Located near the cenote Sacred Cenote is the Skull Platform also known as the Tzompantli or Skull Rack where bones and jade were dropped. It is believed this was a way to prophesy future events.
Chichen Itza rose to prominence in the Late Classic period, which ended around 900 AD. Common elements found in architecture and relief sculpture include warrior columns and quetzal-feathered rattlesnakes.
What makes Chichen Itza so special?
Though there are fantastic Maya ruins all over the Yucatan, Chichen Itza is the king of them all. Located less than 150km from Cancun, the UNESCO-listed site is one of Mexico’s most iconic attractions. The appeal is clear: awe-inspiring highlights like El Castillo and the Great Ball Court are offset by a complex history that’s as intriguing as it is haunting.
The city was founded around 450 CE and reached its height of glory around 900 AD when it became the dominant power in the Yucatan region. At the time, its many zones or “complexes” — including El Castillo, the Great Ball Court, and the Temple of Warriors — reflected a complex culture that was equally as impressive as it was mysterious. The most prominent feature of the city was its sophisticated knowledge of astronomy and mathematics, which ruled daily life. The Maya also excelled at art and sacrifice. The Platform of Skulls (Tzompantli), which was used to display skull racks, is an eerily powerful sight.
The Pyramid of Kukulkan
The most prominent structure in Chichen Itza is El Castillo, a massive pyramid temple dedicated to Kukulkan, the feathered serpent deity. Its design incorporates precise astronomical alignments, a testament to the Mayans’ deep understanding of time and space. On the spring and fall equinoxes, as the sun sets, a shadow resembling a snake descends along the northern staircase, creating an awe-inspiring spectacle.
Until 2006, tourists were allowed to climb the pyramid, but that ended when one woman tumbled to her death. Atop the pyramid is a platform that takes the form of a skull rack (tzompantli), further proof that human sacrifice was a major part of Mesoamerican religious ceremonies.
The Great Ball Court
The Great Ball Court is one of the most fascinating and impressive structures at Chichen Itza. This Mesoamerican ballcourt is believed to be the largest in the world, and it is incredibly well-preserved. Its walls are lined with rings where a solid rubber ball is directed with hips and thighs, much like a football. The hoop-like rings are decorated with carvings of intertwined feathered serpents.
Experts agree that Mesoamerican ballgames were more than a sport—they were ritual performances for the elite. It is believed that the winnaers would decapitate the captain of the losing team, which is why skulls are carved around the ballcourt.
The Great Ball Court is a must-see on any trip to Chichen Itza. To make the most of your visit, consider booking a tour that includes this and other highlights. Check out GetYourGuide’s range of Chichen Itza tours and book yours today. Whether you prefer to explore the Temple of Warriors or the observatory-like El Caracol, a tour will open your eyes to the incredible cultural importance of this remarkable archaeological site.
The Temple of Warriors
One of the most famous landmarks at Chichen Itza is El Castillo, a giant pyramid temple that features 365 steps, one for each day of the year. But it isn’t the only remarkable structure in the city.
Another must-see is the Temple of Warriors, a central temple known for its bas-reliefs that depict warriors and jaguars devouring human hearts. This temple is similar to Temple B at the Toltec capital of Tula, which suggests some level of cultural exchange between the two cities.
Also near the Temple of Warriors is a low platform that features skull racks and carvings of warriors holding decapitated human heads. Some scholars believe these skulls were modeled after the losers of the Great Ball Court, who were presumably sacrificed after their defeat.