most iconic of Mayan pyramids, the Temple of Kulkulkan (the Feathered Serpent) was built over a recently discovered cave and cenote. (Read more here.) I appreciated the recent restrictions prohibiting people climbing on the structures, and practiced patience throughout the day to get the cleanest shots of the ruins that I could.
Group of the Thousand Columns & Temple of the Warriors
The Temple of the Warriors is a large stepped pyramid that was named after the surrounding carved columns depicting warriors. This temple is similar to Temple B at the Toltec capital of Tula. The one at Chichen Itza, however is much larger. The Temple of Warriors is approached by a broad stairway with a plain, stepped ramp on either side, each ramp has figures of standard-bearers to hold flags. At the top of the stairway on the temple’s summit sits Chac Mool, a statue depicting a reclining figure supporting itself on its elbows with a bowl or a disk upon its stomach.
Along the south wall of the Temple of Warriors are a series of about 200 columns, prompting the name Plaza of a Thousand Columns. When Chichen Itza was inhabited these would have supported an extensive roof system. The columns are in three distinct sections: a west group, that extends the lines of the front of the Temple of Warriors; a north group, which runs along the south wall of the Temple of Warriors and contains pillars with carvings of soldiers in bas-relief; and a northeast group, which apparently formed a small temple at the southeast corner of the Temple of Warriors.
In and around the Venus Platform and Tzompantli
The Ball Court
Chichen Itza contain no less than 13 ball courts, but the Great Ball Court is by far the most impressive. At 545 by 223 feet (166 x 68 meter) it is the largest ball court in Mesoamerica. The ball court has an I-shaped playing ground and a small temple at either end. To the north stands the North Temple or Temple of the Bearded Man, a small masonry building with detailed bas-relief carvings on the inner walls, including a center figure that has carving under his chin that resembles facial hair. At the south end stand another, much bigger temple, but in ruins.
The Great Ball Court was dedicated in 864 AD and is radically different than any other Mayan ball court, which are smaller and have sloping sided courts. The two vertical walls of the Great Ball Court are 39 feet high (12 meter) high with ringscarved with intertwining serpents in the center of each wall. Both walls are carved with scenes showing teams of ball players. One panel shows a headless player kneeling with blood shooting from his neck, while another player holds the head.
The Sacred Cenote
The Sacred Cenote is a sinkhole that is connected to Chichen Itza by a raised pathway. This large natural well may have given Chichén Itzá (“Well of the Itzáes”) its name. There is a second karst cave in the center of Chichén Itzá that was used as a source of water for Chichén Itzá’s residents. The use of the Sacred Cenote was exclusively ceremonial. Over the years, the murky water has yielded many artifacts including gold, jade, copper, turquoise, obsidian, copal or incense, pottery, rubber, shells and the bones of around 200 people who were thrown in as a sacrifice.
The Tomb of the High Priest is also known as the Ossuary or Osario, meaning burial place.
Reflecting the styles of El Castillo, the Tomb of the High Priest has a combined elements of both Toltec and Puuc influences. The pyramid stands ten meters (30 feet) high and has four staircases leading up to the top temple. Carved feathered serpents adorn the sides if the stairwells and the pillars also reflect the serpent-God. It has stucco reliefs of mythological characters.
In between the two pillars is an entry port 10 meters (36 feet) down via a cut stone shaft to a natural cave. When it was excavated, numerous bones and funeral offerings were found at the cave; shell, copper bells, jade.
The Red House
The Red House is also known as the House of Little Holes; the name was attributed to the holes in the latticework on the roof comb on the top of the structure.
Called the Red House because it contained the famous Mayan red colors when discovered, it is located in a plaza with the House of the Deer and House of Grinding Stones. It rests on a 5 Meter high platform and has simple lines and three Chac masks on the roof comb. Hieroglyphs in one chamber mention rulers of Chichén Itza and Ek’Balam and an inscribed date relating to 869 AD. Some describe blood- letting and other ceremonies.
Very new hieroglyphs reveal the structure was built around AD 800 and 850. It was probably a residential building for the elite.
A small ball court was restored on the structures back wall.
Temple of the Deer
Built in the Terminal Classic Period, the House of the Deer is a badly damaged building showing only a small fraction of its former glory.It was named for the carving of a deer found inside the house when it was first explored. That carving has long since been lost but the name has endured. The buildings consist of three chambers and an alter to the front face. It is 53 feet (16 meters) high including platform and chambers. It is a simple structure with a plain façade. The undecorated roof comb is only partially standing. The House of the Deer was likely a civic or religious structure but certainly with less stature than many of the other ceremonial buildings at Chichen Itza.
The El Caracol “observatory” stands as a monument not only to the architectural skill of the ancient Mayans but also to their surprisingly advanced understanding of the heavens. El Caracol, which means “snail” in Spanish is named after the winding staircase that rounds the interior of the central tower. Dating to around 906 AD, the crumbling viewing tower stands on a large square platform high above its surroundings. From the tower the Mayans could view the sky above the vegetation without any obstruction.
The Nunnery complex is the largest structure in what is called the Late Classic zone (600-950 A.D.), which preceded the Toltec takeover of Chichen Itza. However it also shows some influence of later residence. The building itself is of the Chenes style, which is a local Yucatan style. The main part of the Nunnery consists of a series of vaulted rooms seated on a 33 foot (10 meter) high platform mound. Some of the rooms were abundantly decorated with mural paintings and stone mosaics in the late Puuc style. The doorway lintels have well-preserved carved hieroglyphs referring events that took place around 880 A.D. Later on, another small construction was added as a third floor, completely built in the Maya-Toltec style, for which many Puuc decorated pieces were reused.
The name of the Nunnery (Las Monjas in Spanish) comes from the erroneous interpretation of the first Spanish visitors who, upon seeing the large number of rooms, were reminded of the cells of a monastery. Most archaeologists now believe it was a palace for Maya royalty.
This small building with only one chamber owes its name to its proximity to the so-called “convent” of the Nunnery and to the exuberant decoration on its upper facade, which rises even higher due to its lofty roofcomb. One can observe large areas covered with the original stucco on the Grecian frets of the central panel. Chaac is represented repeatedly on the panels. Up to now, it is not known what the function of this building was, and in spite of the overloaded decoration of the building, it is one of the best architectural examples of the Puuc style in Chichen Itza
And of course the daily reward for a day well spent in the hot: a dip in the cool. A bit overcrowded and developed, but well worth the slalom. Everything you need to know about Ik-kil found in Cenotes of Mexico.
I would like to give credit where credit it due. I have borrowed information from several sites including: ChichenItzaRuins.org and MexicoArcheology.com as well as plaques provided on site at Chichen Itza.