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Chichén Itzá & Ek'Balam
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
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Chichen Itzá

This is an archaeological site located in the state of Yucatán, 120 km (72miles) from Mérida on the Mérida-Cancun road. This sacred city was one of the biggest Maya sites of the Yucatán Peninsula. Throughout its almost one- thousand – year history, the city was embellished thanks to the contribution of different people. Mayas, Toltècs and Iztáes left an imprint of their vision of the world and of the universe on the stones of monuments and works of art.

It is no longer possible to climb the structures of Chichén Itzá. Some photos have been taken during the time before this ban (safety and site protection).

going up "El Castillo"
El Castillo from Temple of Warriors Chichén Itzá means "the mouth of the well of the Itzás". This major ceremonial center combines grandeur and nature. According to the sacred book of Chilam Balaum, this well was discovered in the fifth century by the Itzás, who abandoned it two centuries later. They migrated to the area of Champotón and came back two and a half centuries later, influenced by and more precisely accompanied by the Toltecs in order to establish themselves there in late ninth century.
These warrior groups united with the leaders of the main families, such as the Xius from Uxmal, the Cocoms from Mayapán and the Itzás from Chichén Itzá. But, the latter, betrayed by the Cocoms, emigrated again to Petén, Guatemala. There, they founded the current Flores in Tayasal, the actual Flores, an independent Empire which resisted the Spanish attacks until 1697.

Left picture : going up "El Castillo"
Right picture : El Castillo from Temple of Warriors

During the Conquest, Francisco de Montejo tried to settle there but he was expelled from Chichén Itzá by the Mayas led by Canek.
It looks as if the site was inhabited earlier but the first stone buildings, known as the Nunnery and its annex, the church, Akak Dzib, Chichan-chob, Casa del Venado (house of the deer) and the temple of the Panels, were built during the classical period, between the seventh and the tenth century. These constructions are contemporary however they resemble the ones found in Uxmal.

During the toltec occupation, new buildings were constructed: the pyramid known as El Castillo, the temple of the thousand columns including the temple of the warriors, the ball court and other temples such as the Tzompantli (wall of the skulls), the platform of Vénus, etc..
After its' abandonment, Chichén Itzá conserved its sacred character and pilgrims were organized in the whole of Yucatán and from neighboring counties in order to visit the sacred well "dzonot" (Maya word meaning cenote ) and to make sacrifices.

The sacred city

Chac mool at the base of "El Castillo"Chichén Itzá, contrary to most of the other sites, doesn’t have a development plan. It is comprised of several units spread over a 5 km2 (1.6 sq miles) area. The units are linked with streets called "sacbé or sacbeob" for plural, (paved or “white” trail). The dominating unit is that of the Toltecs’, surrounded by a low-rise wall studded with several entrances. Characteristics of Toltec architecture are evident within gates with columns, gallerias, pillars, snake shaped columns, Chac Mool sculptures, hominoid sculptures in the form of "atlantes", flag-bearers, carved rounded sculptures in the form of jaguars and eagles, tzompantli or wall of the skulls and representations of Quetzalcóatl, named Kukulcán in Maya.

     Right picture : Chac mool at the base of "El Castillo"

Chac-mool was an intermediate between men and the gods. Notice the small dish that would have been used for the receiving of sacrifices.

Temple of Warriors with the columns in the foreground and "El Castillo" in the background The tzompantli is a wooden building with 4 rows of impaled skulls.
The Toltecs adored the Gods and imposed this sentiment upon the subordinate populations They also imposed the bloody rites of human sacrifices which enforced war in order to capture their victims. Their influence soon reached the Caribbean coast.

Chichén Itzá was considered by some people to have been the "new Tula", or the "big Tula".

Left picture : Temple of Warriors with the columns in the foreground and "El Castillo" in the background


Map located at the central zone of ChichénThe site visit is advised early in the morning with the possibility of two entrances: main entrance or the entrance to the central zone just next to the Mayaland Hotel.

If you come to the main entrance, begin the visit with the Ball Court with it‘s various temples, the Tzompatli, the Platform of Jaguars and Eagles, the Venus Platform, the Castle, the Sacred Well, the Temple of Tables, the Temple of Warriors (the sun rises behind this temple), the Collection of a thousand columns, the Market and the thermal steam baths.

If you enter via the central zone located next to the Mayaland Hotel, begin by visiting the Xtolox Well and the Akab Dzib, the Observatory, the Temple of Sculpted Panels, the Nunnery, its churches and annexes and then the thermal steam baths. Then take the path to the Old Chichén and on your return stop off at the colored house, the deer house and the Ossuary...

Photo to the right: Map located at the central zone of Chichén.

