Chichén Itzá

A small review of a great ceremonial center.


Chichén Itzá, one of the most important ceremonial centers of the Mayas, consisted of a network of architectural groups connected by around 75 “sacbés” or “white roads”. The groups or the central area where surrounded by a wall that had the function of limiting the access to the different social clases. On the surroundings of these walls some 20 other architectural groups of minor importance were built. In the vicinity, small structures with stone foundations and hatch-thatched roofs lodged the population.

The City

The settlement of Chichén Itzá covers around 10 square miles. For a better study, the site is divided in 3 groups and here you can find the most important and best restored monuments like the Temple of Kukulcán, the Temple of the Warriors, The Group of the One Thousand Columns, The Great Ball Court, The Observatory and many smaller platforms but very important as well.


The architecture at Chichén Itzá presents at least 2 different styles, the first one considered a variant of the “Puuc style”, most of them are “palaces” with rows of  vaulted rooms. The decoration is concentrated on the superior façade y sometimes it extends upwards . The most common and principal representations are masks of the rain god Chaac and geometrical designs derived from the rattle snake. However, the majority of the structures that are preserved correspond to the second style, derived from the same roots but enriched by some elements, ideas and techniques from the Golf, Oaxaca and mainly from the Mexican Plateau. The main characteristics of these structures are platforms with 4 staircases, rounded structures, steam baths and ball courts. The representation of feathered snakes, jaguars and eagles appear with endless rows of warriors and dignataries appear as well. Even though at Chichén Itzá no stelae were found, it is very rich on hieroglyphic inscriptions.


It is probable that in the political and military control groups of different origin participated. The iconography of Chichén Itzá indicates that leadership did not reside in a single person or a hereditary leader, but in a group of people commonly identified with different snakes or solar images. Diego de Landa points out that it is possible that 3 brothers established the government in Chichén Itzá and that a long time later, Kukulcán, Feathered Serpent, arrived to restore the order. Thanks to the epigraphy a ruler named Kakupacal was identified, which can be related to some of the most important buildings of the ancient city.