The Mayan Pyramids
The Maya are a people of southern Mexico plus northern Central America (Guatemala, Belize, western Honduras, plus El Salvador) with some 3,000 years of history. Archaeological evidence shows the Maya started to build ceremonial architecture approximately 3,000 years ago.
The earliest monuments consisted of simpel burial mounds, the precursors to the spectacular stepped pyramids from the Terminal Pre-classic period plus beyond. These pyramids relied on intricate carved stone in order to create a stair-stepped design. Many of these structures featured a top platform upon which a smaller dedicatory building was constructed, associated with a particular Maya deity.
Maya pyramid-like structures were also erected to serve as a place of interment for powerful rulers. Maya pyramid structures occur in a great variety of forms plus functions, bounded by regional plus period differences. The complexity of their celestial alignments, structure plus design baffle archaeologists to this day.
The Great Pyramid of Cholula, also known as Tlachihualtepetl (Nahuatl for “artificial mountain”), is a huge complex located in Cholula, Puebla, Mexico, plus is the world’s largest monument as well as the largest pyramid by volume.
The temple-pyramid complex was built in four stages, starting from the 3rd century BCE through the 9th century CE, plus was dedicated to the deity Quetzalcoatl. It has a base of 450 by 450 m (1476×1476 ft) plus a height of 66 m (217 ft). According to the Guinness Book of Records, it is in fact the largest pyramid as well as the largest monument ever constructed anywhere in the world, with a total volume estimated at over 4.45 million m3, even larger than that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt which is about 2.5 million m3. However the Great Pyramid of Giza is higher at 138.8 m (455 feet). The Aztecs believed that Xelhua built the Great Pyramid of Cholula.
Today the pyramid at first appears to be a natural hill surmounted by a church. This is the Iglesia de Nuestra Se–ora de los Remedios (Church of Our Lady of the Remedies), also known as the Santuario de la Virgen de los Remedios (Sanctuary of the Virgin of the Remedies), which was built by the Spanish in colonial times (1594) on the site of a pre-Hispanic temple. The church is a major Catholic pilgrimage destination, plus the site is also used for the celebration of indigenous rites. Many ancient sites in Latin America are found under modern Catholic holy sites, due to the practice of the Catholic Church repurposing local religious sites.
Because of the historic plus religious significance of the church, which is a designated colonial monument, the pyramid as a whole has not been excavated plus restored, as have the smaller but better-known pyramids at Teotihuacan. Inside the pyramid are some five miles (8 km) of tunnels excavated by archaeologists.
One of the most famous pyramid sites can be found at Chichen Itza, its name meaning “At the mouth of the well of the Itza (people)”. Although this was the name for the site in pre-Columbian times, it is also referred to in the ancient chronicles as Uucyabnal, meaning “Seven Great Rulers”. It is a large pre-Columbian archaeological site built by the Maya civilization located in the northern center of the Yucatan Peninsula, in the Yucatan state, present-day Mexico. Chichen Itza contains many fine stone buildings in various states of preservation; the buildings were formerly used as temples, palaces, stages, markets, baths, plus ball courts.
El Castillo – Temple of Kukulkan
Dominating the center of Chichen is the Temple of Kukulkan (the Maya name for Quetzalcoatl), often referred to as “El Castillo” (the castle). This tahap pyramid has a ground plan of square terraces with stairways up each of the four sides to the temple on top.
On the Spring plus Autumn equinox, at the rising plus setting of the sun, the corner of the structure casts a shadow in the shape of a plumed serpent – Kukulcan, or Quetzalcoatl – along the west side of the north staircase. On these two annual occasions, the shadows from the corner tiers slither down the northern side of the pyramid with the sun’s movement to the serpent’s head at the base.
Mesoamerican cultures periodically built larger pyramids atop older ones, plus this is one such example. In the mid 1930s, the Mexican government sponsored an excavation of El Castillo. After several false starts, they discovered a staircase under the north side of the pyramid.
