Chichen Itza was one of the most important Mayan cities during the Late Classic and Early Post-Classic periods. It was located in the Maya lowlands towards the north of the Mayan Mesoamerican regions and survived the collapse of most of the Mayan civilisation in the 9th century.
In recent scholarship, the significance of Chichen Itza ruins is critical because it is one of the most accessible and well-preserved Mayan cities with excellent monumental architecture. It is the iconic representation of the Mayan civilisation during the Classic period.
The development of the structure in the Chichen Itza city took place in different phases. The earliest phase was between 750 and 850 A.D. Most of the central structures and areas in the city were developed during this phase and it was during this period that the city became one of the most important Mayan urban centres.
It remained important during the early Post-Classic period in the 10th century, becoming the capital city of a vast kingdom expanding over a substantial area. It maintained its political importance until the 13th century when the rival city of Mayapan gained in influence. Chichen Itza didn’t undergo any significant burning or looting from any external attackers which can explain why much of the city’s ruins are still intact and in good condition.
Most of the monumental architecture built in Chichen Itza from 8th century onwards is well intact. It is among the most important extant ruins of any Mayan city. Among the structures that exist today are the Great Ball Court, the Temple of Warriors, the Group of a Thousand Columns, the ruins of Las Monjas, the ruins of El Caracol and the Temple of Kukulkan among others. It is worth noting that Chichen Itza ruins have been central in defining the understanding of Mayan civilisation in modern scholarship.
One of the most important extant structures among Chichen Itza ruins is the great ball court. It is one of the most well-built and large ball courts found in any Mayan ruins and measures 168 metres by 70 metres. According to evidence gathered from the court, it originally had paintings of Mayan underworld mythology on the floor of the court. Although ball court was a regular feature of every Mayan city, the Great ball court in Chichen Itza is the largest of its kind anywhere in the Mayan regions. The city 13 ballcourts in total although the rest of them are smaller in size.
The most notable structure in Chichen Itza ruins is the Temple of Kukulkan which is most commonly known as the El Castillo. This is a magnificently built stepped pyramid which rises to a height of 30 metres. The remarkable feature of this pyramid-temple is that the angle of the pyramid and of the stairways on it is accurately measured and considered. The rising angle of the pyramid is 53 degrees while that of the stairways is 45 degrees. As a result, when the equinox arrives, the sun casts a serpent-shaped shadow on one of the walls. The pyramid itself has nine terraces, each rising to a height of 2.5 metres.
The Temple of Warriors is another important structure in Chichen Itza ruins which is still extant. This temple is built in the fashion of an immense stepped pyramid. A notable architectural feature of the temple is that it has a huge number of carved temples in front of it. The temple has a Chac Mool constructed at the top. All the statues at the site of the temple are made from stone which is why many of them exist to this day.
The Group of a Thousand Columns is situated near the Temple of Warriors. Originally, the columns were used to erect and support a large roof system. The columns at the site are divided into portions, each portion facing a different cardinal direction. At one end of the columns is another smaller temple which is a rich treasure-trove of Mayan arts. This temple hosts numerous stone carvings depicting Mayan gods, animals popular in the Mayan society and everyday humans.
El Caracol is a domed structure which was used as an astronomical observatory in Chichen Itza. The shape of the structure is circular and it sits on top of a platform. The interesting feature of El Caracol is that the windows and doors in its structure are placed in such a way as to help in the observation of certain astral bodies. In particular, one of the windows also traces the path of planet Venus across the sky.
Las Monjas is a major architectural complex located in the ruins of Chichen Itza. The complex comprises of a large number of buildings which are built in a style rather distinct from the architecture of most other Chichen Itza buildings. This complex is built in the Puuc architectural style which reveals the influence of outside influences on the architecture of the city. According to historical sources, the building was used for official and administrative purposes.
Human sacrifices were frequently carried out at the central temples of Chichen Itza. And among the extant structure is an immense skull platform or shelf where the Mayans would store the skulls of the sacrificial victims. The platform is quite large and was used to store a huge number of human skulls.
The ruins of the Mayan city of Chichen Itza are one of the most important extant link that has aided modern-day comprehension of the Mayan civilisation. The ruins date back to the Terminal Classic and early post-Classic period. They comprise of a vast number of structures and most of the monumental architecture dating back from the Classic Period of the city is well preserved. These include the magnificent El Castillo temple, the Great Ball Court, the Skull Platform, the building of El Caracol, the Temple of Warriors and the Temple of Kukulkan among others.