The sacred well (cenote sagrado)

This natural well located at the end of a 300 m (984 ft) long trail leads from the Main Plaza of the Castle towards the North. It was used only for religious, ceremonial & ritual purposes and was dedicated to Chaac, God of rain and water. It is a circular well with a diameter of 60 m (197 ft). The almost vertical walls plunge 22 m (72 ft) to the surface of the water. The water is about 20 m (66 ft) deep. The bottom is muddy and the water is green due to algae and micro-organisms. Some walls are in their original state but we can see some modifications on the southern part; a kind of tribune was set later in order to allow spectators to observe the rituals and ceremonials that were held there.
This well was considered a sacred place where children, young women and warriors were sacrificed: they were thrown down from an irregular platform set on one edge. By the side of this platform, there is a steam bath were the victims were purified before being sacrificed.
Between 1882 and 1968, excavations were carried out at the bottom of the well. The excavators found valuable objects and important archaeological artifacts from different sites. This proves the presence of pilgrims who came from the neighboring Chichen Itza and from distant lands of Central America in order to deposit offerings to the divinities honored there.
They collected skulls of sacrificed people and many bones and objects such as gold and copper bells, fine cut gold disks representing historic and religious scenes, pyrite disks and mirrors, jade pearls, copal bowl and gumdrops, sculptures of the heads and tails of snakes, wooden objects such as small benches, handles and a commandment stick, a jaguar-shaped standard bearer, rings and copper sandals, polished stones that were used in the Ball Games, vases, clay containers and arrow heads.

Next to this, the sculptures ruins which were a steam bath or temazcal can be found. These were used for the purification of those who were to be sacrificed. A platform was also built, from where victims were pushed.

The Venus platform
The Venus platform

This is a quadrangular structure with a stairway on each side; the ramps have big heads of feathered serpents at the top. On the walls, panels with low-reliefs reveal themes relate to Venus, a planet studied by Mayan astronomers. The Spanish columnists report stated that spectacles were held on these platforms. This platform is comprised of diverse elements in the background, Venus is represented leaving the mouth of a serpent while on the panels jutting out, she is symbolized by the design of Pop month with tied sticks and a stellar cable molding (star-shaped flower). There is a serpent surrounded by fish is sculpted onto the panel of the cornice.

Photo as seen : The Venus platform

The platform of Venus presents on each side feathered serpents and symbols of Quetzalcóatl-Kukulcán. On each corner, there are glyphs of Pop month, the first month of the Mayan calendar, and symbols of Venus. It is perhaps a representation of the relationship between the solar calendar and the cycles of Venus. This symbolic representation of Quetzalcóatl-Kukulcán was the most treasured by the pre-Hispanic population.

The Castillo (Kukulkán)
El Castillo, pyramid of 9 bodies dominates the open ceremonial space
This 60m (198feet) wide and 24m (79feet) high pyramid is the most imposing construction. It's age is difficult to calculate however the dates as estimated by experts state that it was built between 650 and 800 AD. Its characteristics are linked to the Mayan solar calendar. On the face, you can see decorative motifs such as the serpents and tigers produced with Toltec influence. This confirms the opinion that the structure was built during the Chichen Itza boom period and also at a time when the city of Mayapán dominated the region. Each face has a stairway with 91 steps leading to the temple. A total of 364 steps plus the upper platform equal 365, the number of days in a year. On each face of the pyramid are 52 sections of panel and 52 is the number of years in the Toltec cycle. The stairway also divides the 9 terraces into 18 segments representing the 18 months of the solar year, each one made of 20 days. During the equinoxes (March, 21 –September, 22), the shadow projected on the stairway shows a snake descending from the top of the pyramid to the sculpted heads set at the foot of the pyramid. It is the day of the descent of Quetzalcóatl. While restoring, another stairway was discovered under the outside stairway. It leads to another temple inside this one.

     Above picture : El Castillo, Pyramid of 9 bodies dominates the open ceremonial space-Photo taken from the temple of Warriors

El Castillo, the Spring equinox

Photo to the right : El Castillo, the Spring equinox

El Castillo is situated on a grassy plain, not far away from the Temple of Warriors or the Chac Mool statue.



Feathered serpents found at the bottom of one of the stairways within "El Castillo"




Photo to the left : Feathered serpents found at the bottom of one of the stairways within "El Castillo"


The specific orientation of the "Castillo" is not a coincidence. The orientation is 21°12'east of north. It is the result of a meticulous research that allows for a unique play of lights and shadows on equinox days about one hour before sunset. The nine degrees angles project, on the north stairway, a shadow that looks like moving snakes.

"The Castle" as seen from the Temple of Warriors (behind the Chac-Mool)The pyramid was built in two stages. The temple comprises a vestibule in which you enter by walking in between two serpent-shaped columns. The serpents have open mouths; their bodies are the main parts of the columns, their tails support the lintel of the door and their heads form the base. The interior room has two pillars decorated with bas-reliefs supporting the roof beam, a sloping panel, a vertical wall with a border between two cornices on the top and on three panels.

On the back, a galleria with three doors leads into the South, East and West stairways. There is a mascaron of God Chaac on the main entrance; the roof is decorated with shell-shaped skulls, a symbol of the array of the God of wind. Faces of priests and warriors are carved into the doors.

 Photo as seen above : "The Castle" as seen from the Temple of Warriors (behind the Chac-Mool)

On each of the four faces of the Castle, one of the most impressive monuments in this site, stairways lead to the top temple. At the base of the ramps located on the northern part of the pyramid, two huge feathered serpent heads are carved in the stone. They have a mouth wide open with fangs and a tongue decorated with semi-circles reminding of the movement of the sun. This is probably linked to Kukulkán-Quetzalcóatl.



