Chichén Itzá

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Chichén Itzá

Chichén Itzá (chēchānˈ ētsäˈ), city of the ancient Maya, central Yucatán, Mexico. It was founded around two large cenotes, or natural wells. According to one system of dating, it was founded c.514, probably by the Itzá, and after being abandoned (692) and reoccupied (c.928) was chosen by Kulkulcán (see Quetzalcoatl) as his capital sometime between 968 and 987. After being defeated by Mayapán in 1194, the Itzá abandoned the city for the last time. Spanning two great periods of Maya civilization, Chichén Itzá shows both Classic and Postclassic architectural styles. The Classic style is massive, with heavy, decorative sculpture and cramped interiors. The later buildings have plainer, more austere lines, with the sculpture based on the Mexican feathered-serpent motif and columns, and Toltec influence is strong. The Castillo, or principal temple of Kulkulcán, is representative of the period. Rare among Maya buildings is the round tower called the Caracol [snail shell], built in the Postclassic period; it was probably an astronomical observatory. Into Chichén Itzá's sacred well, mecca of countless pilgrimages from Central America and the Mexican plateau, were thrown jade and metal offerings. Humans were also sacrificed. Dredgings of the well in modern times have yielded a valuable collection of artifacts.


See studies by D. Ediger (1971) and M. Cohodas (1978).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Chichén Itzá


a political and cultural center of the Maya, located in the northern part of the Yucatán peninsula, in Mexico. Chichén Itzá was probably founded in the eighth century A.D. Captured by the Toltecs in the tenth century, it became the capital of the Toltec empire in the mid-11th century. In 1178 it was destroyed by the forces of three city-states—Mayapán, Uxmal, and Izamal. By the time of the Spanish conquest (mid-16th century), Chichén Itzá was in ruins.

Numerous excavations conducted at Chichén Itzá led to the discovery of large Maya-Toltec architectural monuments, including the Temple of Kukulcán, a pyramid with nine stages (24 m high) and a wide stairway on each of the four sides, the Temple of the Warriors, atop a low pyramid (four stages), and the Temple of the Jaguars; the last two were decorated with wall paintings. Also discovered were the Caracol observatory, seven ball courts, and the ruins of four colonnades forming a gigantic rectangle (the Thousand Columns). Stylized statues of deities, reliefs rich in floral and geometric ornamentation, small sculptures, and artistic hand-crafted works were unearthed.


Chichén-Itzá: Guía oficial. Mexico City, 1955.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.