Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Chitchen Itza, Mexico. . .

This is the pyramid where the Mayans held religious ceremonies.  The corners of the pyramid are exactly at North, East, South, and West, and when the summer solstice comes the effect between the sunlight and shadow creates a giant serpent coming down the pyramid.  There 91 steps on each side, and one step up to the temple on top, making for a total of 365 stairs, the same number as are days in the year.

Temple at the top of the pyramid.  Notice the shape of a face above the door.

Glyphs on the walls represent serpents, a symbol of life.  The part that looks like an elephant trunk is actually the nose of the Mayan sun god.

Mayans were very good at making cantilevered archways.  This type of archway was used in their palace and as entrances to sacred areas.  Also known as a corbel arch, these arches were constructed using a series of overlapping blocks, each going a little bit farther inward until the archway could be blocked using a single capstone.  The voids between the overlapping rocks were then filled with smaller stones.

Although some human sacrifices did occur, they were not unwilling victims thrown from the top of the pyramid as Hollywood suggests.  Those that were sacrificed were volunteers, and the ritual took place on top of a platform about 6 feet off the ground.  Since the sacrifices were a communal event and onlookers would not be able to see the top of the pyramid, it makes much more sense for the ritual to take place in a location that allowed for everyone to see.

This is a closeup of the Mayan version of a wailing wall, where those who died in battle were commemorated by a low relief glyph of a skull.  The heads of enemies were placed on stakes above the wall.

The ball court.  One of the reasons the court has maintained structural integrity over the years is because of the verticality of the wall.  Trees and other roots tend to not grow and destroy walls that go straight up.

Relief glyphs depict the story of the games played at the ball court.  The ball game was a battle to the death, but it was the winner that actually was the one that was killed.  The Mayans believed this to be a sort of fast-track to the gods.

Observational temple at the top of the ball court.

If the Mayan ball game was like basketball, this would be the basket.  The ball would be more than 3 pounds, and made of solid rubber - and not the bouncy kind, the really hard kind.

Serpents represented life forces, and on the stairway on the opposite side of the building would be the end of the snake.  Mayans believed in "theological architecture", which meant that in constructed stairs, you never wanted to turn your back to or face directly the gods worshipped in the pyramid.  The stairs were made of a very steep rise and shallow run, so that you had to kind of scoot up the stairs sideways.

When reconstructing one of the buildings, they have a few left over they made this statue as a tribute to the Mayan sun god.  In actuality, the left over pieces were from previous periods.  The Maya were known for building bigger and better pyramids on top of existing pyramids.

The Mayan Observatory.

This building is believed to be a palace, but is still undergoing reconstruction.

The giant wood beams that supported the ceiling have rotted long ago, causing the ceiling to collapse.  It's really interesting the see the remnants of such an architecturally advanced society!

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