Wednesday 4 May 2016

The Kukulkan Pyramid & Great Ball Court, Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico

In 1937, Mexican archaeologists exploring the Kukulkan pyramid found within it a complete pyramid temple, also of nine levels. Preserved in the temple chambers they found a chacmool sculpture and a jaguar throne, which both remain in situ today. In March and September the sun crosses the celestial equator, resulting in a day and night of equal lengths. The Maya were great astrologers and built accordingly. Due to the position of the Kukulkan pyramid, a descending serpent made of seven inverted isosceles triangles of light and shadow can be observed on the side of the steps at sunset on equinox day. The snake form is shaped as the day goes by, starting at the top and finishing with the feathered serpent’s head at the base of the monument.

Chichen Itza’s ball court is the largest in Mesoamerica. Its playing field extends over a length of 146 metres and a width of 36 metres! During ritual games, players tried to hit a 5 kg rubber ball with their hips and elbows through high stone scoring hoops. Strikingly it is uncertain whether it was the winners or losers that were put to death. The carved reliefs at Chichen Itza reveal grisly scenes. They show two opposing teams of seven members each facing one another. In the middle of the scene, the first player of the left team has decapitated the first player from the opposing team, who kneels headless in front of a large ball marked by a great laughing skull. The game was a highly spiritual practice where they believe points were given by religious leaders for playing in relation to astronomical movements. The idea of the art of sport and religion overlapping was fascinating to me.

Teyuna, The Lost City, Colombia

This was certainly one of the most arduous and difficult journeys of my life. Teyuna was only opened up to the public fairly recently so it was a great honour to make this pilgrimage to reach a spiritual space for the indigenous people of the past, particularly the ancient Tayrona Civilisation, and indeed those peoples of the present such as the local Wiwa community for whom Teyuna is a sacred place. 

Angkor Wat Temple Complex, Siem Reap Cambodia

Angkor Wat is a temple complex in Cambodia and the largest religious monument in the world, with the site measuring 1,626,000 sq meters. It was originally constructed as a Hindu temple for the Khmer Empire, gradually transforming into a Buddhist temple toward the end of the 12th century. It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in YaÅ›odharapura, the capital of the Khmer Empire, as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. Breaking from the Shaiva tradition of previous kings, Angkor Wat was instead dedicated to Vishnu. 

Borobudur Mahayana Buddhist Temple in Magelang, Central Java, Indonesia

This famous Buddhist temple, dating from the 8th and 9th centuries, is located in central Java. It was after two volcano climbs that I got up extremely early to go and see this stunning temple. It was built in three tiers: a pyramidal base with five concentric square terraces, the trunk of a cone with three circular platforms and, at the top, a monumental stupa. The walls and balustrades are decorated with fine low reliefs, covering a total surface area of 2,500 m2. Around the circular platforms are 72 openwork stupas, each containing a statue of the Buddha. There is something about these multiple identical Buddha statues all around you that gives great peace. Wherever you turn, he is there.