Chichen Itza

Jordan Scott & Paige Haas 4th/Dutton 12/17/14


The ancient Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá, on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula about 50 miles inland south of the Caribbean coastline, represent the remains of one of the largest and one of the most powerful city states of the pre-Columbian Americas. While the fully-restored, the core of Chichén Itzá's archaeological zone covers approximately 5 square kilometers. The estimated extent of dense urban development at the city's peak is thought to have reached 25 square kilometers. However, much of the surrounding ruins are unexcavated and are currently covered with a mixture of dense forest and farms. (5)


Deep within the jungles of Mexico and Guatemala and extending into the limestone shelf of the Yucatan peninsula lie the mysterious temples and pyramids of the Maya. Their legacy in stone, which has survived in a spectacular fashion at places such as Palenque, Tikal, Tulum, Chichén Itzá, Copan and Uxmal, lives on as do the seven million descendants of the classic Maya civilization. (3)

Evidence has been discovered that suggests that Chichen Itza was abandoned by the Mayans in the early tenth century. This evidence parallels the evidence of all Mayan cities being abandoned around this period. The abandonment has not yet been fully explained. (4) The Mayans returned to and resettled their cities around 1000 AD. Chichen Itza's architecture is believed to have two distinctive styles; traditional Mayan architecture, and more recent Toltec architecture. The Toltecs were yet another more warlike tribe who invaded Chichen Itza around the year 800 AD. The Toltecs were much more fierce than the Mayans and human sacrifice was a large part of their rituals. It is easy to decipher which structures in Chichen Itza were built before and after 800 AD. (3)

The builders of the Chichen Itza engineered it in such a way that mysterious acoustical phenomenon occurs. If a chief were to be standing at the top of structure with a crowd in the courtyard below, he only had to speak in a normal voice and his voice was magnified many times over across the courtyard. Also, when descending the pyramid, the steps would give off a deep thunder-like sound with each step. It is now believed that the acoustics served to make the priests and ruling class seem powerful and god-like among the common citizen. This phenomenon would command the allegiance of all of the people. These strange acoustical properties also take place in the Ball Court. A warrior captain of a Maya team could stand in center court and clap his hands together only once, and it would be answered by seven sharp and distinct echoes. The number seven was a great spiritual significance to the Maya. At each end of the Ball Court, separated by a distance of nearly 180 feet, are viewing structures. The elite, sitting in one structure, could speak in normal tones of voice and be heard clearly by their guests at the opposite end of the court, even over the loud cheering crowd. (3/1)


There are 2 main theories about the fall of Chichen Itza. One of them says that the Mayapans conquered the city and ran the Mayans off. (1) The Mayapans were the people of the city of Mayapan, which was the last capital of the Mayan civilization and was about 63 kilometers from Chichen Itza. There was lots of internal fighting within the Mayan civilization, and in the end, the Mayapans rose to power and ran off the rest of the Mayan people. They were able to invade Chichen Itza, weaken the Mayan military, and take over the city in the 13th century under the rule of Hunac Ceel. This is seen as a very probable theory because Chichen Itza fell in 1200, the same time that the Mayapans rose to power. (1)

This is not the only theory, though. There is also a theory including aliens. Really, the only reasons this theory is even considered is because there is not much evidence for the other theories for the decline of Chichen Itza and because of the intricate and sophisticated structures of Chichen Itza. (2) The city has incredible architecture, including columns and rooms such as El Castillo and the Observatory. (1) Some scientists do not think there is any way that the Mayans could have built such complex structures with amazing precision. The tools and materials used to build Chichen Itza seem too fancy and elaborate for the time of the Mayans to be from the Mayan people. In addition, the Mayans were able to figure out the path that Venus was traveling, which seemed impossible to tons of people and only possible via aliens. (2)

There is not very much evidence to prove these theories, though, so lots of people have their own theories. Some say that the Mayans left the city really for no reason, which is less probable because there isn't any reason for them to have left the incredible city without reason. Others say that invasions of the Toltecs or Aztecs, drought, or overpopulation caused the downfall of the city. (1)