23 Little Known Facts About Chichen Itza

23 Little Known Facts About Chichen Itza

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Chichen Itza was once one of the greatest Mayan centres of the Yucatán peninsula. According to UNESCO, “the monuments of Chichen-Itza… are among the undisputed masterpieces of Mesoamerican architecture because of the beauty of their proportions, the refinement of their construction and the splendor of their sculpted decorations.” Ancient Origins visited Chichen Itza last month to bring you these exclusive photographs and video footage of this magnificent site.

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Five amazing facts you may want to know about Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is an archaeological site located in the state of Yucatan and it’s one of the most visited attractions in Mexico. Rich in history and the center of pilgrimage for the ancient Maya civilization for over 1,000 years, Chichen Itza was one of the largest settlements of the north-central area of the Yucatan peninsula. It was the most powerful city in the region at its peak, it was home to an estimated 90,000 inhabitants.

Chichen Itza was a significant center of political and economic activity in the Mayan culture by roughly 600 A.D. By then, it was already one of the largest cities in the Mayan world, covering nearly four square miles with densely packed commercial, residential and other structures made of stone and perishable materials. Chichen Itza even had its own “suburbs,” with smaller homes occupying the outskirts of the city.

  1. Chichen Itza was one of the most thriving cities of the Mayan world, and up to now, it has only been partially excavated. All the structures that have been unearthed and conserved in the last years, represent less that 10% of what is yet to be discovered. In February of last year, archaeologists in Mexico began excavating a recently discovered secret tunnel that presumes to be the entrance to a cenote located under the structure named “El Castillo”. There are so many amazing secrets in Chichen Itza that are patiently waiting to be discovered.
  2. Any time is a great time to visit this amazing ancient city, although during the Spring (20th of March) and Autumn Equinox (22nd September) you can witness one of the most amazing experiences created by both humans and nature. As the sun goes down, it casts a shadow over the staircase of the Kukulkan Pyramid, emulating a snake descending the steps. Try to arrive early so you can find a great sitting spot.
  3. In 2018, Chichen Itza was the most visited archaeological site in Mexico with 75.38% of the total of avid explorers, adding up to the impressive count of 2,743,554 visitors. This will give you an idea of why you must visit this impressive ancient Mayan city.
  4. Chichen Itza was classified as one of the New Seven Wonders of the Worldand in 1988 was enlisted as a World Heritage by UNESCO.
  5. In 1894, the United States Consul to Yucatán, Edward Herbert Thompson, purchased the Hacienda Chichén, which included the archeological site of Chichen Itza and for 30 years, he explored the ancient city. Thompson is most famous for dredging the Cenote Sagrado (Sacred Cenote) from 1904 to 1910, where he recovered artifacts of gold, copper and carved jade, as well as the first-ever examples of what were believed to be pre-Columbian Maya cloth and wooden weapons. Due to the lack of technology at the time, many artifacts were destroyed by the use of heavy machinery or were disintegrated after being extracted from the water. Those who survived were shipped to the Peabody Museum at Harvard University.

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Facts about Chichen Itza

1. Chichen Itza was built by Maya People
The history of Chichen Itza can be traced back to the classic period of Mayan civilization. Chichen Itza was a big city built by the Maya people. It thrived from about 600 AD. until 1221 when the power in the region shifted to Mayapan. Throughout its nearly 1,000 year’s history, different people have left their mark in this city.

2. Chichen means mouth of well

The term “Chichen Itza” connotes “mouth of well of the Itza.” The Itza people are believed to have been a lineage ethnic group.

3. Chichen is a popular tourist site in Mexico
Chichen Itza is the second most popular site for tourists who visit Mexico. It is deemed to be one of the Seven Wonders of the New World located on the Yucatan Peninsula.

4. Chichen Itza sits on two natural sinkholes
The location where Chichen Itza sits is believed to be the same location where two large natural sinkholes that provided water year-round were located. There is common belief that these sinkholes were being used to offer human sacrifice. These offerings took place in times of drought, and men, women and children would be thrown into the well as an offering to the chac god. The chac god is the Maya god of rain and lightning. The sacrifices were done to end drought.

5. Chichen Itza gets 1.2 million visitors annually
Roughly 1.2 million people visit the ruins of Chichen Itza annually. In about 600 AD, Chichen Itza started to obtain importance in the region. Between 900 and 1050 AD, Chichen Itza became a powerful capital. It also controlled northern and central Yucatan at the time. The main part of Chichen Itza covered about 5 square kilometers, but scholars have found proof that smaller settlements that belong to the city extend further out.

