Chichen Itza is one of the seven wonders of the world and the ruins, ancient pathways and sacred cenotes were indeed a wonder. I had downloaded an audio tour was able to listen to the history and stories of each ruin while looking at it, making the experience even more absorbing.
After a long period of prosperity Chichen Itza was attacked (roughly around the 10th century) by the Toltecs (a tribe that came from central Mexico) and the two cultures merged to create a massive metropolis that dominated the Yucatan for more than 300 years.
The massive temple of Kukulkan (the serpent God) is a pyramid that is basically a huge calendar constructed with incomprehensible precision that can measure time using just the sun. There are 91 steps on each side (and one at the top) making 365 steps over the four sides. Each side represented a season and was used to figure out the best times to plant and harvest. The temple has nine terraces (one for each level of the underworld). The terraces are divided in half by the stairwells giving 18 terraces on each side of the temple. There 26 panels on each side of the stairwell giving 52. With this math they were also able to create an amazing phenomena twice a year, during the spring and fall equinox when the light patterns from the sun shine on the northern stairway. The light connects to the big snakeheads at the bottom and as the sun moves it looks like the serpent God himself is coming down the stairway. Wild! And to think I patted myself on the back when I built a little bookshelf that stayed standing.
The ball field was a big stone court with a very small stone opening on each side and felt like a quidditch court. The Mayan ball game was a celebration that recreated how the holy twins defeated the nine evil Gods of the underworld. (A brief history – the twins won challenges against the evil Gods with the ball game being the final challenge. Soon after the twins were victorious they were transformed into the sun and the moon. As a reward for this great deed the Gods released the souls of 400 of their ancestors and they were transformed into stars. So it’s thanks to the twins victory that the world exists as we know it today :)). The Mayans created several ball courts in every city but the only one that was used for ceremonial purposes was Chichen Itza, the largest one. Each team of seven players prepared themselves in advance to be worthy by fasting and sauna and other interesting rituals for days. The game lasted several days and the first team to score a point was the winner. To score the point a six pound rubber ball was put through a small hole high on the wall. The trick was only the shoulders, head and hips could be used – hands and feet were not allowed. The game ended with the captain of one team holding the severed head of the opposing captain. They are still not sure which captain was sacrificed – the winner or the loser. Some say the losers but since being a gift to the gods was a great honour it’s also believed that only the winner was worthy of the sacrifice. Honour or not, I think I’d pass on being a captain.
The city was abandoned in the 13 century around the time of the crusades for unknown reasons.