Chichen Itza is an archeological site located on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and hosts ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza. During the peak of Mayan civilization, Chichen Itza was one of the biggest cities. The site offers some of the best preserved architectural work of the ancient Mayans. Chichen Itza is the second most popular archeological site in Mexico attracting over one million visitors each year.
The Chichen Itza is an ancient city with ruins of large buildings and monuments. Some of the most notable features include El Castillo, the Great Ball Court, the Tzompantli, Cenote Sagrado, El Mercado, El Caracol, and the Osario.
The El Castillo is a huge step pyramid located in the North Platform of Chichen Itza built in pre-Columbian Maya civilization between the 9th and 12th centuries CE. The 98-foot tall pyramid served as a temple dedicated to the Mayan deity, Kukulkan and the Feathered Serpent deity. Each of the four sides of the ancient temple feature square terraces with 91 steps to the top of the temple.
Chichen Itza has several sinkholes due to the dissolving of the limestone bedrock. The ancient Mayans revered these sinkholes using them to offer sacrifices to the deities. Cenote Sagrado is the most impressive of all sinkholes located in Chichen Itza and was used as a site to offer sacrifices to Chaac, the rain god. In the early 20th century, Edward Herbert Thompson dredged the Cenote Sagrado and discovered human remains among other artifacts from the bottom of the cenote implying human sacrifice was carried out at the Cenote Sagrado.
El Caracol is an observatory building located in Chichen Itza that dates back to the 10th century during the late Classic period. Historians believe that the building was constructed to offer Mayans a platform to observe the sky as the surrounding area was full of vegetation and lacked a natural pedestal. The El Caracol is a testament to the advanced astronomical skills possessed by the ancient Mayans and was used to view Venus among other astronomical findings.
The early Mayans settled in Chichen Itza in the early Classic period (around 600 AD) and began developing it into a town. However, it was during the late Classic period and the early Terminal Classic period that the Chichen Itza rose to prominence as an important city in the Mayan Kingdom. It quickly became the region’s political, economic, and sociocultural capital. During its peak, the city is alleged to have caused the decline of surrounding cities including Yaxuna and Coba. In the 13th century, the city began to decline with its elite activities being relocated to other cities. However, the city continued to have a significant population.
The Chichen Itza is one of the most popular tourist spots in Mexico attracting 1.4 million visitors per year. The archeological site was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988 due to its cultural significance. Until recently, visitors had the privilege to ascend the steps on the monuments and enter inside the chambers. However, public access to the majority of the monuments has been restricted and visitors are only allowed to walk around the monuments.