6. Chichen Itza is a religious centre
Chichen Itza is said to have been a religious center for a period of time, it is presumed to be the pilgrimage place for the Maya. It is said that the site where Chichen Itza sits was at the time a popular site of pilgrimage before the building of the city ever commenced. Today the location is visited by tourists and religious pilgrims alike.

7. Casa Colorada are the best preserved buildings in Chichen Itza
The Casa Colorada is one of the best preserved buildings at Chichen Itza. This building has an 869AD Maya date inscribed on it, making it one of the oldest buildings with such dates in the entire Chichen Itza.

8. Chichen Itza is home to the El Castillo pyramid
The El Castillo pyramid and the Temple of Kukulkan are found in Chichen Itza. The 365 step pyramid sits on the magnificent city of Chichen Itza the steps were constructed throughout the year, one step each day. The Maya empire entailed talented people and advanced astronomers. The pyramid forms a temple with four sides, each side has 91 steps making the top level with the 365th step.

9. Human remains have been found in Chichen Itza
Human remains discovered at the site of Chichen Itza have led to the popular belief that some form of human sacrifice once took place there. Those sacrifices were possibly a form of worship to chac, who was the Maya rain god.

10. All buildings in Chichen Itza are made of stone
Stone is the material used for all buildings in Chichen Itza. It is said that that the Maya people did not use the wheel to build any of their temples, pyramids or palaces. The construction of the city of Chichen Itza took place on rough terrain covering an area of 5 square kilometers or more. The area had to be manually leveled off in preparation for construction work.

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Interesting facts about Chichen Itza

The famous archaeological site of Chichen Itza was awarded the UNESCO World Heritage site status in 1988. It went on to be listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. But we are not going to talk about that.

In this post, we are going to look at some of the more unknown yet fascinating facts about Chichen Itza that make it the world-famous monument it is today.

This famous Mayan site may not be entirely Mayan.

Now, did that jolt you? Well, it did startle me when I first learned of it.

It is true that Chichen Itza was built in two stages – the Pre-Classic or Formative period which was completely dominated by the Mayan Civilization and the latter period where there were a number of influences of the Toltec regime.

According to National Geographic and a number of other sources, the Toltecs invaded Chichen Itza in the 10th century. The most recognizable structure, the Temple of Kukulkan was built after that and hence, shows a strong Central Mexican influence. A conflicting theory indicates that these influences were because of strong trade relations between the Mayans and the Toltecs.

Nevertheless, the Toltec influence was strong. And the most iconic monuments of Chichen Itza – Pyramid of Kukulkan, Temple of Warriors, Great Ball Court – are of the Toltec style.

This ancient Mayan site is not completely Mayan – A fascinating fact about Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza gets its name from a cenote nearby.

The Yucatan peninsula is full of natural cenotes. A large cenote also called the Sacred Cenote and believed to have been used for sacrificial purposes is seen at the northern end of the archaeological site. Chichen means “mouth of the wells” and Itza refers to the Mayan tribe that lived in these regions.

The main pyramid nests multiple smaller pyramids inside it.

According to the Guardian, the Kukulkan Pyramid (30 meters in height) nests within itself two smaller pyramids (20 meters and 10 meters tall). Scientists have compared El Castillo (Kukulkan’s Pyramid) to the Russian nesting dolls. This was one of the most stunning facts about Chichen Itza that I discovered during my research.

The smallest pyramid was probably built during the original Mayan reign before the Toltec invasion. Researchers believe that it could help us understand the Mayan culture’s original style and customs.

Monuments of Chichen Itza were astronomically aligned.

The Mayans were strong believers and followers of astronomy. This is quite evident in how and why they built their monuments. At Chichen Itza, you can see a round-shaped observatory, the El Caracol, which was specifically used to gauge the positions of planets and the sun.

Further, the most iconic landmark – the Pyramid of Kukulkan has 365 steps in total – 91 on each side and one at the top. This equals the number of days in a year. Each side represented one season and was used to figure out the best times for sowing seeds and harvesting crops. The huge pyramid, in fact, functioned as one big calendar.

Plumed Serpent God Kukulkan at Chichen Itza [Image by edtribo from Pixabay] – The descent of Kukulkan is among the most intriguing Chichen Itza facts

The Serpent God, Kukulkan descends on the pyramid twice every year.

The Temple of Kukulkan was so designed that every year, the sun forms the shadow of a serpent (is that the mythical Mayan Serpent God, Kukulkan??) on the pyramid during the spring and autumn equinoxes. The undulating shadow, resembling the body of a snake, slowly moves down as the sun sets before merging with the serpent head at the bottom of the stairs.

