The best-preserved Maya site on the Yucatan peninsula, Chichén Itzá continues to confound archeologists. The date of the first settlement within the older, southern part of the site is unsure, however the northern part was constructed during a Maya renaissance within the 11th century. Similarities with Tula, the ancient capital of the Toltec empire, and myths of exiled Toltec god-king Quetzalcoatl (Kukulcan) settling at Chichén Itzá, suggest that the renaissance was as a consequence of a Toltec invasion. Nevertheless, different theories hold that Tula was influenced by the Maya, not vice versa. In its heyday as a commercial, spiritual, and military center, which lasted till about the 13th century, Chichén Itzá supported more than 35,000 individuals.
An enormous array of gods and goddesses were worshiped by the Maya. A few of them were linked to celestial bodies, such as the stars, Sun, and Moon. Others held sway over creation, features of every day life, and dying. Deities were feared as much as revered and it was important to appease them as much as possible, usually through human sacrifice. Kukulcan, a feathered serpent, was an essential deity. Chac, the god of rain and lightning, was venerated, since rainfall was vital to farming communities. Also worshiped was the Sun god Kinich Ahau, who was associated with the jaguar.
EL CASTILLO PYRAMID
Built round 800, the incredible El Castillo pyramid has an ideal astronomical design. The 4 staircases face the cardinal points, with varied features corresponding to aspects of the Maya calendar. At the two yearly equinoxes, an interesting optical illusion happens whereby a serpent seems to crawl down the north staircase. The temple on the top of the inside pyramid accommodates a chacmool, a carved reclining figure with a stone dish on its abdomen thought to have held sacrificial offerings. There’s also a wonderful, vivid-red throne carved as a jaguar and encrusted with jade. The doorway to the temple is divided by snake-shaped columns.
Not like other Mesoamerican peoples, the Maya didn’t develop a large, centralized empire, dwelling as an alternative in independent city-states. Once thought to have been a peaceful people, they’re now known to have shared the lust for battle and human sacrifice evident in other ancient civilizations. lmmensely gifted, the Maya had an understanding of astronomy and developed sophisticated techniques of writing, counting, and recording the passing of time (Observatory). They predicted the phases of the Moon, equinoxes and solstices, and solar and Iunar eclipses. They knew that the Morning and Evening Star were the identical planet, Venus, and calculated its “year” to within a fraction of the true figure. Remarkably, they achieved all of this without using lenses for observing distant objects, devices for calculating angles, or clocks.