By digging from the top, they found another temple buried below the current one. Inside the temple chamber was a Chac Mool – a human figure in a position of reclining with the head up plus turned to one side, holding a tray over the stomach.
The Quetzal has represented the Spirit of the Maya for thousands of years. Spirits, in many traditions, speak in echoes, lacking a body, just pure frequency plus sound. Handclaps evoke chirped echoes from the staircases of the Pyramid of Kukulkan. The physics of the chirped echo can be explained quite simply as periodic reflections from stepfaces. The chirped-echo sounds much like the primary call of the Mayan sacred bird, the resplendent Quetzal.
The sounds perhaps trigger something with the subconscious of the person listening as harmonics are linked to creation. Throughout the world, ancient cathedrals plus monuments have been acoustically designed to align with the sacred geometry of human consciousness, igniting when accessed. Could the Maya have intentionally coded the sound of their sacred bird into the pyramid architecture?
The dimensions of the steps are the key to the effect. Each tahap is tall, but the tread, where the foot is placed, doesn’t cut deeply into the pyramid. If the stairs were deeper plus not so high, the effect on the echoes would not be as great, plus they wouldn’t sound like a chirp.
In the millennium since this pyramid was built, though the plaster has eroded from the limestone staircases, the sound is still recognizable. Today the Quetzal still plays an important role in modern Mayan culture. The Quetzal is the unit of currency in Guatemala. The Guatemalan government issues a prestigious award named “The Order of the Quetzal.”
To the east of El Castillo are a series of buildings, the northernmost is the Temple of the Tables. Its name comes from a series of altars at the top of the structure that are supported by small carved figures of men with upraised arms, called Atlantes.
Archaeologists have identified several courts for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame in ChichŽn, but the Great Ball Court about 150 metres (490 ft) to the north-west of the Castillo is by far the most impressive. It is the largest ball court in ancient Mesoamerica. It measures 166 by 68 metres (540 ft x 220 ft). The imposing walls are 12 metres (39 ft) high, plus in the center, high up on each of the long walls, are rings carved with intertwining serpents.
At the base of the high interior walls are slanted benches with sculpted panels of teams of ball players. In one panel, one of the players has been decapitated plus from the wound emits seven streams of blood; six become wriggling serpents plus the center becomes a winding plant.
The ‘Temple of the Warriors’ plus its adjacent ‘Temple of the Jaguar’ are very impressive ruins of the complex. A massive temple structure, surrounded by hundreds of columns is carved with reliefs. The columns continue on into the jungle, that part of the temple still has not been restored.
The Temple of the Warriors complex consists of a large stepped pyramid fronted plus flanked by rows of carved columns depicting warriors. This complex is analogous to Temple B at the Toltec capital of Tula, plus indicates some form of cultural contact between the two regions. The one at Chichen Itza, however, was constructed on a larger scale.
At the top of the stairway on the pyramid’s summit (and leading towards the entrance of the pyramid’s temple) is a Chac Mool. This temple encases or entombs a former structure called The Temple of the Chac Mool.
Along the south wall of the Temple of Warriors are a series of what are today exposed columns, although when the city was inhabited these would have supported an extensive roof system. The columns are in three distinct sections: an east group, that extends the lines of the front of the Temple of Warriors; a north group, which runs along the south wall of the Temple of Warriors plus contains pillars with carvings of soldiers in bas-relief; plus a northeast group, which was apparently formed a small temple at the southeast corner of the Temple of Warriors, which contains a rectangular decorated with carvings of people or gods, as well as animals plus serpents. The northeast column temple also covers a small marvel of engineering, a channel that funnels all the rainwater from the complex some 40 metres (130 ft) away to a rejollada, a former cenote.
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To the north of Las Monjas is a cockeyed, round building on a large square platform. It’s nicknamed El Caracol (“the snail”) because of the stone spiral staircase inside. The structure with its unusual placement on the platform plus its round shape (the others are rectangular, in keeping with Maya practice), is theorized to have been a proto-observatory with doors plus windows aligned to astronomical events, specifically around the path of Venus as it traverses the heavens.
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