Feathered serpent heads in the foreground and in the background, the sunset after the spring equinox

Worship to the poisonous snakes, such as the cobra, and the symbolism linked to it were characteristics of the ancient civilizations. The rattle snake has been worshiped in the Meso-American cultures in Yucatàn since the end of the classical period. It was introduced by the Toltec invaders who consolidated their power and imposed their religious, artistic and cultural conceptions as we can see through the edifices and decorative designs of the Toltec culture.

Photo to the left : Feathered serpent heads in the foreground and in the background, the sunset after the spring equinox



Because of fatal accidents, you cannot go up to the top of the pyramid.

Feathered serpent heads at the bottom of the stairway of the Casttle



Right picture : Feathered serpent heads at the bottom of the stairway of the Casttle






The temple of the warriors

 Site of Chichén Itzá - nice video about the site (National geographic)

Part of the Thousand Columns group, the temple of the warriors was reserved for human sacrifices, as the truncated pyramid shaped stone in front of the altar suggests it. This huge temple is built on a platform with terraces adorned with eagles and jaguars (diurnal and nocturnal sun) eating human hearts. The roof that was supported by pillars disappeared and you can see two snake shaped pillars at the entrance. The snakes tails face upwards with their heads on the ground. In the back, there is an altar supported by human figures called "atlantes".
Two Chac Mool can be seen, one on the stairway and the other at the entrance of the temple.
Another older temple was discovered under this one, with bright painted columns.

This magnificent structure, built on top of an older temple, stands on a 40 m wide and 12 m high base. It has several staggered sloping platforms and a cornice carved with warriors, jaguars and eagles devouring human hearts.
The temple has two rooms : These rooms are accessible via a stairway whose sides are decorated with feathered serpents. The heads of the serpents are on the top of the temple, with carved warriors as standard bearers.

Across from the entrance of the temple, there is a Chac Mool situated between two feathered serpent shaped columns; these columns highlight three windows leading onto the first room of the temple. These large and beautiful columns are symbols of the Kukulkàn God.

Two stone sculpted feather serpent heads, open-mouthed therefore revealing their fangs, they act as a pedestal for two sculptures of warriors with clasped handsThe entrance doors have been decorated with low-reliefs and the pillars have sculptures representing Kukulkán, warriors and other personages. In the second room, also supported by pillars, an altar supported by Atlantes is built into the back wall; there is a combination of Toltec and Mayan designs on the exterior walls. Above the cornice of the lower part there is a set of mascarons of Chaac of Puuc style as well as a haut-relief representing the human face of Kukulkán emerging from the mouth of a serpent.

Beyond the upper platform, a stairway leads to two vaulted rooms that have the remains of paintings on the walls, remnants of a former construction called substructure of the Warriors or Temple of Chac Mool. It was given the name due to the discovery there of a Chac Mool sculpture.
The temple of the Warriors was probably reserved to human sacrifices made on the truncated pyramid shaped stone located in front of the altar.
On the cornice that defines the slope of the lower part of the Temple of the Warriors, a mascaron represents Kukulkán-Quetzalcóatl with a human face, emerging from the mouth of a serpent. On the background of the mascaron, there are carved low-reliefs of claws and bird feathers, which compose a symbol of the bird-man. The décor is completed with masks of Chaac of Puuc style.

 Right picture : Two stone sculpted feather serpent heads, open-mouthed therefore revealing their fangs, they act as a pedestal for two sculptures of warriors with clasped hands

The Temple of Warriors with the two serpent shaped pillars and the stone warriors (just above the two feathered serpent heads)We can also appreciate the association of Mayan and Toltec decorative designs, with mythological and religious inspiration. It is the merging of the two cultures : Kukulkán was indeed the main deity in Chichén as Quetzalcóatl was in Tula and Teotihuacán.
In the back wall of the second room, an altar is built into the wall and is supported by small sculptures of Atlantes; these are the typical Toltec elements which were the base of decoration of the edifices of Chichén Itzá from 1000 to 1250. The designs represent warriors with pectoral muscles, bells and bracelets (these objects were part of their work attire).

Left picture : The Temple of Warriors with the two serpent shaped pillars and the stone warriors (just above the two feathered serpent heads)


some of the 100 columns of the Temple of WarriorsTwo stone carved feathered serpent heads are on the top of the upper part of the ramp along the stairway leading to the Temple of the Warriors. The open mouths show the fangs; they are used as pedestals for two sculptures representing warriors with joined hands; these stone warriors were standard bearers upon which emblems of the Itzás and their governors were hung.

Right picture : some of the 100 columns of the Temple of Warriors

Across from the gates of the Temple of the Warriors, there is a large platform with a stone sculpture of Chac Mool, a typical Toltec personage used to present offerings in a specific position of reclining with the head turned to one side and a container in the hands. Due to the ban on climbing the buildings, it is now more difficult to see some of the symbols such as the Chac Mool perched on top of the Temple of Warriors.  

Some researchers see him as the messenger between man and the Gods.

