Chichen Itza is considered the most important archaeological zone of the Mayan World in the region.
from Yucatec Maya: chich'en itza', «At the mouth of the well of the Itza») is a large pre-Columbian archaeological site built by the Maya civilization The site exhibits a multitude of architectural styles, from what is called «Mexicanized» and reminiscent of styles seen in central Mexico to the Puuc style found among the Puuc Maya of the northern lowlands. The presence of central Mexican styles was once thought to have been representative of direct migration or even conquest from central Mexico, but most contemporary interpretations view the presence of these non-Maya styles more as the result of cultural diffusion.
Located in the northern center of the Yucatán Peninsula,149 miles from Cancun towards Merida, it extends approximately 2.5 miles from north to south, and arose at the end of the Classic period in the year 900 AD until the start of the Postclassic in 1200 AD
Archaeological data, such as evidence of burning at a number of important structures and architectural complexes, suggest that Chichen Itza's collapse was violent. Following the decline of Chichen Itza's hegemony, regional power in the Yucatán shifted to a new center at Mayapan.
The site contains many fine stone buildings in various states of preservation; the buildings were formerly used as temples, palaces, stages, markets, baths, and ballcourts.
El Castillo is a temple dedicated to the Sun, of strong Toltec influence, that was constructed over another minor temple in which was found a throne representing a jaguar above which rested a solar disk made of turquoise and obsidian. Temple of the Warriors Consists of a large stepped pyramid fronted and flanked by rows of carved columns depicting warriors. This complex is analogous to Temple B at the Toltec capital of Tula, and indicates some form of cultural contact between the two regions. The one at Chichen Itza, however, was constructed on a larger scale.
The Great Ball Court Archaeologists have identified seven courts for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame in Chichén, but the Great Ball Court about 150 meters to the north-west of the Castillo is by far the most impressive. It is the largest ball court in ancient Mesoamerica. It measures 166 by 68 meters (545 by 232 feet). The imposing walls are 12 meters high, and in the center, high up on each of the long walls, are rings carved with intertwining serpents.
High Priest's Temple This step-pyramid temple is a smaller version of El Castillo; the name comes from an elite burial discovered by early excavator E. H. Thompson.
Las Monjas One of the more notable structures at Chichen Itza is a complex of Terminal Classic buildings constructed in the Puuc architectural style. The Spanish nicknamed this complex Las Monjas («The Nuns» or «The Nunnery») but was actually a governmental palace.
El Caracol To the north of Las Monjas is a round building on a large square platform nicknamed El Caracol or «the snail» for the stone spiral staircase inside. This structure was an observatory with its doors aligned to view the vernal equinox, the Moon's greatest northern and southern declinations, and other astronomical events sacred to Kukulcan, the feathered-serpent god of the wind and learning.
Akab Dzib Located to the east of the Caracol, Akab Dzib means, in Maya, «The House of Mysterious Writing.» An earlier name of the building, according to a translation of glyphs in the Casa Colorada, is Wa(k)wak Puh Ak Na, «the flat house with the excessive number of chambers», and it was the home of the administrator of Chichén Itzá, kokom Yahawal Cho' K'ak'. INAH completed a restoration of the building in 2007.
Old Chichen «Old Chichen» is the nickname for a group of structures to the south of the central site. It includes the Initial Series Group, the Phallic Temple, the Platform of the Great Turtle, the Temple of the Owls, and the Temple of the Monkeys.
Rediscovered in 1842, it is not until the twentieth century that its restoration begins along with its resurgence as one of the most important and valuable sites of Mayan culture and basically humanity.
Chichen Itza, which translates to «at the edge of the well of the Itzaes» derives its name from its sacred, large cenote (sinkhole). The Itzaes were a group that settled within the area during the Classic period (300 to 900 AD), in a preexisting city of Puc origin, whose original name is unknown. Chichen Itza's first constructive phases correspond to the Puc style that belongs to the group of structures called The Nuns and The Temple of the Initial Series located in what is known today as Old Chichen.
El Caracol or The Observatory, built at the end of the Classic period, contained a room that permitted the detailed observation of the vernal equinox. All of this must have been in full use at the start of the twentieth century before the arrival of the Itzaes, indicating the existence of important astronomical knowledge.
A significant number of pilgrimages to the city of Chichen Itza from the entire Mayan region including Palenque, Cozumel and Izamal, were occurring in this era. These people left a great number of offerings that have been discovered in the Sacred Cenote.
Later, near the year 1000 AD, the Toltecs arrive from central Mexico. They bring to the region the god of the «feathered serpent» known as Quetzalcoatl and referred to as Kukulcan by the Mayans. It is at this moment that the first great mestization, or mixing of races and cultures, between the Mayans and the Toltecs occurs, creating a very important group that enriches enormously the religion, art and culture of the region. Adopting the Mayan language, this group becomes one of ancient Mexico's most powerful settlements.
With their highly developed knowledge of natural resources, astronomy, mathematics, painting, sculpture, writing and other human activities, these Mayans flourished into one of the most advanced civilizations of their time.
It is during this time that the next constructive phase corresponding to the blossoming of the Mayan-Toltec mestization takes place, represented in the construction of the great pyramid of Kukulcan, or «El Castillo» (The Castle), and all of the most important buildings such as The Temple of the Warriors, the Market, the Platform of the Jaguars and Eagles and the Ball Game courts. This entire zone is known as Chichen or the Toltec Chichen that also comprises the ancient Sacred Cenote by means of a perfectly defined, great Sacbe (trail).
This important architectural relationship signals a mix of deities that do not lose their importance to the Mayan-Toltec people, coexisting in a type of colonization that has never been attempted at any other time in the history of mankind. Chichen Itza extends its power over all of the Yucatan Peninsula until 1250 AD when, though there is not a uniform theory, the great city was abandoned in order to become a sanctuary for the worship of the god Kukulcan, even long after the Spanish conquest.
Today it continues to be a sacred site for a great number of people in search of the influence of the gods of nature that were supposed to live there. One of the area's main attractions is the observation of the equinoxes on March 21st and September 22nd. It is during this time that a serpent descending from El Castillo can be witnessed.
Likewise, the light and sound show that takes place every day starting at 8:00 p.m. is a must for anyone visiting the area.The archeological zone is open everyday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free on Sundays and there are several tours that depart from the larger cities such as Cancun, Merida , Playa del Carmen and Chetumal or you may arrive directly in a rental car.