Now, that one gave me some goosebumps. Didn’t it?

I can imagine the religious and ceremonial significance that the equinoxes must have held for the Mayan people. It is, literally, like seeing your God come alive. Even today, hundreds of locals and tourists flock to Chichen Itza to witness this surreal phenomenon. This was the most unusual one among all the Chichen Itza facts I discovered.

Watch this video by Polimi Open Knowledge to experience what I am talking about.

Apart from mysterious shadows, Chichen Itza is home to mysterious sounds!

Yes, you heard that right. You can hear strange sounds at the lost city of Chichen Itza. If you clap your hands at the base of El Castillo’s stairs, you can hear an echo that is quite unlike anything else. This echo resembles the warble of the Mexican quetzal, a bird that was considered sacred in the Mayan culture.

Chichen Itza had the largest ball court in the Americas.

The Great Ball Court at Chichen Itza is the largest in the Americas. The deadly but popular ball game of Mesoamerica was played here. Losers were decapitated at the end of the game. Not among the most pleasant Chichen Itza facts, I am sure.

While exploring the ball court, look up to spot stone rings on the walls of the court. Players were required to shoot heavy rubber balls through these rings located at a height of 8 m from the ground. I wonder who could have achieved such a feat!

Gruesome death practices were openly flaunted in Chichen Itza.

The land of the Mayans was not only about fun and festivities. It was a lot about gruesome sacrifices and brutal death penalties. Quite similar to what we saw at the Colosseum in Rome.

Many structures in Chichen Itza are a testimony to these practices. The Platform of Skulls or a Skull Rack (Tzompantli) is the most ominous. Hundreds of heads of victims and soldiers were carved on to the walls of the platform to control people and scare enemies.

The platform of skulls at Chichen Itza – All was not hunky-dory after all

Chichen Itza was key in deciphering the secret behind remarkable Mayan blue color.

The Mayans invented an unusual blue color that has been extensively analyzed by scientists. The reasons – its extraordinary chemical stability and persistent color. It can still be seen in the murals of Mayan temples. At a time when Lapiz Lazuli was prohibitively expensive, Mayans were producing tonnes of great quality, inexpensive Mayan blue.

The most important use of Mayan blue was in sacrifices. People were often covered entirely in blue and thrown into the Sacred Cenote of Chichen Itza. Pottery, rubber, and wood – all covered in blue have also been found in the cenote. These findings were key to deciphering what went behind making Mayan blue so resilient.

Until 2006, tourists were allowed to climb El Castillo.

The pyramid was banned to climbers in January 2006 when a woman tumbled to death while descending the steps. It was an unfortunate incident. The pyramid has now been roped off and can only be adored from a distance. And I feel this is healthy for both the visitors and the monument.

It is easy to feel a surge of adrenaline when you climb up these ancient monuments. Once on top, you can appreciate the magnificent vistas of the Yucatan peninsula. Maybe you can spot another pyramid or two. But climbing is not easy. The way down is especially difficult with the steps having been smoothened over centuries. And it erodes the structures so much more.

Chichen Itza met a mysterious end.

The glory of Chichen Itza declined and the city met a mysterious end in the 14th century. The residents moved out never to come back to the city again. Researchers attribute this mass exodus to poor weather and a massive wave of droughts.

The, once prosperous, Mayan city of Chichen Itza had been lost to the jungles of Yucatan.

Easy to get lost in the jungles of Yucatan when they are overgrown | Amazing facts about Chichen Itza

Have you been to Chichen Itza yet? How many of these riveting facts about Chichen Itza did you know? Is there something interesting that I missed? Do let me know in the comments below.


Chichen Itza is one of the main archaeological sites on the Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico. It was and is a sacred city and Mayan pilgrimage center founded by the Itza, the so-called water sorcerers, in the 5th century AD.

The Mayans developed one of the most fascinating and enigmatic cultures of Humanity in the heart of the dense jungles of Chiapas, Guatemala, Yucatán, Honduras and Belize. Although the habitat in which they settled was not very favorable for urban development, they achieved great splendor. Between the 3rd and 10th centuries of our era, the classical Mayans, in the south, raised cities such as Tikal, Copán, Quiriguá, Palenque and Piedras Negras, ruled by divine and intriguing kings, who today are known to have permanently fought to increase their power.

They created refined courts in which they promoted the arts and sciences until, in the middle of the 9th century, for reasons not entirely clarified, these cities were abandoned and the population reorganized into small rural nuclei or migrated north. It was then that the center of power shifted to the Yucatan peninsula, where the Mayans built new cities, many with architectural features similar to those of central Mexico. The most important of them was Chichén Itzá, whose buildings and sculptures are reminiscent of the city of Tula, in central Mexico, 1,500 km away.

