Located on the Yucatan Peninsula, Chichén Itzá with its ancient temple pyramid of El Castillo is one of Mexico’s most famous monuments and one of the most important Mayan cities in Latin America. With a fascinating history and a design with unique astronomical significance connected to the equinoxes and solstices, there is much to know about this Mayan wonder. Planning a visit or just curious to know more? Here are some of the most interesting facts about Chichén Itzá in Mexico.
7 Interesting Facts About Chichen Itza in Mexico
1. Chichén Itzá is one of the largest Mayan cities ever built
Chichén Itzá is an ancient Mayan city in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. The Mayan people built the city in the architectural style of Puuc around 250 AD to 900 AD – this is long before the Aztec period which was 1300 to 1521. It’s one of the largest Mayan cities ever built and occupies an area of 4 square miles (10 square km). At its peak, some 35,000 people would have called it home.
2. Chichén Itzá takes its name from cenotes
Chichén Itzá takes its name from a geological feature of the area and the tribe who settled there. On the site are caves and sinkholes in limestone formations, known as cenotes. These are natural wells that form when limestone surfaces collapse and expose water underneath. Chi means “mouths” and chen means “wells” and Itzá is the name of the Maya tribe that settled there. Chichen Itza means “At the mouth of the well of the Itza.” Chichén Itzá is the Spanish spelling and Chichʼen Itzaʼ is the Mayan spelling.
3. The Maya Peoples built Chichén Itzá
The Maya peoples of the Yucatán Peninsula lived in the region since the Pre-Classic, or Formative, Period (1500 BCE–300 CE). They were the ones who presumably built Chichén Itzá. The earliest structures built include the Akabtzib (“House of the Dark Writing”), the Chichanchob (“Red House”), the Iglesia (“Church”), the Casa de las Monjas (“Nunnery”), and the observatory El Caracol (“The Snail”).
4. Invaders built the Chichén Itzá pyramid
The most famous structure in Chichén Itzá is El Castillo (“The Castle”). In the 10th century, foreigners invaded Chichén and these invaders constructed El Castillo. This is a pyramid that rises 24 metres (79 feet) above the Main Plaza and each of its four sides has 91 stairs that face north, east, south, and west. Including the step on the top platform, there is a total of 365 steps. This is the same number of days in the solar year.
5. On top of the pyramid is a feathered snake
On top of the Chichén Itzá pyramid is a carving of a feathered serpent. This represents Quetzalcóatl – known to the Maya as Kukulcán. Quetzalcóatl is a combination of the words quetzalli (tail feather of the quetzal bird) and coatl (snake). This plumped serpent is one of the major deities of the ancient Mexican pantheon.
6. The equinox at Chichén Itzá is rather special
During the spring equinox (around March 20th and 21st) and autumn equinox (around September 20th and 21st), something wonderful happens at El Castillo in Chichén Itzá. On these dates, the light of the sun hits the earth directly on the equator. When this happened, the length of the day and night are more or less equal. At this time, the shadows cast by the setting sun give the appearance of Quetzalcóatl/Kukulcán slithering down the steps. Thousands of visitors come every year to watch this phenomenon.
7. Chichén Itzá is a World Heritage Site
In 1988, UNESCO designed Chichén Itzá a World Heritage Site for being: “one of the most important examples of the Mayan-Toltec civilization in Yucatán.” The site is full of “masterpieces of Mesoamerican architecture.”