We had begun the day by leaving Merida and driving about an hour and a half to the sister hotel of where we had just stayed. This one was just outside perhaps the most famous of Mayan ruins, Chichen Itza in northern Yucatan province. Actually Chichen Itza isn’t exactly a classic Mayan site as there is much evidence of influence from other cultures, most likely the Toltecs, who used to live around today’s Mexico City. The site however, is spectacular – the ruins have amazing details and unusual features with more statuary and carvings that we’ve seen at most other sites. The main pyramid, or El Castillo as the Spaniards called it, was an observatory. Mayan buildings have incredible geometric and mathematical symbolism. For example, each of the four sides has 91 steps, 4×91=364 + 1 for the platform on top = the number of days in a year. The Mayans used two different calendars, one of which worked on cycles of 20 days (the base of their number system, and the number of digits on a human body) that came together once every 52 years. Back at El Castillo, the steps have balustrades with serpent heads at the base and at dawn on the equinoxes the shadows from the corners of the pyramids form a zigzag pattern on the balustrades, bringing them to life.
Other buildings were observatories and temples laid out to match Orion’s belt, Venus, sunrise and sunset on special days and so on. Also of interest was the temple of a thousand columns, something that looked almost Roman, and the sacred cenote (sinkhole) which was dredged at different times over the last century and yielded many artifacts, some of which we had seen in Merida.
The site itself is hot and humid and there are lots of people. But with plenty of room for them to move around, it did not feel too crowded. Unfortunately, like at the other premiere Mexican sites, you can’t climb any of the temples anymore, something that was possible until just a few years ago. On one hand, this makes for clear views of the monuments, but deprives you of the amazing views we know are there from our experience at the top of Guatemalan and Belizean sites.
After dinner we came back for the Son and Lumiere show, which was just awful. The simultaneous English translation was not available for some reason, but from the 50% or so of the Spanish that I understood, it was the same history we had heard several times previously. The light show dragged on and got more and more boring. The fun light show was watching the lighting bugs flying around and the lighting from a far off storm that lit up the sky every so often.