The Itzá power lasted for around one hundred years until, at the beginning of the 13th century, the rulers of Mayapán, subordinate to them, defeated them and maintained power in the area until 1441, the year in which they were defeated by a confederation of cities. headed by Uxmal. But the fame of Chichen Itzá did not disappear. Despite being abandoned, it remained a sacred place for the Mayans, especially for its enigmatic cenote (Great natural receptacle with water) where offerings and sacrifices were made for centuries.

The name Chichén means "mouth of the well" and Itzá refers to those who founded it, the Itzáes "water witches", around the year 435.

From that time and until the year 900 people of Putún, Chontal origin arrived in the north of Yucatán. and Itzá, and they erected Chichén Viejo with Puuc architectural and cultural elements.

After a first abandonment and decline of the city, around the year 900 Chichén Itzá received new waves of Itza peoples and experienced a political and cultural renaissance with Toltec influences that consolidated it as the main center of power in the Yucatan peninsula. It is believed that in this new stage what happened 1,500 kilometers away, in the city of Tula, where violent conflicts ended with the expulsion of a political faction, had a lot to do with it. This side was led by a ruler named Topilzin Quetzalcóatl, who arrived in Mayan lands with the ideology of their god Quetzalcóatl, called Kukulcán in the Mayan language. From then on, his image appeared represented a thousand and one times in the buildings that were erected in Chichén Itzá.

In Chichen Itzá, two construction styles can be distinguished, which are a reflection of the two different eras that make it up. The oldest arose during the Terminal Classic (600-800 / 900) of the Puuc tradition, a geographical area where the most outstanding vestiges of this more indigenous style are found. The second epoch, in the Early Postclassic (900-1200), is known as the Toltec Maya and coincides with the arrival of Putun groups from the Campeche area.

The oldest part of the city is known as Chichén Viejo and is concentrated in the southern area, where the Xtoloc cenote was. Its buildings are not as megalomaniacal as those that were built later in the north, but they captivate with their beauty and exuberant Puuc-style decoration.

The environment was perfect for small groups of peasants to settle around the drinking water cenote in the 5th century, with cultivable soil and abundant stone to build. It was at that time that the first known architectural group emerged with the most seductive buildings in the entire city: the group of the Nuns, named by the Spanish because it reminded them of a convent, and the Church, also named by the conquerors, and its hyper decorated annex, where the horror vacui leaves no free space before the multiplication of the representation of the god Chaac and his powerful laughing nose.

The population of the city grew and with it new buildings arose, such as the Ossuary or the tomb of the Great Priest, the Temple of the Deer, the Caracol platform, the Red house and the annexed platforms. Years later, Mexican elements were incorporated, such as the serpentine rafters and the small ball court attached to the Colorada house. All these architectural ensembles communicated with each other by a network of roads called sacbeob.

Between the years 900 and 1200 Chichén Itzá lived its time of splendor due to the arrival of people who imported Toltec influences and began to build in the northern area. In the area known as the Great Esplanade, the Kukulcán pyramid was erected as a lookout that contemplates the great square from the four directions of the universe, and the Temple of the Warriors, the Temple of the Jaguars and the impressive set of the Thousand Columns, previously roofed and today helpless, a good example of the new architectural elements introduced by the followers of Kukulcán.

The zompantli, the platform of Venus, the Great Ball Court (the largest in Mesoamerica) and its annex buildings were also built: the north and south temples, and the temple of the jaguars, full of allusions to this cosmic game, a constant fight between light and darkness. From the Puuc period but remodeled in the Mexican period is the Observatory or Caracol, with its fascinating circular plan. Likewise, from this northern sector, through a white sacbé, you reach the Sacred Cenote, where offerings were made for centuries.

The shape of these buildings confirms the coexistence of the Puuc and Mexican styles, and their beautiful balance. The porticoes supported by columns, almost always serpentine, and the pilasters decorated with military motifs, of clear Mexican influence, coexisted with impressive Chaac masks, an exponent of the Puuc style.

In 987 the Mayapán League was formed between the three most important cities in Yucatán: Uxmal, Mayapán, and Chichén Itzá. Although in the first decades this league was controlled by Chichén, the alliance was not without conflict. Over time the disagreement between its leaders liquidated the league and caused war between those who formed it. The Itza were the most affected faction and, after their defeat, they took refuge in the Petén, north of Guatemala. Mayapán imposed its hegemony and, although the elite of Chichén Itzá, made up of warriors, priests and merchants, continued to worship the god Kukulcán and maintain its impressive talud-board-style constructions, the city went into decline. In the 13th century it was abandoned without losing its character as a pilgrimage center.

