Mayan History (Part 51): Chichén Itzá

Chichén Itzá is situated on the Yucatán Peninsula.

Chichén Itzá was founded by the mid-400’s, on a flat site near two large cenotes. The city’s history is divided into two parts, although there is some overlap.

The first part is about 750-900 AD, or perhaps 800-1000.  The buildings from this time are of the distinctive Puuc style architectural style, and they have Mayan hieroglyphs.

The second part is 1000-1200 AD.  Buildings from this time show influence of the Toltecs, whose capital Tula was 1000km to the north.  It is possible that the Toltecs conquered Chichén Itzá as they expanded their empire; or it may have been because of cultural/economic contact & sharing.

Common features of Chichén Itzá & Tula include warrior columns, quetzal-feathered rattlesnakes, clothing styles of the subjects, the chac mools, atlantids, the representation of certain animals, Tlaloc (the rain god), a tzompantli (sacrificial skull rack), incense burners, and certain personal names represented by glyphs which are in both cities, but which are not Maya.

Temple of the Warriors - strong Toltec influence.

Columns at Temple of the Warriors.

From 1200 AD onwards, Chichén Itzá fell into a decline, and Mayapan became the new capital in the region.  But it wasn’t fully abandoned: ordinary people continued to live there, and the city remained a place of ancestry & pilgrimage, even after the Spanish invasion.

The Great Ballcourt.

El Caracol (the observatory).


The Toltecs

The Quiché title Aj Toltecat is given to anyone who is highly skilled in art, science, religion, and creative endeavors in general. Toltecat refers specifically to the ancient Toltecs, who, under the legendary priest-ruler Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl, founded the city of Tula in Central Mexico in the tenth century a.d. Although the city fell some two centuries later, the fame of its people was passed from generation to generation, undoubtedly embellished significantly with each retelling. At the time of the Spanish conquest, the ancient Toltecs had achieved an almost mythic reputation as masters in all the arts.

The Aztecs gave the following description in folio 172v of the Codex Matritensis:

The Toltecs were a skillful people; all of their works were good, all were exact, all well made and admirable. Their houses were beautiful, with turquoise mosaics, the walls finished with plaster, clean and marvelous houses, which is to say Toltec houses, beautifully made, beautiful in everything… Painters, sculptors, carvers of precious stones, feather artists, potters, spinners, weavers, skillful in all they made….

The Toltecs were truly wise; they conversed with their own hearts…. They played their drums and rattles; They were singers, they composed songs and sang them among the people;

Allen Christenson, Carl Waldman, Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Maya: The Great Classic of Central American Spirituality.

Image 1-Depiction of an anthropomorphic bird-snake deity, probably Quetzalcoatl at the Temple of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli at Tula, Hidalgo.

Image 2 and 3- So called Toltec Warriors at Tula, Hidalgo

Image 4-Tula, Hidalgo

The Mesoamerican archaeological site of Tula, located in Hidalgo, Mexico. At the top of Pyramid B are four massive columns each carved in the likeness of Toltec warriors which once supported the roof of the temple on top of the pyramid. Each warrior figure is of basalt, four meters hig