Chac Mool on the foreground at the top of the stairway to the Temple of Warriors with the two serpent shaped pillars.It is located between two beautiful big serpent shaped pillars, symbols of Kukulkán God, with a wonderful décor carved on them. The tails of the serpents supported the lintels of the entrance while their big heads were used as the bases on the ground.

Photo to the left: Chac Mool on the foreground at the top of the stairway to the Temple of Warriors with the two serpent shaped pillars.







The Temple of Warriors wit hthe two serpent shaped pillars and the two stone warriors serving as standard bearers on which Itza emblems and governors emblems would have been hung (just above the feathered serpent heads).

Photo to the right: The Temple of Warriors wit hthe two serpent shaped pillars and the two stone warriors serving as standard bearers on which Itza emblems and governors emblems would have been hung (just above the feathered serpent heads).







The Temple of the Large Tables
This temple was built next to the Temple of Warriors. It is in fact a small pyramid with four levels which would have been dominated by a temple with gates and surrounded by two serpent columns. Although it has not been completely conserved, the carved stone border placed on the ground in front of the stairway which leads to the Temple, is well worth a visit. It reveals a collection of jaguars, amongst which trees and spear points are interspersed. On the second level, a sculpted feathered serpent can be seen.

Steam Bath
You go through a gate and four columns and then enter via a small doorway in order to get into the steam room. There are benches positioned in the walls and, in the back, an oven in which the stones were heated and had water poured on them in order to produce steam.

The marketplace
This is a lower platform with stairways on each side and in the center. However, it is still not certain that this place was used as a marketplace. The main room consists of a large galleria with high walls in the back, columns and pillars in the front and a stone bench all along the walls. There is also an altar decorated with human faces on the base and feathered serpents on the cornice. The entrance had pillars which were decorated with carved personages; behind the galleria the columns formed a rectangular patio and would have probably supported a thatched roof.

The group of a Thousand Columns
Group of a Thousand Columns (west side)It consists of numerous pillars and columns, many of them beautifully carved. They surround a large square plaza. The columns and their capitals supported beams on which masonry archways leaned. Names were given to the columns depending on their location : you will hear about the north columns or the north-east columns, etc….

The haut-relief of the Group of a Thousand Columns :
This Group is located in the Maya-Toltec part of the archaeological site. Many of its columns and pillars offer nice sculptures with diverse designs. You can see a haut-relief with a personage richly arrayed with feathers and a nasal ring. This is a good example of the extravagant clothing worn by the governors and priests. The upper class wore also cotton jackets adorned with feathers, sandals and jewels made of jade, obsidian, shells and jaguar skins.

Left photo : Group of a Thousand Columns (west side)

It could be that the columns have been reformed with stucco and coloured paintings. They also support a border of Chaac masks and rounded shields. One counts 16 columns in a row except for the first which is comprised of only 15 and all on a surface of 50 metres.
Currently, their height is around 3 metres which also represents the distance between each column. The oldest column can be found in the west section, which is also the furthest away: the columns continue for a distance of 129 metres. The last of them being in a cylindrical form and devoid of their capitals, they are also divided into four lines which would have supported the lower vaults.

Group of a Thousand Columns (north side)


Right photo : Group of a Thousand Columns (north side)






Group of a Thousand Columns (north side)




Left photo : Group of a Thousand Columns (north side)






The platform of the Jaguars and the Eagles

platform of the JaguarsThis rectangular platform has a stairway ending with a large feathered serpent head on each side. The walls are decorated with panels with bas-reliefs representing eagles and jaguars devouring human hearts. The upper cornice is adorned with lying warriors. This is situated on the Venus platform.

Photo on right and below : platform of the Jaguars



platform of the Jaguars











The wall of the skulls (tzompantli)

We can find the life worship through the death on the walls of this platform, which is covered with skulls. It is a stone representation of the monuments made with human skulls impaled on stakes (tzompantli). It was probably the place where the victims’ heads were displayed to the public.

wall of the skulls
The Mesoamericans sometimes displayed the cut heads of their enemies.The stone representation of this ritual is called the tzompantli.

It is probably here that the heads of the sacrificed victims were displayed. On a slope panel, there is a panel in the middle of two cornices; the upper one is decorated with bas-reliefs skulls set on stakes; the cornices are surmounted by serpents and eagles devouring human hearts as well as warriors and feathered serpents. This shows the influence from Central Mexico.

Right and below picturec : wall of the skulls


wall of the skullsIt was most probably erected during the Cocome domination, especially for their chief mercenaries and those who originated in the High Plateau region during the city’s second war time. The tzompantli has a “T” structure and is decorated at the base with three panels representing skeletons separated by various moldings. In total, 500 sculpted skeletons have been recorded on the high-reliefs.

The Mesoamericans sometimes displayed the cut-off heads of their enemies. The stone representation of this ritual is called the tzompantli.




The temple of the Jaguars and its annex

Temple of Jaguars next to the Ball CourtThis small temple, accessible by the side of the ball court and close to the wall of the skulls, is like a tribune from where the princes Itzá would have watched the game. It is named after a very ornamental jaguar fresco. In each corner, one can clearly see a jaguar (by night) and an eagle (by day) eating a human heart, symbolizing the offering to the sun.

