Yucatan Peninsula I - Maya's Lost Cities

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Part I - Chichen Itza. Most of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico was controlled by the Mayan in pre-colonial ages. Chichen Itza is an important political center center from late classical to early Post-classical period, until its decline in about 1200s because of revolt and civil war. Today Chichen Itza is a popular archeological attraction and a NESCO World Heritage Site. The name Chichen Itza means "Mouth of the well of Itza." The name has something to do with the geography of the North Yucatan, where there's no above-ground river. Instead a few natural cenotes provided drinking water for the Mayan settlement and hence the name.

El Castillo, or "the Castle," occupies the center of Chichen Itza. Built around 11-13th century, it's a temple dedicated to the Mayan god Kukulcan (the Mayan equivalent of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent). See the huge stone serpent along the staircase. Unfortunately climbing of the pyramid is prohibited since the fatal accident of an old lady last year (2006). Standing at the base looking up to the temple, watching a few vultures hovering above -- it was awe-inspiring. In Mayan mythology, vulture is the divine animal for the element of air.

The Ball Court (Juego de Pelota). Measured 545 by 225 feet, this is the largest of all Mayan ball courts. The game involves two teams. Players hit the ball with elbows, wrists, or hips to shoot it across the two stone rings on the walls. The carvings on the wall suggest that some human sacrifice was involved in these games, although no one knows whether the winners were honored or the losers were victimized.

The Tzompantli, or rack that holds human skulls, is reportedly the display for human sacrifice from the bloody ball game. Pity, all those poor souls...

The Temple of the Warriors (Templo de los Guerreros) is a large pyramid surrounded by rows of carved columns on the west and south sides. It may have served as a large public gathering place.

The Sacred Cenote and the Market. The is the source of water of the Mayan, with that comes its religious significance. The cenote measures ~60m in diameter and the water is 6-12m deep. In the rest of pix is large plaza that was conveniently called "the market", although its original use is unclear.

The Observatory (El Caracol, meaning "the snail" for its spiral staircase inside). The Mayan were quite advanced in astronomy, and this building is the proof. Its doors were open such that important celestial events such as the equinox sunset and the northern and southern most point of venus' appearance. Here Mayan astronomers developed a remarkably accurate calendar, even by today's standard, through astronomical observations with naked eyes.

The Grave of High Priests (Ossuary, 3 pix) is a miniature version of El Castilo that serves as the grave yard for the city's elites. In the last 2 pix is the House of the Deer, owing the name to an image of deer found inside.

The Nunnery Complex is one of the largest building compound in the classical Mayan world. Reportedly the residence of the noble, the buildings were rich in fine carvings and decorations. The last 2 pix was taken in this small building called "the Church" (La Iglesia), which supposedly is dedicated to god and the Mayan ancestors.

The Temple of the Wall Panels (3 pix), named so because of the stone carving on its wall, although not much is left now.


Part II - The Ruin of Tulum. An archaeology site on a Caribbean beach, how nice is that? The ruin of Tulum, located at the east coast of Yucatan Peninsula, is just about as good as it gets. Tulum means fence, trench, or wall in Mayan language, and the city did serve well as a fortress with thick wall (until the Spanish came, of course). It's also an important port for trade. Most of the city was built around the post-classical period, around 1200-1450. Today it naturally become a hot tourist attraction.

El Castilo, as the main buildings in these Mayan sites mostly called.

The Temple. Sure we didn't forget to get down to that fine sand on the beach right underneath.

Other corners of the ruin. In the 1st row, in the 1st 2 pix is the Palace, in the next 3 is the Temple of the Frescoes.


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