An Overview of Mexico’s El Castillo Pyramid

Many parts of Mexico are well known as popular tourist destinations. People travel to the country to enjoy warm weather and beautiful beaches but Mexico is also home to some incredible historic sites that date back to ancient civilizations. One such place is the archaeological site of Chichen Itza where the famous El Castillo pyramid is located. Chichen Itza is located in the Mexican state of Yucatan. El Castillo is also known as the Temple of Kukulcan, and is an incredible structure that was built by the Maya civilization at some point between the 9th and 12th centuries.

El Castillo was built to serve as a temple to the god Kukulcan. The god was a Yucatec Maya Feathered Serpent deity. Kukulcan was closely related to the god known as Quetzacoatl, who was known to the Aztecs and other civilizations in Mexico. El Castillo is easily identified in pictures and consists of a series of square terraces that feature stairways running up each of the four sides of the pyramid, leading to the top. The pyramid also features sculptures of plumed serpents that appear to run down the sides of the northern balustrade of the structure. Interestingly, in the late afternoon sun, during both the autumn and spring equinoxes, the pyramid casts a series of shadows that are triangular and are said to look like a feathered serpent crawling along the pyramid. Each of the four sides of El Castillo features 91 steps, and when the temple platform is included, all together there are 365 steps, coinciding with the number of days of the Haab’ year. Haab is part of the Maya calendar system.
The architecture of El Castillo has been detailed by many throughout history but it wasn’t until the 1900s that archaeologists were able to look inside of the structure. Specifically in 1924, the Mexican government granted the Carnegie Institute for Science permission to carry out restoration efforts and explorations around the Chichen Itza site. Work on the site did not actually begin until 1927, and by 1931, archaeologists started looking to either confirm or deny the rumor that El Castillo was built on top of an older pyramid. Items found inside of the pyramid included objects encrusted with turquoise, coral, and obsidian, in addition to human remains. These items are exhibited in Mexico City at the National Anthropology Museum. Work continued after the discovery of these items and in 1935, a statue inlaid with mother of pearl was found within the structure. The room where this statue was discovered was nicknamed the hall of offerings, and was also known as the north chamber. About a year later, a second room was found, not far from the first. In the second room, archaeologists located two parallel rows set into the back wall of the room, which featured human bones. A red jaguar statue was also discovered with the statue having many jade inlays. Both of the statues housed within El Castillo were found facing north-northeast. Researchers eventually concluded that there was in fact, a smaller pyramid over which El Castillo was built. This pyramid was much smaller but similarly shaped, and is referred to as the substructure of El Castillo. After archaeologists completed their work at the site, there was an entryway cut into one of the exterior staircases so that there would be access for tourists.

In current times, El Castillo is considered one of the most recognized structures in present-day Mexico, in addition to being one of the most widely visited. Unfortunately visitors to Chichen Itza are no longer able to climb on the pyramid or enter the interior of the structure in order to preserve it but they can still access the site and come face to face with the magnificent pyramid. El Castillo, and Chichen Itza as a whole, is just one of many ancient sites that can be found in Mexico. Many Maya ruins still exist in the country today, and hold a wealth of interesting history. Chichen Itza is overseen by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, and is considered a federal property.


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