     Right picture : Temple of Jaguars next to the Ball Court

The east platform of the Ball Court was cut to allow the construction of a base accessible via a narrow stairway; from there, you can reach the temple via a small stairway whose ramps have been decorated with low-reliefs in the theme of Kukulkán. The temple consists of a vestibule and a room with an altar; on the walls, you can see remnants of paintings, including one of the battles of the Itzás.
The upper panel is comprised of two feathered serpents with intertwined tails and jaguars in the middle. The temple was named after the jaguars which walk in opposite directions towards three shields, they are symbols of war and intertwined serpents can be seen on the lower border.
Behind the temple, you find the small Annex at ground level : it is the only room embellished with beautiful designs.

TTemple of Jaguarshe pillars highlight three entrances; in the middle one, there is a jaguar shaped stone throne. The jaguar was the animal symbolizing the power of the Mayan governors. The three entrances are highlighted by two large serpent shaped columns (the tails used as the bases of the columns). Warriors are part of the décor of the lintels and doors.


Left picture : Temple of Jaguars




The Ball Court
The Ball Court is surrounded by two parallel walls with the characteristic stone score rings (tachtli). There were named tachtli by the Náhuas and Pok-Ta-Pok by the Mayas. The game was a mix between basket-ball and hockey; two teams were fighting on the court; the goal was to put a hard rubber ball through a ring cemented on the center of the wall. The players could hit the ball with their head, elbows, hips and knees only. The game had sacred significance, probably linked to the sun.
Court ball of Chichén The losing (or winning ?) team was sacrificed to the Gods. A fresco, at the bottom of one wall, explains the sense of the ceremonial. The Conquistadors discovered the ritual when coming to Mexico-Tenochtitlán and you can “read” this same ritual in the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Quichés. One of the players is seen, after having beheaded a player of the opposite team, holding a flint knife in one hand and the head of the victim in the other hand. The blood spurting from the headless body takes the shape of snakes and one of them is converted into plants covered with flowers and fruits. Life emerges from death.

    Right picture : Ball court of Chichén

This stadium has impressive dimensions : 168 m (538feet) long by 70m (230feet) wide. This includes the two temples situated to the North and to the South. It is the largest tlachtli in all of Meso-america. The lower walls are decorated with emblems most probably originating from the Gulf Coast.     

ring-goal of the ball game

These score rings were decorated with designs inspired by the protective deities as well as the astral and mythological symbology of this game. The stone ring of the Ball Court of Chichén Itzá is carved with feathered serpent representing Kukulkán-Quetzalcóatl, the most important deity in this region.

Above the court ball , the temple of the Jaguars displays the remains of a mural telling of the Conquest of Chichén Itzá by the Toltecs.



Left picture : ring-goal of the ball game




The North Temple or Temple of the Bearded Figure
Temple of the Bearded Figure

This edifice is located in the northern wall of the Ball Court. It has only one room with a lot of bas-reliefs representing Kukulkán with warriors at his side and thirteen other personages. On the back wall, there is a curious carving of a bearded man. This temple has also taken its name from the strange bearded character that is a part of the depicted scene. The temple rests on three staggered levels which are placed on a platform of 14 metres in length and 8 metres in width, including the stairway.

Photo on the right : Temple of the Bearded Figure



The South Temple
This temple, located at the southern end of the Ball Court, has one room with a plain façade, a cornice with moldings and borders. At the entrance the six pillars are carved with their names in hieroglyphs. On the inside panels, Kukulkán is represented emerging from the mouth of a feathered serpent.

The Ossuary or Tomb of the High Priest
OssuaryEven though there are located in Old Chichén, on the other side of the road, some buildings also belong to the Toltec time. Some of them are of great interest and we advise you not to miss this part of the city during your visit. The first pyramid is the High Priest’s Tomb also called the Ossuary. This structure measures 9 metres in height and is comprised of nine staggered terraces. It is a small recently restored pyramid in which seven tombs containing offerings were discovered : shells, bells as well as rock crystal and jade figurines. The big serpents and the partly restored adornment of the reclining panels, as well as the altars lined in front of the main stairway, reveal Toltec style.


Photos on the right and below : Ossuary


The square altar could be the draft of the platform of Venus which is on the main plaza. Some steps are built into the walls forming a stairway leading to a natural cave symbolizing the passage to the world of the dead.



Originally, the structure was part of a complex monument which linked up to the Xtoloc Cenote.










The Deer House
This building was named after the deer painted on one of the inner walls. It is a small temple with three rooms. It is built on a platform with rounded angles, accessible via a central stairway. The façade and the border are smooth and separated by moldings surmounted by a large "cresteria" (main ridge) in very bad condition.




The Red House ("Casa Colorada" or Chichanchob)
ChichanchobThe Red House (Casa Colorada or Chichanchob) is the following building in pure Puuc style, with masks of Chac above the doors. In the back, a basement was used as a tribune for a small ball court whose presence is marked by a few sculpted stones. This temple dominates other structures more or less in ruins, among them the house of the deer in the north.