When the Spanish arrived on the coasts of Yucatán in the early 16th century, the Mayan cities were already abandoned and the majority of the population lived in rural areas. For this reason, nothing made us suspect that these peasant villages had a great past, full of artistic and scientific achievements. But, Chichén Itzá still preserved its aureole of a sacred site, to such an extent that the Spanish Francisco de Montejo, the conqueror of Yucatan, raised the possibility of establishing the capital of the province in the city, although later the idea did not prosper.


The Maya originated around 3,000 years ago in present-day Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and Mexico.

The Mayan empire flourished in the southern regions from around 250 AD to 900 AD. The empire in the south collapsed around 900 AD. No one knows the reason.

The Maya also developed social class system which was a well-ordered and carried on trade throughout a network of cities that went as far south as Panama and as far north as Central Mexico. Mathematicians, their number system included the concept of zero, an idea unknown to the old Greeks, expert mathematicians themselves.

The Maya used their mathematical knowledge along with celestial observations to finesse a calendar created by the Olmec which is a culture from the Mexican Gulf Coast and to create monuments to observe and commemorate movements of the moon, the sun, and Venus.

Spectacular examples of these monuments can still be seen at Chichen Itza today.


Chichen Nuevo began roughly about 850 AD. with the arrival of the Itza from Central Mexico.

The city was rebuilt by the Itza. It is also characterized by images of the god Kukulcan, the plumed serpent.

Around 1150 AD. a new wave of Itza took over the city and ruled for another 150 years more until Chichen Itza was finally overtaken by the rival city of Mayapan.


The history of Chichen Itza as with many aspects of Mayan history is obscure: Written records are scarce.

In the historical records which is exist, dates that were several years apart were often given the same name, due to the organization of the old Mayan calendar.

Roughly all sources agree that from approximately 550 AD to 800 AD, Chichen Itza existed mainly as a ceremonial center for the Maya civilization.

The area was then largely abandoned for about a hundred years (no one knows reason ), to be resettled around 900 AD again. Shortly before 1000 AD, it was invaded by a people from the north ( the Toltecs ).

The Toltecs had settled near modern-day Mexico City at Tula, around 900 AD under the rule of a king Topiltzin. Topiltzin also took the name of &ldquoFeathered Serpent,&rdquo or Quetzalcoatl, the name of an Aztec god.

A rival warrior faction forced Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl and also his followers out of Tula around 987 AD.

Mayan historical sources mention that a man who called himself Kukulkan arrived in Chichen Itza from the west (Kukul means &ldquofeathered&rdquo and kan means &ldquoserpent&rdquo) in the period that ended in 987 AD. A strong case has been made that Kukulkan and Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl were most likely the same person, and that he brought the Toltec practices and beliefs to Chichen Itza, including the practice of human sacrifice.

The Toltecs were somewhat open to new ideas, however, at Chichen Itza incorporating some beliefs held by the Maya already.

&bull The city is divided into two different principal areas: Chichen Viejo (Old Chichen) and Chichen Nuevo (New Chichen).


Chichen Itza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world and the second most visited of Mexico’s archeological sites. It remains open to the public 365 days of the year. 8.000 visitors per day in the high season climbing on monuments in Chichen Itza and consequently monuments have been structurally worn down because of a huge amount of tourist traffic.

Tourists, climbed the sites, had left their marks in the form of graffiti. The stone steps of monuments were already showing signs of rapid erosion. Letting tourists climb up monuments was severely damaging the pyramid itself. In order to avoid deterioration, Chichen Itza definitely needs permanent maintenance and attention.

Fully restored 5 km core area of Chichen Itza is under the official management and protection of the INAH (Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History). Chichen Itza was declared an archeological monument in 1986 and it is also protected by the Federal Law on Monuments and Archeological Artistic and Historic Zones. The preservation methods are being used seem to be very professional and responsible.

INAH has been closing monuments to public access over the past several years and visitors can no longer climb them or go inside their chambers. The reason why American lady Mrs. Black who was 80 years old climbed the 91 steps of El Castillo and fell to her death on January 5th, 2006, the El Castillo Temple of Kukulkan was also closed to access. It is not allowed to climb up the monuments for the safety of visitors and the preservation of the structures. Now all beautiful monuments are there in all their glory, but in the past the structures could barely be seen under the press of bodies climbing all over them.

