The seven NEW wonders of the world might be a suspect commercial ploy, but the actual site of Chichen Itza, with its glorious central pyramid and extensive other buildings, is anything but. Chichen Itza was built largely between 700 and 1000 AD.
El Castillo, below, is about 80 feet high, and contains a smaller, older pyramid inside. It was dedicated to the feathered serpent god Kukucan, and is aligned with the stars. Around this time of year, the sun will the right side of the pyramid that you see here in a manner that causes a shadow along the left side that looks like a serpent. Carved serpent heads sit on either side of the stairs at the bottom of that side.
Many other temples and buildings such as a steam bath and an observatory encircle El Castillo. The carvings, weathered and lacking their original colors, remain intricate and fascinating. The skill it took to create and decorate such structures is astonishing, and made even the heat and all the tourists worth it. This wall of skulls was was part of a smaller sacrificial site nearby.
The eagle and the jaguar were important symbols for the ancient Maya. Here you can make out eagle holding something up in its claw: a beating human heart. Removing the heart from living prisoners was done to placate the gods and ensure the return of the sun.
Chichen Itza is one of the largest sites, and the most heavily touristed–it even has a lightshow on the pyramid at night. However, Mayan ruins abound across the Yucatan peninsula, where I am, and I can’t wait to see more this weekend and learn more about the people who originally created them.