Photo on the left : Chichanchob

It is also called the Red House because of a reddish strip on the gates. This structure is the best and the structure that has been conserved the most amongst the 4 other structures that surround the main square of the Central Group. It is longer due to the vestibule, which is accessible via three entrances. The face of the structure is of great simplicity and is composed of smooth walls with 2 moldings and 2 ridges for decoration in the main part. The oldest of these moldings is situated in the central area and the second (built behind the first) exhibits the Chaac masks. This temple still overlooks other more or less ruined structures, including the House of the Deer at the North.

Chichén Viejo
Although they are on the other side of the road, in Old Chichén, many other buildings belong to the Toltec time. Some are of great interest and not to be missed while visiting the site. The first pyramid is the High Priest Tomb also called the Ossuary. It is a small pyramid just reconditioned that contains human bones. The partly reconstituted big snakes and the decoration are from the Toltec style. The altars lined in front of the main stairway also. The squared one seems to be the draft of the platform of Venus on the great plaza.

El Caracol
Still in Old Chichén : the Observatory (Caracol)
This curious building, built on a rectangular platform, is the result of successive additions, the last one being circular, influenced by the styles of the Mexican highlands. The windows, located at the top, allowed for the observation of the stars due to their very precise orientations. On the right, you will see the cruciform map of a ritual bath (temazcal).

Left picture : El Caracol

This edifice is also known as El Caracol (the snail). It belongs to the transition period between 900 and 1000. It is made of an all in one piece rectangular platform with a sloping panel surmounted by a 6 m high cornice with rounded angles. This platform is 67 m long from north to south and 52 m wide from east to west.

The ramps of the stairway are carved with intertwined serpents. On this platform, they built a circular base, with a diameter of 11m and a height of 3.70 m, decorated with cornices with moldings and mascarons representing the God Chaac; this base supports another circular slope-panel edifice with a diameter of 16 m and a height of 5 m.; it has prominent moldings as well as a raised wall molding. Opposite this, a terrace of 20 metres long and 6.5 metres wide with a wall molding can be seen. This structure was covered by another terrace surrounded by stone incense burners shaped as human skulls; the cylinder-shaped construction of the observation room was built on top of these terraces.
If you examine the tower, you can notice that, originally, the construction was made of a single structure with a spiral stairway that gave the structure its name. The stairway led to the observatory room. Then, with the construction of two other bases, they added another room and a terrace surrounding the tower. The observatory is a small room with arrow slits from where they observed the stars.
The Mayan astronomers were able to define the position of different stars. They devoted themselves to the movements of these stars. After many precise astronomical and mathematical calculations, they perfected a solar calendar, Haab, with 365 days divided into in 18 months of 20 days each plus 5 extra days and a ritual calendar, Tzolkin, that predicted the life of the population and their destiny; They used both calendars simultaneously searching for the harmony of the universe and moving through the repetition of cycles at the time.

The ObservatoryThe Observatory Tower is a circular room with arrow sits from where the Mayan astronomers studied the celestial phenomenon. Their astronomical knowledge such as the distinguishing of the cycles of the sun, the moon and Venus, the calculation of the solar eclipses and the movement of the stars, including the Pleiades, called Tzab, was obtained using basic instruments and specific constructions such as the "Caracol". The astronomy was linked to the conception of the Mayan world. The Mayas considered the cosmos as the field of action of the sacred forces and the stars as gods upon which people’s lives depended.

      Right picture : The Observatory

The Temple of the Sculpted Panels

Temple of the Sculpted PanelsA little further, you discover the Temple of the Sculpted Panels, a successful mix of Toltec and Maya architecture. The lateral walls show how the corbelled vault is supported by pillars that considerably enlarged the inner space. Fire ceremonies were held there. This temple was built in two phases : first, they built the temple consisting of a gate with three entrances, two serpent shaped columns and a room with a bench; another room was later added.

Photo on the left : Temple of the Sculpted Panels

This room is accessible via a gate with four columns; inside, there is a double row of columns and a bench along three of the four walls. A former stairway was destroyed and replaced by another one that passes through the roof in order to reach the temple. On the outside walls, built during the second phase, superb panels gave their name to the temple. They consist in three rows of bas-reliefs with diverse designs, including warriors, Gods, birds, serpents, monkeys, jaguars, trees and a hut revealing three people.

Nunnery, annex and church

Nunnery buildingA few steps away stands a group of buildings called the Nunnery, the annex and the church, even though they had nothing to do with Christian symbolism. The building is in pure Chénès style , with the omnipresence of the Mask of Chac surrounded by baroque designs. This two floor palace stands on an imposing platform flanked by a big stairway and is in very bad shape ! The annex, a more recent aisle added on the east side, has a spectacular facade with a dignitary sitting feet and hands crossed. The entrance symbolizes a huge open mouth with teeth or fangs ! The church is a beautiful masterpiece in Puuc style. On each side of the central mask, there are four people with animal busts, sitting sideways on thrones. They are probably representing the four bacabs, bearer of the earth world. Two of them, the turtle and the snail, are easily identifiable.

