can8602_14, El Castillo, Chichen Itza, Maya Ruins, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

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    A Walking Tour of Chichén Itzá: Chichén Itzá, one of best known archaeological sites of the Maya civilization, has a split personality. The site is located in the northern Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, about 90 miles from the coast. The south half of the site, called Old Chichén, was constructed beginning about 700 AD, by Puuc Maya emigres from the southern Yucatan. The Puuc built temples and palaces at Chichén Itzá including the Red House (Casa Colorada) and the Nunnery (Casa de las Monejas). The Toltec component of Chichén Itzá arrived from Tula about 950 AD and their influence can be seen in the the Osario (the High Priest's Grave), and the Eagle and Jaguar Platforms. Most interestingly, a cosmopolitan blending of the two created the Observatory (the Caracol) and the Temple of the Warriors.

    Beginning about 950 AD, a new style of architecture crept into the buildings at Chichén Itzá, no doubt along with the people and the culture: The Toltecs. The term 'Toltecs' means a lot of things to a lot of people, but in this feature we're talking about people from the town of Tula, in what is now Hidalgo state, Mexico, who began to expand their dynastic control into distant regions of Mesoamerica from the fall of Teotihuacan to the 12th century AD. While the exact relationship between the Itzas and the Toltecs from Tula is complex, it is certain that major changes in architecture and iconography took place at Chichén Itzá as a result of an influx of Toltec people. The result was probably a ruling class made up of Yucatec Maya, Toltecs, and Itzas; it is possible that some of the Maya were also at Tula.

    Toltec style includes the presence of the feathered or plumed serpent, called Kukulcan or Quetzalcoatl, chacmools, the Tzompantli skull rack, and Toltec warriors. They are probably the impetus for the increase of emphasis on death culture at Chichén Itzá and elsewhere, including the frequency of human sacrifice and warfare. Architecturally, the elements of colonnades and columned halls with wall benches; pyramids are built of stacked platforms of decreasing size in the "tablud and tablero" style which developed at Teotihuacan. Tablud and tablero refers to the angled stair-step profile of the stacked platform pyramid, seen in the profile of El Castillo.

    Photo taken in February 1986 on Kodachrome 64 film with a Minolta SLR camera and Vivitar 70-150 zoom. Scanned 2005. Photo by: Jim Gateley. Text Copyright 2006: archaeology.about.com/mbiopage.htm used with permission. A list of references used for this project is available for further reading on Chichén Itzá.

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