Stairway to The Gods

October 27, 2013  •  6 Comments


The Pyramid of Kukulcan

Stairway to the GodsThe Pyramid of Kukulcan

I've always wanted to visit Chichén Itzá,

or, as I used to call it, 'Chicken Itsa'!

My opportunity to do so came in 2012 when my wife and I were offered an incredible rental deal on a villa in Belize. Now, I know you are wondering how a trip to Belize would equate to a visit to Chichén Itzá. Well, my question to you is,

'Have you ever tried to get to Belize?'.

It is not the easiest place to fly to without numerous stops and terminal changes. As it turned out, I invited my brother and his wife (from England) to join us. They checked it all out and said it was too far and too difficult for them to travel in one day. So, we looked at the maps and decided that an overnight stay in Cancun would be the answer. I had never been to Mexico before and don't enjoy the resort scene, so one night was OK with me. Then I realized that Chichén Itzá was only a fairly short bus ride from Cancun so it was an easy decision to stay in Cancun for a few days rather than just one. We stayed in Downtown Cancun, as far away from the resorts as we could. It was a great experience that will be the topic of a future blog.

The BIG mistake we made when we got to Chichén Itzá was to not hire a guide. I'm telling you this so that, if you ever go, you don't make the same mistake.

The upside of that mistake is that we will just have to go again! I took a lot of photos and you will see some of them in future blogs.

"Stairway to the Gods" is a photo of Quetzacoatl (the Mayan name) or  The Pyramid of Kukulcan or El Castillo. ((Kukul means “feathered” and kan means “serpent”. El Castillo means "The Castle" - Duh!!)

Can anyone pronounce "Quetzacoatl"?

Here now is a little information about Chichén Itzá (combed from 'I know everything' - Mr. Google)

"The stepped pyramid has a staircase on each of it's four sides. At sunrise and sunset during both the Spring and Autumn equinoxes visitors gather from all over the world to observe an unprecedented archaeo-astronomical phenomenon. The corner of the pyramid casts a shadow of a plumed serpent – Kukulcan- and as the sun moves, the shadow of the serpent slithers down the side of the pyramid to fertilize the earth."

So, when was Chichén Itzá built? There seems to be some difference of opinion here. An article by National Geographic (another icon of knowledge) says this -

"The stepped pyramids, temples, columned arcades, and other stone structures of Chichén Itzá were sacred to the Maya and a sophisticated urban center of their empire from A.D. 750 to 1200.

Viewed as a whole, the incredible complex reveals much about the Maya and Toltec vision of the universe—which was intimately tied to what was visible in the dark night skies of the Yucatán Peninsula.

The most recognizable structure here is

the Temple of Kukulkan, also known as El Castillo.

This glorious step pyramid demonstrates the accuracy and importance of Maya astronomy—and the heavy influence of the Toltecs, who invaded around 1000 and precipitated a merger of the two cultural traditions.

The temple has 365 steps—one for each day of the year. Each of the temple’s four sides has 91 steps, and the top platform makes the 365th.

Devising a 365-day calendar was just one feat of Maya science. Incredibly, twice a year on the spring and autumn equinoxes, a shadow falls on the pyramid in the shape of a serpent. As the sun sets, this shadowy snake descends the steps to eventually join a stone serpent head at the base of the great staircase up the pyramid’s side.

The Maya’s astronomical skills were so advanced they could even predict solar eclipses, and an impressive and sophisticated observatory structure remains on the site today.

This great city’s only permanent water source was a series of sinkhole wells.

Spanish records report that young female victims were thrown into the largest of these, live, as sacrifices to the Maya rain god thought to live in its depths. Archaeologists have since found their bones, as well as the jewelry and other precious objects they wore in their final hours.

Chichén Itzá's ball court is the largest known in the Americas, measuring 554 feet (168 meters) long and 231 feet (70 meters) wide. During ritual games here, players tried to hit a 12-pound (5.4-kilogram) rubber ball through stone scoring hoops set high on the court walls. Competition must have been fierce indeed—losers were put to death." (Yikes!!)

"Chichén Itzá was more than a religious and ceremonial site. It was also a sophisticated urban center and hub of regional trade. But after centuries of prosperity and absorbing influxes of other cultures like the Toltecs, the city met a mysterious end.

During the 1400s people abandoned Chichén Itzá to the jungle. Though they left behind amazing works of architecture and art, the city’s inhabitants left no known record of why they abandoned their homes. Scientists speculate that droughts, exhausted soils, and royal quests for conquest and treasure may have contributed to Chichén Itzá's downfall.

Recently this World Heritage site was accorded another honor. In a worldwide vote Chichén Itzá was named one of the "New Seven Wonders of the World."

Another source says -

"Chichen Itza rose to regional prominence towards the end of the Early Classic period (roughly 600 AD). It was, however, towards the end of the Late Classic and into the early part of the Terminal Classic that the site became a major regional capital, centralizing and dominating political, sociocultural, economic, and ideological life in the northern Maya lowlands."

Perhaps NatG's reference is not to when it was built, but when it rose to be a "sophisticated urban center". says "Roughly all sources agree that from approximately 550 AD to 800 AD, Chichen Itza existed mainly as a ceremonial center for the Maya civilization."

Any of you care to jump in here and educate us all?

About the photograph:

The original photograph looked like this:

Hey! I never said I was a great photographer!

As you can see, I worked my artistic talent on this in order to create a hint of the menacing, evil atmosphere of this monument (evil by modern standards - I mean, we don't rip the still beating hearts out of our citizens - unless you use taxation as the euphemism.

You can definitely see people in the shot and can probably not see the wire fence all around the pyramid.

I was too late in my quest to see Chichén Itzá as it used to be seen, in that, you used to be able to climb up and go inside the pyramid. Unfortunately, as of January 2006, you are no longer allowed to climb the temple.

So, there you have it - My first visit to Chichén Itzá

Leave a comment if you will. It might help me write better blogs!

Please feel free to pass this along to your family and friends.



Laurence (Larry)(non-registered)
Thank you so much for the history, Stewart. It is really humbling to know that the denizens of that era had worked out the physics and mathematics to determine days of the year, and even to determine eclipses! And I'm sure there are other things that they came up with in a scientific way. It's really a tribute to their minds. In a word: fantastic.
Excellent post Stewart - thanks for sharing. In the 70s I went to the Pryamids to the Sun and Moon and climbed one of them ... I'm afraid I don't remember which ... but I do remember that with my short legs it was a lot easier going down backwards than forwards. :D
Ian Cumming(non-registered)
My wife and I were there in 2004 and spent 3 hours walking around without a guide. Then we went to Merida and visited ruins in that area. On the way back, we realized how much we had missed, so we spent another two hours at Chichén Itzá. Well worth it, and I would also recommend a guide.
Hey Stewart ... Wouldn't it have been wonderful to actually go inside? I bet somewhere in Mr Google's archives (or on You Tube) there's a video showing the inside. Next stop for you? The pyramids of the Sun and the Moon ... we visited that amazing place a few years ago and climbed to the top of both.
Hi Stewart,
The photo is beautiful, you brought out so many of the interesting features all around the pyramid, especially in the clouds. The information is easy to read and as always you have made it interesting.
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