Right picture : Nunnery building

Church next to the Nunnery The church is so named because of its proximity with the Nunnery; the construction dates from the seventh and eighteenth centuries, when the Puuc style flourished. Inside, a rectangular vaulted room has a door on the west-facing side. The symmetric decoration is essentially made of stone mosaic. The border has three mascarons of Chaac, the God of rain, set in the center and at each end. The most noticeable ones are the mascarons with the stylized trunk shaped noses that represente this deity.

Left picture : Church next to the Nunnery

In the niches between these mascarons, there are personages, in groups of two, probably representing the four bacabs or “Bearers of Heaven" Gods. They are symbolized by the armadillo, the snail, the turtle and the crab and are distinguished from each other by their position on the four cardinal points.
On the upper part of the façade, there is a serpent- shaped decor; on the top of the "cresteria", three mascarons of Chaac jut out while a border is lined with staggering decoration on the lower part. On the sides of the back of the edifice, the ornaments (grecques, mascarons and a jagged fringe of the cornice) are really plain compared to the rich decoration of the façade.

The Nunnery Annex

Nunnery annexIt is one of the most beautiful and harmonious structures in Chénès style in Chichén Itzá; it is a rectangular building with three parallel gallerias of three rooms each plus two rooms facing east and west , added later. The north and south faces are decorated with slatted blind panels and the angles of the façade end with mascarons of Chaac; there are also mascarons on the frieze surrounded by moldings. The two upper moldings go all around the edifice surrounding a stone bas-relief of a crawling serpent.

Right picture : Nunnery annex

The eastern façade presents many ornaments including mascarons and heads with hooked noses (symbols of the God of rain); they are disposed around the door in such a way that you feel as if you are entering into an open mouth full of fangs. It could be interpreted as entering into the world of the Gods.
Above the molding framing the entrance, a medallion is surrounded by grecques and a seated personage wearing a feathered headgear inside.
TChurch and Nunnery annexhe north and south façades have moldings surmounted by allegorical ornaments linked with the tail of the rattle snake; they look like they were added long after the construction of this building. The lintel located above the door presents a hieroglyph interpreted as the representation of the year 800 A.D.
The building ends in a molding with a cornice that was once surmounted by a "cresteria". You can notice it on the drawing by the English artist Frederik Cayherwood when he visited Chichén Itzá in the middle of the last century.

Left picture : Church and Nunnery annex

Medallion of the Nunnery Annex façade : the important people of the governing class used headgears as ornaments and signs of their power. These headgears are made of feathers from different birds and also from the tail of the quetzal. This bird lives in the tropical forests in the south of Chiapas and Guatemala. The grandness of the headgear signifies the importance of the seated person(s) as carved on the upper part of the entrance. The medallion is surrounded by grecques and mascarons.

The Temple of the Initial Serie
It is the most important temple in the "Grupo de la Fecha" (Group of the Date). There is the only hieroglyph of Old Chichén with a complete date: you can read Muluc 7 Zac as well as, 2 Ahau. It means 879 A.D. (Classical Maya time). This date is written on a lintel slab supported by two huge “Atlante” columns. Generally, the Mayan inscriptions start with what is called Long Count or Initial Serie that is used to indicate the baktums (about 400 year long cycles), the katuns (20 year cycles), the tuns (years), the vinales (20 day cycles) and the kines (days).

The Temple of Atlantes
It is a small construction whose entrance was surrounded and decorated by Atlantes. Parts of their clothing consisted of pectorals, bracelets, bells and nose-pad; these elements prove that they were warriors. The way in which their arms and hands are placed enables us to imagine that the Atlantes were there to support the base of the roof. This kind of sculpture is the manifestation, in the artistic and cultural field, of the influence of the Toltec which was slowly integrated into Mayan culture.

The Temple of the Owls
It is located in the middle of the jungle in Old Chichén. Only the pillars remain but they have been decorated with remarkable bas-reliefs representing owls. These birds might have been the symbols of the night or they were birds of ill omen. The use of owls as a decorative element in the Peninsula might be due to the Toltec invaders: the Mayas used other birds in their decoration: they were either realistic representations or they were combined with human traits in order to create imaginary and mythological beings.

The Temple of the Three Lintels
This rectangular temple comprises three rooms whose doors are surmounted with carved lintels; you can read the date 850 A.D. on one of them. The upper part of the façade is ornate with a crawling serpent, rows of small columns and two mascarons of Chaac on both angles. The decor of the back part is made of slated blind shaped panels and small columns.

To end the visit, notice the Akab Dzib, the house of Obscure Writing, adorned with carved glyphs on the lintel located above the main door on the south side. These glyphs have yet to be translated.

This structure comprises two rooms as well as two structures with eight gallerias covered with Maya vaults. These gallerias merge at the north and the south. The façade is surmounted with a "cresteria" and ornate with geometrical grecques; the south door is surmounted with a stone lintel where a priest and glyphs are carved. These glyphs still have not been deciphered: it is the reason of the name of this temple: Akab-dzib meaning "Obscure Writing".

In total, the Akab Dzib measures 54 metres long, 16 metres wide and 6 metres high. The Mayans left red hand imprints n the interior of some rooms orientated towards the west symbolizing Kabul (the celestial and creative hand).
This building is located to the east of the Cenote in Xtoloc.

