See Mayan history in a whole new light
Chalkmarks Chichen Itza

I HAD a lot of questions for the Mayas, who built the city of Chichén Itzá more than one thousand years ago.

The trick to getting the answers is to arrive at the right time. Friday nights around 8pm is best. This is sightseeing in the dark billed as Noches de Kukulkán, Nights of Kukulkán.

The night tour starts with a torch light visit of the site to see the large open air ballcourt where skulls were said to have been kicked around in a game like football. There’s an underground sinkhole known as a cenote, which was their own source of fresh water, the Plaza of a Thousand Columns and the Observatory – linked to the orbit of Venus.

The Temple of Kukulkán also known as the Castle, is lit up with colours changing from red to green, purple and blue. It has 365 steps corresponding to the number of days in the solar year and during the summer solstice, a silhouette of a serpent, snakes its way to the top.

The Temple of Kukulkán has 365 steps corresponding to the number of days in the solar year and during the summer solstice, a silhouette of a serpent, snakes its way to the top.

We take our seats in front of the temple to watch magical light projection that reveals what’s been discovered about the great ancient civilisation from their beliefs, agriculture and astronomy.

It begins with a huge Tree of Life, which for the Maya symbolised the centre of the world. They believed that gods lived in the heavens above, that life began in the underworld below and that humans lived in the middle. They kept the peace by making child sacrifices with many victims aged between 3 and 11.

While the Maya is not classed as an empire, at its height archeologists estimate the population grew to around 19million.

Built between the 5th and 6th centuries, the civilisation spread across present-day Guatemala, Belize, parts of Honduras and El Salvador. Nobody yet knows why the Maya declined although there are theories that describe a decade long drought.

The site that covers around four-square-miles on the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico, was discovered in 1841 – with more yet to be excavated especially at lesser known sites.

In February 2018, archaeologists found a secret tunnel that had been sealed off hundreds of years ago underneath the main pyramid. They believe is leads to a cenote, which for the Maya was the entrance to the underworld.

Other Maya ruins can be seen at Palenque in Chiapas, southern Mexico, Tikal in Guatemala, Copán in Honduras and Xunantunich in Belize.

It’s thought there are more than 6,000 cenotes in Yucatan although only  2,400 are registered. The most popular underground pools are found in Tulum in neighbouring Quintana Roo and many are open to public for swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving.

In 2007, Chichén Itzá was named as a New Seven Wonders of the World.

The Seven Wonders of the World

The Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt

Colossus of Rhodes, Greek island Rhodes

Hanging Gardens of Babylon, present-day Iraq

Lighthouse of Alexandria, Egypt

Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, present-day Turkey

Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece

Temple of Artemis, present-day Turkey

The New Seven Wonders of the World

Great Wall of China, China

Petra, Jordan

Christ the Redeemer, Brazil

Machu Picchu, Peru

Chichen Itza, Mexico

Colosseum, Italy

Taj Mahal, India

The New Seven Wonders of the World list came about in 2007 to recognise the top sites, now ruins, built by ancient civilisations from around the world, chosen from a list of 200 monuments. They were voted for online, which drew controversy and criticism over how the campaign was managed.

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