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.

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