Today the ruins of Chichen Itza are federal property and the site’s management is maintained by INAH. But the actual ruins of the city extend over 25 km with many unexcavated ruins and this part is not under any state protections. Village cooperatives and individual landowners make use of this land for agricultural purposes.


Chichen Viejo was founded about 400 AD. by the Maya and then governed by priests. The architecture od this area is characterized by many representations of the god Chaac, the Maya rain god.

Old Chichen (Chichen Viejo) is situated in the south of Las Monjas, and is open only for archaeologists.

Facts about Chichen Itza

A Cenote under the main pyramid of Kukulkan

This is the most recent of out top 10 Facts about Chichen Itza. In August 2015, archaeologists discovered a cenote under the Kukulkan pyramid .

This finding confused the researchers, but for an archaeologist expert in submarine archeology, the answer was simple:

The Mayans knew about the existence of the cenote and built the pyramid over it because the Mayans wanted to represent the universe with their constructions.

The pyramid rises equidistantly between four cenotes, one to the north, another to the south, another to the east and the fourth one to the west.
This new finding would be the fifth cenote, the “axis mundi “, the point where the Sacred Ceiba grew its roots that reached the underworld, and its branches reached the four cardinal points.

Kukulkán Pyramid Substructures and Cenote

The layered Pyramid of Chichen Itza

Like other pre-Hispanic archaeological sites, constructions of the cities were covered during a second, and sometimes more residential phases.

In this case, the first Pyramid in Chichen Itza was built between the years 500 and 800 and again, by the third and currently visible stage, developed over the years. 1,050 and 1,300.

Ceremonial objects at the bottom of the Sacred Cenote

Various research teams have found ceremonial objects at the bottom of the Sacred Cenote, along with animal and people bones whose ages range from 3 to 55 years.

Its origin, however, is uncertain. There are theories that the Mayas practiced human sacrifices others believe that in reality, these remains reached the bottom of the cenote as part of funerary rituals that would have arrived there after they had died.

Others say that the purpose of throwing living beings was not to cause their death but to get them to intercede with the lords of the underworld.

What they do agree on, is that all these rituals were intended to mediate with the entities of Xibalbá to ensure rain and good harvests.

The Sound of the Quetzal


There is an electroacoustic effect that occurs in front of a staircase of the main Pyramid of Kukulkan in Chichen Itza. When a person claps, the sound bounces in the form of a distorted echo and generates a sound that simulates the singing of a Quetzal.

This new attraction was discovered at the end of the twentieth century by the tour guides of the site.

The Pyramid of Kukulkan has a total of 365 steps

Calendar representation of the Kukulkán Pyramid

The temple of Kukulkan has four staircases, of 91 steps each, which in total sum 364. With the upper platform, it adds up to 365 in total.

Each step represented the days of the Haab Mayan calendar, which fits perfectly with the calendar we use today, the Gregorian calendar.

A World Heritage Wonder

Chichén Itzá and the new seven wonders of the world

Chichen Itza was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1988 and in 2007, it was considered as one of “The New Seven Wonders of the Modern World”, as part of a private initiative where people chose the sites that interested them the most.

Chichen Itza’s meaning

Just like many other translations and history “facts”, there are more than one accepted by researchers. In this case, we’re gonna take a look at the 2 main translations of “Chichen Itza”.

  1. Its name comes from the Mayan words “chi” (mouth), “che’en” (well), “itz” (magician or sorcerer) and “ha” (water). Thus, Chichen Itza could be translated as “The mouth of the water sorcerers’ well,” referring to the Sacred Cenote, the great natural well that the Mayans considered one of the main entrances to Xibalba, their underworld.
  2. The meaning of Chichen Itza comes from the Maya Yucateco: uchi’ch’e’enitza’, the “City of the Itaes”.

Chichen Itza was bought by an American

Edward Herbert Thompson extracting objects from the Sacred Cenote

At the beginning of the 20th century, the American Edward Herbert Thompson bought the property where Chichen Itza is located, mainly to drain the Sacred Cenote and extract numerous objects like jewelry and utensils made of gold, copper, and jade.

After various actions from the Mexican government, today it is owned by the State of Yucatan.

Some of the archaeological pieces discovered by Thompson were also returned to Mexico.

The largest Ball Court in Mesoamerica

The Great Ball Court

The Ball Court of Chichen Itza is the largest in Mesoamerica, with 70 meters wide and 169 meters long.

The idea of this game was to put a rubber ball through the hoop that is on top of the wall, using the elbows, knees, and face.

