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Chichen Itza
The Maya are probably the best-known of the classical civilizations of Mesoamerica. Originating in the Yucatan around 2600 B.C., they rose to prominence around A.D. 250 in present-day southern Mexico, Guatemala, northern Belize and western Honduras.
Yucatán, Mexico
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Chichen Itza rose to regional prominence towards the end of the Early Classic period (or, roughly 600 AD). It was, however, towards the end of the Late Classic and into the early part of the Terminal Classic that the site became a major regional capital, centralizing and dominating political, sociocultural, economic, and ideological life in the northern Maya lowlands. The ascension of Chichen Itza roughly correlates with the decline and fragmentation of the major centers of the southern Maya lowlands, such as Tikal.
Chichen Itza [1]

 

Chichen Itza ] from Yucatec Maya: Chi'ch'èen Ìitsha',"At the mouth of the well of the Itza") is a large pre-Columbian archaeological site built by the Maya civilization located in the northern center of the Yucatán Peninsula, in the Yucatán state, present-day Mexico.

Chichen Itza was a major regional focal point in the northern Maya lowlands from the Late Classic through the Terminal Classic and into the early portion of the Early Postclassic period. The site exhibits a multitude of architectural styles, from what is called “Mexicanized” and reminiscent of styles seen in central Mexico to the Puuc style found among the Puuc Maya of the northern lowlands. The presence of central Mexican styles was once thought to have been representative of direct migration or even conquest from central Mexico, but most contemporary interpretations view the presence of these non-Maya styles more as the result of cultural diffusion.

The ruins of Chichen Itza are federal property, and the site’s stewardship is maintained by Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (National Institute of Anthropology and History, INAH). The land under the monuments, however, is privately-owned by the Barbachano family.

History

Cenote SagradoNorthern Yucatán is arid, and the interior has no above-ground rivers. There are two large, natural sink holes, called cenotes, that could have provided plentiful water year round at Chichen, making it attractive for settlement. Of the two cenotes, the "Cenote Sagrado" or Sacred Cenote (also variously known as the Sacred Well or Well of Sacrifice), is the more famous. According to post-Conquest sources (Maya and Spanish), pre-Columbian Maya sacrificed objects and human beings into the cenote as a form of worship to the Maya rain god Chaac. Edward Herbert Thompson dredged the Cenote Sagrado from 1904 to 1910, and recovered artifacts of gold, jade, pottery, and incense, as well as human remains.[7] A recent study of human remains taken from the Cenote Sagrado found that they had wounds consistent with human sacrifice.



Ascendancy
Chichen Itza rose to regional prominence towards the end of the Early Classic period (or, roughly 600 AD). It was, however, towards the end of the Late Classic and into the early part of the Terminal Classic that the site became a major regional capital, centralizing and dominating political, sociocultural, economic, and ideological life in the northern Maya lowlands. The ascension of Chichen Itza roughly correlates with the decline and fragmentation of the major centers of the southern Maya lowlands, such as Tikal.

Some ethnohistoric sources claim that in about 987 a Toltec king named Topiltzin Ce Acatl Quetzalcoatl arrived here with an army from central Mexico, and (with local Maya allies) made Chichen Itza his capital, and a second Tula. The art and architecture from this period shows an interesting mix of Maya and Toltec styles. However, the recent re-dating of Chichen Itza's decline (see below) indicates that Chichen Itza is largely a Late/Terminal Classic site, while Tula remains an Early Postclassic site (thus reversing the direction of possible influence).


Political organization

Columns in the Temple of a Thousand WarriorsSeveral archaeologists in late 1980s suggested that unlike previous Maya polities of the Early Classic, Chichen Itza may not have been governed by an individual ruler or a single dynastic lineage. Instead, the city’s political organization could have been structured by a "multepal" system, which is characterized as rulership through council composed of members of elite ruling lineages. This theory was popular in the 1990s, but in recent years, the research that supported the concept of the "multepal" system has been called into question, if not discredited. The current belief trend in Maya scholarship is toward the more traditional model of the Maya kingdoms of the Classic southern lowlands.


Economy
Chichen Itza was a major economic power in the northern Maya lowlands during its apogee. Participating in the water-borne circum-peninsular trade route through its port site of Isla Cerritos, Chichen Itza was able to obtain locally unavailable resources from distant areas such as central Mexico (obsidian) and southern Central America (gold).


Decline
According to Maya chronicles (e.g., the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel), Hunac Ceel, ruler of Mayapan, conquered Chichen Itza in the 13th century. Hunac Ceel supposedly prophecized his own rise to power. According to custom at the time, individuals thrown into the Cenote Sagrado were believed to have the power of prophecy if they survived. During one such ceremony, the chronicles state, there were no survivors, so Hunac Ceel leaped into the Cenote Sagrado, and when removed, prophecized his own ascension.

While there is some archaeological evidence that indicates Chichén Itzá was at one time looted and sacked, there appears to be greater evidence that it could not have been by Mayapan, at least not when Chichén Itzá was an active urban center. Archaeological data now indicates that Chichen Itza fell by around AD 1000, some two centuries before the rise of Mayapan. Ongoing research at the site of Mayapan may help resolve this chronological conundrum.

While Chichén Itzá “collapsed” (meaning elite activities ceased and the site rapidly depopulated) it does not appear to have been completely abandoned. According to post-Conquest sources, both Spanish and Maya, the Cenote Sagrado remained a place of pilgrimage.


Spanish arrival

In 1526 Spanish Conquistador Francisco de Montejo (a veteran of the Grijalva and Cortés expeditions) successfully petitioned the King of Spain for a charter to conquer Yucatán. His first campaign in 1527, which covered much of the Yucatán peninsula, decimated his forces but ended with the establishment of a small fort at Xamanha, south of what is today Cancun. Montejo returned to Yucatan in 1531 with reinforcements and took Campeche on the west coast. He sent his son, Francisco Montejo The Younger, in late 1532 to conquer the interior of the Yucatán peninsula from the north. The objective from the beginning was to go to Chichén Itzá and establish a capital.

Montejo the Younger eventually arrived at Chichen Itza, which he renamed Ciudad Real. At first he encountered no resistance, and set about dividing the lands around the city and awarding them to his soldiers. Over time, the Maya became more hostile until they eventually laid siege to the Spanish, cutting off their supply line to the coast, and forcing them to barricade themselves among the ruins of ancient city. After the course of several months, with no reinforcements forthcoming, Montejo the Younger attempted an all out assault against the Maya, and lost 150 of his remaining forces. He was forced to abandon Chichén Itzá in 1534 under cover of darkness. By 1535, all Spanish had been driven from the Yucatan Peninsula.

Montejo eventually returned to Yucatan and conquered the peninsula. The Spanish crown later issued a land grant that included Chichen Itza and by 1588 it was a working cattle ranch.[2]

 

Why did the Maya abandon their magnificent city of Chichen Itza?

 

 

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May 13, 2008

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References
 
1. Flickr-Chichen Itza- Creative Commons Attribution License-retrieved 7/20/2009
2. Wikipedia-Chichen Itza-retrieved 7/20/2009 
 
 
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