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Go to page: Its white stone turned golden by the setting sun, the sober, elegant building nowadays known as the Chichan Chob or Red House, stands atop its platform. The building got its modern-day nickname because, at the time of its discovery, it still displayed vestiges of red paint.
Go to page: View of the famous Sacred Cenote, into which the ancient Maya dropped ritual offerings, which ran the gamut from simple household objects, clay figures, vases and plates, semi-precious stone and gold jewelry to, occasionally, human beings. Famous throughout the peninsula in Pre-Hispanic times as the dwelling place of the rain god, pilgrims from remote places came to this special place to try and win the favor of the deity.
Go to page: A detail of the serpent-columns of the Upper Temple of the Jaguars, overlooking Chichen Itza's Great Ballcourt. This building houses some of the most interesting mural paintings in Chichen. The curious, un-Maya style of the columns has been taken to signal intense contacts with non-Maya groups. At one time, there was even the widely-held notion that the distant Toltecs had taken over Chichen and most of the Yucatan. But better understanding of the Mesoamerican past has led many scholars to discard this idea in favor of one that would have Chichen Itza as a Maya site with strong ties to Central Mexico.
Go to page: View, looking north, of the Great Ballcourt, the largest one ever built in Mesoamerica. Its dimensions are such, many scholars have suggested that actual ballplay would have been impossible. They maintain it may have been used as a ritual space where the ballgame was never played but which was, nevertheless, charged with all the cosmological meaning of an actual ballcourt.
Go to page: Looking west from amid the myriad columns that give the Thousand Columns complex its name, the view reveals the Temple of the Warriors on the upper right and, further away, the Castillo or Castle. The use of columns in Maya cities (notice the square capitals on top of many of them) has been taken as a diagnostic of contacts with other groups, as Classic-period Maya architecture made almost no use of columns.
Go to page: Another view of the Castillo, this time looking east. Lying on the floor in the foreground is one of countless plumed serpent motifs strewn throughout much of the site. This profusion of plumed serpents has also been taken to mean the importation of ideology and religious notions from Central Mexico.
Go to page: This ground-level view of the enormous playing field in the Great Ballcourt makes a strong point in favor of those who maintain this court was not used for actual ballplay. The breadth and length of the court are so large as to make it impossible for players to strike the ball from one end to the other. Also, the stone rings (through which, some think, the ball would have been made to pass) are about six meters up on the vertical walls, which would have put them completely beyond the players' reach.
Go to page: The well-known profile of the Castillo dominates the background of this photograph, while the foreground is occupied by the columns of the vestibule leading up to the Temple of the Warriors. Once roofed over, this vestibule nowadays only displays the square columns that held up its roof. It is interesting to note that these columns are carved on all four sides with figures of feather-bedecked warriors. This feature gives the temple its name. The somewhat rigid style of these bas-relief carvings is cited as yet another piece of evidence pointing to intense contacts with Central Mexico.
Go to page: Entrance to the Temple of the Warriors. The roof is gone, but the columns that held it up still stand, including the grand serpent-columns that once gave access to the structure. Outside the temple proper lies one of many reclining sculptures known by the spurious name of Chac Mool. While the meaning of these figures is little understood, it is worth noting that their presence during the Post-Classic period has been detected throughout most of Mesoamerica, from Western Mexico to the Maya area.
Go to page: In this late afternoon view, the Caracol (Spanish word for "snail") sits atop its own platform around which other buildings once stood (see the remains of the structure to the lower right of the platform). The Caracol's name derives from its internal spiral structure, reminiscent of a snail's shell. The building was once an astronomical observatory, its outer wall pierced at several points to allow tracking the paths of several celestial bodies from within the building.
Go to page: Detail of the eastern façade of the Las Monjas ("Nunnery") complex. The architectural technique (thin, well-dressed stones forming a veneer over the walls' inner core) is the same that can be found in the Puuc area far to the Southwest of Chichen Itza. The treatment of the motifs on this very ornate façade, however, stray somewhat from the Puuc's elegant geometry and create an almost baroque effect. Iconographically, this façade combines the ever-present mosaic masks with the monster-mouth door of the Chenes and Rio Bec styles.
Go to page: Motifs that can be found very frequently in the area of the site that has come to be known as New Chichen: the reclining effigy of a "Chac Mool" (a name invented by the French nineteenth-century explorer Augustus Le Plongeon) and the head of a (plumed?) serpent. Serpents are probably related to the feathered serpent cult, which is fairly well understood from the Central Mexican Postclassic period, while the function of the ubiquitous Chac Mools is more elusive.
Go to page: Detail of the northern end of the Great Ballcourt. In the foreground, the remains of a small construction that once stood on top of the court's eastern wall from where this photograph was taken. In the background, the temple that closed the ballcourt to the north. Carved and once-painted scenes cover the inner walls of this temple, most of which dealt with war and conquest. Ballcourts seem to have had close associations with warfare and conquest.