The descent of the feathered serpent

Shadow on the Kukulkán Pyramid in the Equinox

The last, and most well known of our Facts about Chichen Itza list is the descending serpent.

The design of this pyramid was made by the Mayan architects who so well mastered the knowledge of the stars and in particular that of the sun.

For this reason, they placed the pyramid so that its shadow could be projected on the sides of the staircase, giving shape to the body of one of its deities, Kukulkan, the feathered serpent whose head is sculpted at the foot of the Pyramid.

Chichen Itza Facts

A snake wriggles down the pyramid. Wait, it’s not a snake, it’s just its shadow. Where is the snake? The sun casts this shadow on the steps of Chichen Itza, on the first day of spring and fall.

Where is Chichen Itza?

Chichen Itza, located in Mexico is one of the world’s newest seven wonders and a UNESCO world heritage site. It was built on the Yucatan peninsula by the Mayans. This large pre-Columbian city flourished from 600 AD to 1221.

What does Chichen Itza mean?

Chichen Itza means “mouth of the well of Itza” as it has several sinkholes or cenotes. Chi means mouth, cheen means well and Itza means water magicians.

5 Interesting facts about Chichen Itza

  • The 75 feet tall El Castillo castle or Pyramid of Kukulchan has 365 steps (to represent the number of days in a year) which end in two serpent heads. If you clap your hand at the bottom of the pyramid, you will hear a sound similar to a Quetzal bird chirping.
  • Cenote Sagrado is a bottomless sinkhole where people were sacrificed to please ‘Chaac’ the rain god along with gold, copper and jade.
  • El Caracol is an observatory tower with a spiral staircase. The Mayans would keenly observe the stars here through slits in the walls.
  • All the castles here were made of stone and were interconnected with cemented paths. Each building is intricately carved with images of Gods, animals and people.
  • Games were played in the Ball Court. Players would try to hit a 5 kilogram rubber ball through a high hoop on the wall, like basketball. What happens when you clap once at one end of the Ball Court? You will hear 9 echoes in the middle of the Ball Court.

Why did the Mayans disappear?

No one knows why they left this beautiful place. People suspect droughts and greed for more treasure.

Chichén Itzá

Site: Pre-Hispanic City of Chichén Itzá

Location: Mexico

Year Designated: 1988

Category: Cultural

Reason: The brilliant ruins of Chichén Itzá evidence a dazzling ancient city that once centered the Maya empire in Central America.

The stepped pyramids, temples, columned arcades, and other stone structures of Chichén Itzá were sacred to the Maya and a sophisticated urban center of their empire from A.D. 750 to 1200.

Viewed as a whole, the incredible complex reveals much about the Maya and Toltec vision of the universe—which was intimately tied to what was visible in the dark night skies of the Yucatán Peninsula.

The most recognisable structure here is the Temple of Kukulkan, also known as El Castillo. This glorious step pyramid demonstrates the accuracy and importance of Maya astronomy—and the heavy influence of the Toltecs, who invaded around 1000 and precipitated a merger of the two cultural traditions.

The temple has 365 steps—one for each day of the year. Each of the temple’s four sides has 91 steps, and the top platform makes the 365th.

Devising a 365-day calendar was just one feat of Maya science. Incredibly, twice a year on the spring and autumn equinoxes, a shadow falls on the pyramid in the shape of a serpent. As the sun sets, this shadowy snake descends the steps to eventually join a stone serpent head at the base of the great staircase up the pyramid’s side.

The Maya’s astronomical skills were so advanced they could even predict solar eclipses, and an impressive and sophisticated observatory structure remains on the site today.

This great city’s only permanent water source was a series of sinkhole wells. Spanish records report that young female victims were thrown into the largest of these, live, as sacrifices to the Maya rain god thought to live in its depths. Archaeologists have since found their bones, as well as the jewelry and other precious objects they wore in their final hours.

Chichén Itzá's ball court is the largest known in the Americas, measuring 554 feet (168 meters) long and 231 feet (70 meters) wide. During ritual games here, players tried to hit a 12-pound (5.4-kilogram) rubber ball through stone scoring hoops set high on the court walls. Competition must have been fierce indeed—losers were put to death.

Chichén Itzá was more than a religious and ceremonial site. It was also a sophisticated urban center and hub of regional trade. But after centuries of prosperity and absorbing influxes of other cultures like the Toltecs, the city met a mysterious end.

During the 1400s people abandoned Chichén Itzá to the jungle. Though they left behind amazing works of architecture and art, the city’s inhabitants left no known record of why they abandoned their homes. Scientists speculate that droughts, exhausted soils, and royal quests for conquest and treasure may have contributed to Chichén Itzá's downfall.

