Nearby the Mexican coast stand the ruins of the most famous temple of Maya civilization – Chichen Itza. The Maya and the Toltec vision of the world and universe are beautifully revealed in this impressive monument, that meanwhile has became one of The New 7 Wonders Of The World.
Contrary to popular belief, Maya did not vanish and the descendants of the people who built the great cities of Chichen Itza, Bonampak or Uxmal and Altun Ha, still inhabit the same lands their ancestors did and actually continue to practice the same rituals. Mayans created a highly developed culture with writing systems, calendars, mathematics, astronomy, art, architecture and with some religious, political and military order. Mayans succeeded to built beautiful stone cities and religious temples without the use of metal tools or the wheel, since these tools had not yet been discovered in their culture. They also built the religious temple of Chichen Itza. The site consists of an amalgam of an older Mayan city and newer Toltec settlements. There is the Kukulcan pyramid, as well as another smaller one, a field of columns, a ball court and more structures alike.
Part of its magic is what you can’t see nowadays, since people are not allowed to go inside the pyramid. “There are supposed to be underground rivers connecting the cenotes”, a mexican vendor told me. Cenotes are natural swimming holes formed by the collapse of porous limestone bedrock, which has revealed a secret subterranean world of groundwater pools. The Mayans revered cenotes because they were an essential water source in dry times; the name cenote means “sacred well”. Here the Mayans used to sacrifice objects and human beings as a form of worship to the Maya rain god Chaac.
The Kukulcan pyramid, also known as El Castillo was built sometime between 750 and 900 AD. It has 91 steps on each side, plus the top step to equal 365 (days of the year), each day representing a day in calendar. Additionally, the pyramid’s nine stages, bisected by a staircase on each side, represent the eighteen months of the Mayan Calendar year. Seeing this monument in person, it can fill you with a sense of wonder. After all, here lies a huge limestone structure built with incredible precision in the middle of a jungle. They had to cut out a place in the wildness and build with huge blocks of rock, while ensuring alignment with the sun that creates an amazing optic of a serpent descending the temple during spring and summer equinoxes.
But the most impressive thing about this pyramid is something else. A hand clap at the base of the staircase creates a sound that mimics the chirp of a bird. This “answer” in the voice of the quetzal bird is a messenger of the Gods, I was told by the same Mexican.
The quetzal lives in the cloud forests of Central America and was considered a sacred animal in the Maya culture. Whether the pyramid was designed to deliberately make this noise or this happened by chance, is still unknown. In the Maya temples, people would go to worship their gods and participate in ceremonies related to their complex calendar. It is believed that the priests may have used to clap their hands to invoke the quetzal’s call. For sure we would have found the truth about it, if the Mayan priests hadn’t been buried together with their books by the Spanish conquerors and missionaries. They burned or destroyed most of the remnants of the Mayan culture that they found. Nevertheless, nowadays archaeologists and scientists continue to reveal new aspects of this ancient civilization that made its way through the history of time.