Aerial view of Chichén Itzá showing Puuc-style buildings in the foreground, the Observatory in the middle, and the Temple of Kukulkán in the background. The Great Ball Court stands to the left of the pyramid and the Temple of the Warriors to the right.
The plaza at Chichén Itzá with the Temple of Kukulkán. The pyramid has 91 steps in each of its four stairways. The total number of steps plus the top-most temple add up to 365, the days of the year.
A serpent of sunlight appears on the pyramid during the equinoxes each year. At sunset, the shadow of the pyramid’s nine platforms outlines seven triangles of light on the balustrade of the north stairway. Together with the illuminated head of a serpent at the bottom of the stairway, create the effect of a slithering snake descending from the sky. The local Maya say that Kukulkán symbolizes a cord that joins the Earth and the sky.
The zenith passage of the Sun is an important astronomical event that takes place only at tropical latitudes, such as those spanned by the Maya world. Zenith passage happens twice a year, when the Sun passes directly overhead at mid-day. Careful observation of the zenith passage of the Sun repeated over hundreds of years allowed the ancient Maya to make very accurate calculations of the length of the solar year.
The "Thousand Column" Group. The zenith passage of the Sun at Chichén Itzá, occurs on May 22nd and July 19th each year, and can be easily observed on these columns. This is because during the zenith passage, the shadows cast by vertical objects, such as the shadow of these columns seen on the green grass, disappear.
The "Thousand Column Group" photographed during the zenith passage. In contrast with the previous photograph, this image was taken when the Sun was passing directly overhead. No shadows are cast by the many columns.
The Temple of the Warriors. Twice a year, on the dates of the zenith passage, the Sun sets in alignment with the East-West axis of this structure.
The Chac Mool on the top platform of the Temple of the Warriors. It depicts a human figure in a reclining position with the head turned to one side.
Sunset on the day of the zenith passage of the Sun is a time of alignment. On this date, the Sun sinks into the horizon in perfect symmetry with the Chac Mool.
The Platform of Venus. Venus was a very important celestial body to the ancient Maya, who observed it with great care and precision. The planet is very familiar to local Maya people today who call it Xux Ek (Wasp Star), or Nohoch Ek (Big Star).
The Great Ball Court is the largest in all of Mesoamerica. This ancient game is closely linked to the idea of "sacred warfare." As such, the game was not played for sport, but had deep ritual and cosmological significance. The ball court was seen as a portal to the "otherworld" of the ancestors and of Maya deities.
The Caracol, also known as the Observatory. "Caracol" means snail, and the structure was given this name after the central spiral staircase that mimicks the inside of a snail's shell. It is believed that the ancient Maya used this structure to observe the rising and setting positions of Mars, Venus, and the Sun.
A decorated frieze in "Lintel Three," one of the buildings of “Chichén Viejo” or “Old Chichén.” This little-excavated complex is open only to archaeologists. Much of the archaeological legacy of the ancient Maya is still uncovered.