The New International Encyclopædia/Chichén-Itzá

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CHICHÉN-ITZÁ, chī-chā̇n′ē̇-tzä (Maya Itzá, well-mouths). The most important of the ancient ruined cities of Yucatan, Mexico, situated 18 miles southwest of the town of Valladolid, in the northern part of the peninsula. It derives its compound name from its former occupants, the Itzá tribe of the great Mayan stock, and from two remarkable natural pools or wells, still existing, which undoubtedly furnished the water-supply of the ancient inhabitants, and may have determined the original selection of the site. With our present imperfect knowledge of Maya chronology, it is sufficient to state that the evidence indicates this as one of the most ancient cities of the peninsula, and that it continued to be occupied as a native stronghold long after the surrounding districts had yielded to the Spaniards.

The principal ruins, which were described in detail by Stephens in 1843 (Incidents of Travel in Yucatan), cover an area of about one square mile, with smaller edifices scattered about the encircling forest. The general structural type is that of the platform pyramid, ascended by means of broad stairways leading up to vaulted chambers, whose walls are covered with sculptured figures and hieroglyphic inscriptions or vividly colored paintings resembling those of the Aztec codices. The material is the white limestone of the country, cut into shapely blocks and set in ordinary mortar, the thicker walls being sometimes filled in with a composition of mortar and broken stone. Each prominent structure is known to the natives under a distinct name. One of the most interesting is that denominated the ‘Tennis Court’ or ‘Gymnasium.’ It consists of two immense parallel walls, each 274 feet long and 30 feet thick, and standing 120 feet apart. Both walls are covered with sculptures in bas-relief, and projecting from the centre of each, at the height of 20 feet from the ground, is set an immense sculptured ring of stone, representing two entwined serpents. From contemporary Spanish descriptions it is almost certain that this was a courtyard, devoted to the playing of a favorite game, in which the effort was to send the ball through the stone ring fixed in the wall. Another of the important ruins is the ‘Castillo,’ a pyramidal mound 200 feet square at the base, and rising 75 feet to a platform, the approach being by means of a grand staircase with two colossal serpents' heads in sculptured stone at the base. The Palace or Nunnery (Casa de las Monjas) is a rectangular mass more than 100 feet long, and somewhat less in width, with an L-shaped wing on the eastern side, 60 feet long. Resting on this artificial platform, which is over 30 feet high, is a rectangular structure 90 feet long, 18 feet wide, and 18 feet in height; and this, in turn, is crowned by a smaller edifice 30 feet long by 12 feet wide. The L-shaped wing is a specimen of the best Mayan architecture. Minor ruins are the Caracol or Round Tower, the Cluchanchob or Red House, and the Temples of the Tables, the Tigers, and the Cones. Consult Holmes, Archæological Studies in Ancient Cities of Mexico (Chicago, 1895).