Recently this World Heritage site was accorded another honor. In a worldwide vote Chichén Itzá was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

How to Get There

Chichén Itzá is located near the small town of Piste. Bus services connect to the international airports at Mérida (under two hours) and Cancun (two and a half hours).

When to Visit

The ruins are open daily. Chichén Itzá's climate is consistently tropical—average temperatures are 34ºC. Spring and autumn equinoxes offer the chance to see the incredible shadow serpent of El Castillo—but the often crowded site is absolutely packed at these times.

How to Visit

Staying in the Chichén Itzá area allows visitors to visit early in the morning, out of the hot sun and without the company of the many tourists who arrive on day trip tours from Mérida and Cancun. There is also a light show on the site at night.

16 Interesting Facts About Chichen Itza

The Step Pyramid at Chichen Itza Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, crowned by temple was part of one of the greatest Mayan centers. About 125 km west of Cancun and Cozumel, it is the Sacred Cenote, a deep sinkhole that the Mayans used for religious ceremonies, sacrifices to the Gods and more. Let us find out some interesting facts about Chichen Itza:

1. Is It A Castle?

The word “Chichen Itza” is derived from a Mayan name which means, “on the mouth of the well of Itza.” It is also called “El Castillo” which means “the castle” in Spanish.
Source: Wikipedia

2. An Observatory For Astronomical Events

The pre-Columbian Maya Civilization erected it between the 9th and 12th centuries. They used it as an observatory to reflect astronomical events. It is a superimposed construction i.e. built on top of another.
Source: Wikipedia

3. Discovered & Re-Discovered!

The Chichen Itza has discovered in the year 514 AD by the priest Lakin Chan who was also called Itzamna. It was re-discovered by an American explorer John L. Stephens in 1841.
Source: Wikipedia

4. The Surrounding Architecture

Chac Mool Temple of Chac Mool Temple of Thousand Warriors

Chichen Itza is a huge area and is composed of various structures such as the Pyramid of Kukulkan, the Temple of Chac Mool, the Hall of the Thousand Pillars or The Temple of Thousand Warriors, and the Playing Field of the Prisoners, is truly a collection of great architecture. The Pyramid itself was the last and probably the best of all Mayan temples.
Source: world.new7wonders.com, Image: Flickr

5. Built Near Natural Sinkholes!

It is often said that the Chichen Itza was built close to two large natural sinkholes, which would have provided water throughout the year as no rivers or streams were passing through this area. One of the sinkholes was thought to have been used for human sacrifice in times of droughts, as a sacrifice to the Chac God.
Source: softschools.com

6. Dimensions Of The Pyramid

Chichen Itza is oriented to East from North 19 degree, occupying an area of 4 sq miles. It is 24 m high, with an additional 6 m for the temple. The square base measures 55.3 m, along with a total of 365 steps, which defines the 365 days of a year.
Source: world-mysteries.com, Image: 1.bp.blogspot.com

7. Diverse Materials

Along with fine stones, some pyramids have an inner layer of mica from Brazil, 2,000 miles away without any wheeled transportation. Mica is a good insulator. Other Mayan pyramids were covered with stucco.
Source: traveltips.usatoday.com

8. Skilled Population

The city had the most diverse population in any Maya population with around 50,000 people. The people were very skilled craftsmen including sculptors, weavers, jewelers, and potters.
Source: softschools.com

9. Decline Of Chichen Itza

Studies show that in 1221 AD, a revolt and civil war arose and archeological evidence confirms that the wooden roofs of the great market and the Temple of the Warriors were burned. Thus, the Chichen Itza went into decline as rulership over Yucatan shifted to Mayapan.
Source: newworldencyclopedia

10. Unique Ball-Court

Ball Court at Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is also known for its Great Ball Court, having 20 ft stone rings upon its two walls. The ball court is continuous between the walls and is open to the sky. The northern, southern and eastern sides support temples, which were probably used for rituals.
Source: sacredsites.com, Image: Flickr

11. Exciting Audible Features

Majority sites of Chichen Itza are known for strange sounds. A hand clap in front of the pyramid’s staircase returns an echo that resembles Quetzalcoatl’s chirp (a feathered serpent deity). Apart from this, if you clap once from one end of the Ball Court, it will produce 9 echoes distinctly at the center of the court.
Source: hubpages.com

12. Cenotes At The Site

Cenote Sagrado or Sacred Cenote Temple of Xtoloc


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    Yes, this is our modern world and I'm probably afraid that nothing can be done about it :)

  6. Jake

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