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Ancient Observatories
Chichén Itzá

The ruins of Chichen ItzaFor a thousand years, the slanting rays of the setting sun have played a spectacular shadow game with this great Mayan pyramid. At the appointed hour, the shadow of the Feathered Serpent, Kulkulkan slides down the northern stairway...and vanishes.



Pyramid of Kulkulkan. (El Castillo)
The ruins of Chichen Itza lie about midway between the towns of Cancun and Merida on the Yucatan Peninsula
Latitude 20°40'N
Longitude 88°32'W

This is a square-based, stepped pyramid approximately 75 feet tall, constructed by the Mayans ca 1000-1200 AD, directly upon the multiple foundations of previous temples. It was mysteriously abandoned along with the surrounding city of Chichen Itza by 1400 AD.

Kulkulkan is the Mayan name for the Feathered Serpent God (also known as Quetzalcoatl to the Aztecs). The axes that run through the northwest and southwest corners of the pyramid are oriented toward the rising point of the sun at the summer solstice and its setting point at the winter solstice.

The pyramid is unique among all known pyramids, worldwide, for its central role in a dramatic shadow and light display during the equinoxes. At the appointed hour, the setting sun casts a shadow of a serpent writhing down the northern steps of the pyramid. The sunlight bathes the western balustrade of the pyramid's main stairway and causes seven isosceles triangles to form, imitating the body of a serpent 37 yards long that creeps downwards until it joins the huge serpent's head carved in stone at the bottom of the stairway.

Chichen Itza Pyramid Each face of the pyramid has a stairway with ninety-one steps, which together with the shared step of the platform at the top, add up to 365, the number of days in a year. These stairways also divide the nine terraces of each side of the pyramid into eighteen segments, representing the eighteen months of the Mayan calendar.

Dzabilchaltun, The Temple of the Seven DollsNot far from Chichen Itza one can find the Temple of the Seven Dolls, Dzabilchaltun. As the Sun rises on the eastern side of this temple, during the spring and fall equinox, its light bursts through the western door where eager sun-watchers await its grand appearance.


Templo de los Guerreros, Temple of the WarriorsNext to El Castilo, one will find the Temple of the Warriors (Templo de los Guerreros). It is believed that this monument was named after the sculpture of warriors found on the font columns. On the western and southern side of the temple one can also see several repeating rows of columns which make up the two colonnades known as the Court of the Thousand Columns.

The Carocal of Chichen ItzaJust to the south of El Castillo is round building known as the Carocal. It is believed that it served to make astronomical observations through several of its windows pointing towards the equinox sunset and the horizon towards Venus.


by: Courtesy of NASA

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Source: http://sunearthday.nasa.gov/2005/locations/chichen_itza.htm

Photos: Troy Cline


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