Chichen Itza is an area of Mayan ruins originally built during the Classic Mayan period and later taken over and expanded by the post-classic Itza people. It resides in the peninsula of Yucatan, and is readily accessible through many tours if you are staying in the region or are in port on a cruise ship. The name in Mayan means “the mouth of the well of the Itza people,” so named for the sacred cenote which made the site so meaningful. It was one of the seven Ancient wonders of the world, and the best known of all the Maya ruins. It is also one of the two ancient wonders still standing, although most of what you can still see is a reconstruction, not the original buildings.
Chichen Itza consists of many buildings, most of them reconstructed. Most of the larger buildings are on the north side of the road that intersects it. Almost all of the buildings had some religious significance to the Mayan people. The site was originally built by the Puuc Mayans, but was abandoned mostly during the end of the Classic period. It was later reinhabited by the Itza people, a group of Mayan-Mexican outsiders who did not get along very well with the other tribes.
Chichen Itza was a religious hub for the Mayan people. Perhaps the most significant portion of the site was the well of sacrifice. The Mayans would take a young man or woman, dangle the by a rope, and drown them. The Mayans believed that those who were sacrificed this way went to live with the rain god forever and did not die, even though they never saw them again. They also tossed articles of jewelry or ornate dishes or things that were precious to them.
Another pagan sacrifice ritual was the great ball court. Ball court? That doesn’t sound like a ritual at all. In a way it wasn’t, and in a way it was. It did function as entertainment for the people. The goal of the game was to toss a solid rubber ball (very heavy) into a vertically aligned hoop, while only using your elbows, knees, and shoulders. However, the ball court at Chichen Itza was many times larger than the norm, as well as the height of the goals. A score was so uncommon that the people cheered and threw clothes and jewelry to the scoring team. Sound strange? But there was a dark side to this game. The captain of the losing team was beheaded by the captain of the winning team, and his head was placed in the Wall of Skulls, another structure not very far away.
Chichen Itza still remains today as a tourist attraction, though it no longer retains its religious significance. It is the most popular attraction in the entire region and accounts for a large amount of revenue the Mexican government makes. Though today in the place of human sacrifices vendors crowd the streets, the gradeur of the buildings remains.