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Tue Feb 12, 2013, 03:32 PM

Mexicoís own pyramids

Mexicoís own pyramids
By Idris Tawfiq
Tuesday, February 12, 2013 10:55:00 AM

Mexico's Chichen Itza is, for example, not just a stepped pyramid, but a whole city. Its great pyramid, dedicated to the serpent-god Quetzalcoatl, is just one of the many monuments which speak of the glory of the ancient Mayan civilisation in Mexico, which reached its peak around the tenth century and lasted until the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chichen Itza draws the crowds as an easy day trip from Cancun on Mexicoís coast, so that visitors can marvel at this lost world of gold and treasure, far away from the comforts of modern life.

At the centre of the city, which comprises palaces, temples, baths and recreation areas, is the great stepped pyramid, also known nowadays as El Castillo (the castle). With a square ground plan, the pyramid rises on terraces, with staircases leading up on all four sides to the temple of Quetzalcoatl on top. Just as Ramses IIís temple at Abu Simbel catches the sunís rays twice a year in the innermost chamber, so the pyramid at Chichen Itza manages a remarkably similar feat. At the Spring and Autumn Equinox, the rays of the sun cast a shadow on the pyramidís northern staircase. As the sunís rays move, so the shadow seems to slither down the staircase like a great serpent. What extraordinary people these were, to know how to build in such a way that their god would be worshipped by the shadows of the sun.

In other parts of this enormous complex, sacred wells are to be found. Chichen Itza and the surrounding region had no rivers above the ground, but the city had access to water deep below the earth, which in part accounted for its wealth and strategic power. Into these sacred wells, or Cenotes, offerings to the gods were made, such as gold and jade statues. Some even suggest that human offerings were hurled deep into the ground to appease their gods.

Other features of this amazing site include another temple, known as the Temple of the Warriors, which is a smaller stepped pyramid flanked by row upon row of carved warriors, made to appear as if defending their god from the approach of mere mortals. There is also a very sophisticated observatory on the site, allowing the priests to view the phases of the moon and other astronomical movements, which they believed to be a part of their godís cult. Quetzalcoatl was not only the god of the wind but also of learning. In this round observatory, shaped rather like a snail, the shadows cast on the walls allowed the dates of the solstices to be determined.


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