"El Caracol" then "El Castillo"Not far from there is the small cenote of Xtoloc, totally natural, which wasn’t used for sacrifices like the one of the "New Chichén".

      Right picture : "El Caracol" then "El Castillo"




Entrance rates of Chichén Itzá
The site is open daily from 8AM to 5PM : the entrance fees are MXN$177 with light and sound show (7PM, Nov-Mar or 8PM, Apr-Oct - duration 45 min). It is located 45 minutes from Valladolid. It is MXN$72 for the light and sound show only, but it is far more enjoyable and recommended to purchase a full ticket!  
For the evening show only: $72 and $46 for locals. The light and sound show is slightly disappointing due to the lack of play with lights. One is left wanting more!

Due to the number of tourists, we recommend early morning arrival, at the time of opening.

Left picture : Entrance rates of Chichén Itzá


Light and sound show
This site has been on the Cultural World Heritage list of Unesco since 1988 :


Right picture : Light and sound show




place of the thousand columns and the temple of the warriors from El Castillo

The pyramid of Kukulkán is part of the seven new world marvels chosen among 21 sites from the five continents after the vote of millions of people on the internet.

     Left picture : place of the thousand columns and the temple of      the warriors from El Castillo





How to get there : It is easily accessible from Mérida, Valladolid, Cancun, Tulum and Playa del Carmen. The buses drop Ado ticket sales at Chichén Itzá siteyou off at the main entrance. To leave the site, you can buy tickets at the office of Ticket Bus located in the welcome center. There are buses with the companies ADO and Oriente (ride to Valladolid, Cancun and Mérida slower with this company because of the many stops in different villages).

Right picture : Ado ticket sales at Chichén Itzá site

There are ATM and foreign exchange in the Hall of the hotel Mayaland and in the mall at the entrance of the site. There are also lockers, restaurants, cafes, drinks and many craft shops available. Other shops are open at the entrance, just outside of the site (North or South).



We encourage you to buy crafts sold on the site : we were very surprised with the good price and quality of the work ! There are also many stands within the site.

Chichén Itzá at dusk

Map of the state of Yucatán :

Left picture : Chichén Itzá at dusk





Chichén Itzá at night








Ek'Balam, " Black jaguar "

Acropolis This 2,900 acre big city appears to have been founded by King Ek'Balam who reigned there for 40 years. The majestic constructions dating from the Late Classical Period (900 A.D.) were built on two main plazas – North and South – in a central area surrounded by two walls with five gates which were the arrival or departure points for the five sacbés "sak be'oob" or old routes. ou Ek'Balam, which means ‘black jaguar’ in Mayan language was the most important center of the oriental part of  Yucatán. It saw its decline between 700 and 1200 AD.

 Right picture : Acropolis

Thanks to the works of exploration and restoration, which were started in 1994 by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), notables structures were dig out. The rich décor with cut stone or polychrome stucco has a unique style. The monumental architecture, the steles, the network of trails and the glyph texts show that Ek'Balam was a rich Capital ruling a region that was inhabited by many people.
Entering the southern part of the area, after walking around a ball court, you come to the South Plaza surrounded by two twin buildings called "Gemelas" and the Ova Palace (Palacio Oval).
A few stone sculptures, with the head of a king, can be seen on a small platform. This place was the residence of the elite.
Inside the Ball Court structures, you will discover 90 pots containing small stone balls as well as a restored molded stucco border and paintings which display a character sat on a throne and holding a bird in their hand. These buildings are surrounded by concentric walls.


entrance of the siteThe latest (1999) big surprise is the discovery of the Acropolis on the North Plaza. It is a huge multi-level structure. It measures 158 m (474 feet) long, 68 m (204 feet) wide and 32 m (96 feet) tall. Many rooms are linked with numerous stairs like the secret passages of the castles of Medieval Europe. Half way up appeared the complete facade of a temple, whose decoration looks more like the glittery sculpture of Copán than the Post Classical style of Chichén Itzá. Angels with feathers in their backs, made in stucco, are integrated in mascarons. Above the door shaped as the mouth of a jaguar, another angel sits on the edge of the molding, with drooping legs. At the foot of the central stairs, heads of snake-dragon stick out a tongue with the emblem of Ek'Balam, the very important city of the northern kingdoms.

The glyph emblems were royal titles used for the identification of "Divine Kings" who governed the state. The view from the top is fantastic !

     Above picture : entrance of the site

This site has limited attendance and remains open to the public during its restoration for many other years. It is located less than 20 km (12.5 miles) from Valladolid – it is a wonderful site – Open daily, 8AM-5PM, entrance fees :$35 then state tax : MXN$95 for foreigners and $69 for mexican people.

two stucco statues representing winged deities in the Acropolis.Plan of the archaeological sites of Dzibilchaltun and     Ek'Balam :


      Right picture : two stucco statues representing winged deities in       the Acropolis.




 How to get there : Take a combi at Calle 44, corner 35 and 37 in Valladolid for Ek'Balam (MXN$40).



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