The Magic of Chichen Itzá

Chichen Itzá, Yucatán, Mexico.

7. May, 2017.

The multicultural Maya city of Chichen Itzá was once the largest city in the Yucatán Peninsula. The name means something like the watery magical hole place, in reference to the sacred cenote nearby. Exhibiting many different cultural styles, the city is home to the greatest ball-court in pre-Hispanic times.

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It also houses the great El Castillo pyramid. Built by such precision that on spring and autumn equinoxes – and only on these two days – the afternoon play of sun and shadow form a snake wriggling down the staircase of the pyramid. At bottom level is a snake’s head that amplifies this effect. Behold Kukulkan, the Great Feathered Serpent, one of Mesoamerica’s main gods!

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Add to this that the four staircases up the pyramid each has 91 steps. On the top is a common one step, taken together is 365 steps, the same number as the days of a year. Tick, tack. There, you have a timepiece.

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This engineering precision is a remarkable accomplishment. The Mayans were also able to calculate the length of the year as 365.2424, divided into 18 months with 20 days each and five nameless unlucky days in the end. This scientific achievement was made in times before computers were invented. What else did the Mayans achieve? One starts to wonder. What for example did those Mayan books contain that the Spanish bishop Diego de Landa burned in 1562? Oh, if we only had a timepiece into the past!