Go to page: Photograph of the Chichen Itza tzompantli. This kind of structure was a low platform on which wooden racks stood for the display of the skulls of enemies. The name of this structure comes from that of equivalent structures in Náhuatl-speaking Central Mexico. Tzompantlis began appearing in the Maya area during the Early Postclassic as yet another indication of heavy Central Mexican influence. As with other structures in Chichen, this one stands out as being one of the largest tzompantli ever found anywhere.
Go to page: Detail of the southeastern corner of the Tzompantli, which is completely covered with bas-relief sculptures of skulls. Stuccoed and likely painted over with bright colors, this tzompantli, when its racks with actual skulls still stood on it, must have been a rather impressive, fearsome vision for any would-be foes of Chichen Itza.
Go to page: The building known as the Iglesia ("Church") stood just off the northeastern corner of the large Las Monjas complex. It is a small, yet impressively ornate structure, the upper fiezes of which still display the deity masks that have been identified by different scholars as belonging to either the rain deity Chaak or to the creator deity Itzamnaaj.
Go to page: Decoration on the upper story of the Las Monjas complex displays purely geometrical patterns on its walls, strongly reminiscent of the Puuc style which fluorished over 100 km to Chichen's southwest. Chronologically, most of Chichen Itza is contemporaneous to important Puuc sites such as Uxmal, Sayil and Labna, a fact that points to likely strong contacts between the two areas.
Go to page: The Postclassic version of a jaguar throne (this type of throne having strong ties to Maya creation mythology) has been found in at least two places in Chichen Itza. One of them, which has preserved much of its original brilliance (painted in bright red, while its spots are marked by jade inlays and its eyes by turquoise ones), was found buried deep inside the Castillo, associated with an earlier phase of that structure. The one shown in this photograph stands on the threshold leading into the Lower Temple of the Jaguars, just to the east of the Great Ballcourt. Centuries of exposure to the elements and other vicisitudes have left only its stone core.
Go to page: Some of the columns that would have formed a sort of vestibule leading to the stairs of the Temple of the Warriors. These columns may have supported a roof made with perishable materials. They are carved on all four sides with images of warriors holding weapons and wearing ornate feather headdresses. These motifs (which could have been a sort of gallery paying homage to distinguished characters of the site) have given its name to the temple they are associated with.
Go to page: View of the Caracol and its platform. One of many round structures which began appearing in the Terminal Classic and the Early Postclassic periods, this one is surely the largest and most complex. While round structures have been associated with the cult of Quetzalcoatl (the Plumed Serpent) in Central Mexico, the Caracol was used as an observatory for sighting significant alignments of celestial bodies. This may not have been out of line with the cult of Quetzalcoatl, however, as two of his aspects were associated with Venus: one with the planet's appearance as Morningstar and one with its apperance as Eveningstar.
Go to page: Spiral motifs, reminiscent of the decoration found at Tajín and at other sites from the remote state of Veracruz, all but cover the southern façade of the Las Monjas upper story. It is known that Maya-speaking traders settled the Gulf of Mexico coast as far north as northern Tabasco, so contact with the Veracruz cultures through them seems very plausible. Such contacts could explain the importation of these motifs (and their attending ideology) far into the Maya heartland. Chichen Itza, after all, is thought to have been a major trading force in the Yucatan.
Go to page: View to the north from the upper story of the Las Monjas complex. In the foreground, the Caracol. Behind it stands the imposing mass of the Castillo, while further away and to the right one can discern the Temple of the Warriors.
Go to page: The Chac Mool at the entrance of the Temple of the Warriors appears to be looking west, towards the Castillo. The latter structure has come to be the image of Chichen Itza. It may have very well held solar associations, given the fact that it is oriented so as to accurately mark the occurrence of the equinoxes. Additionally, the total number of steps of its four, cardinal point-oriented stairways is 365: the number of days in a tropical year.
Go to page: The columns of the vestibule leading to the Temple of the Warriors were made by piling stones cut in a square-section on top of one another and securing them in place with lime mortar. All four of the resulting columns' sides were covered with bas-relief motifs of warriors which may have been either idealized war monuments or perhaps a gallery of actual historical characters.
Go to page: This doorway, the only surviving vestige of a whole building, consists of two Atlantean figures holding up a lintel slab. This lintel is covered with hieroglyphs, some of which spell out the only known Long Count (or Initial Series) date from all of Chichen Itza. This fact has given its modern-day name to all of the large complex it once formed a part of, the Initial Series Group.
Go to page: Easily one of the most decoration-restrained buildings in all of Chichen Itza, the so-called Temple of the Three Lintels stands over three kilometers away from the site's core. Its bare walls, capped by the geometry of its upper frieze and sloping cornices, are strongly reminiscent of Maya sites in the Puuc area. The absence of clearly foreign elements in this southern portion of Chichen Itza has given rise to the imaginary division of the site in two portions: the northern one is known as New Chichen, while the southern portion is called Old Chichen. There is no evidence, however, that the two were not contemporaneous.