My indifference to Chichén Itzá is a matter of record (working on my yucatán).
So, I did not have high expectations for our Wednesday visit. I had even toyed with the idea of visiting Ek' Belem, instead. But the logistics proved to be difficult. And I have so enjoyed the company of this touring group that I decided to give Chichén Itzá another once over.
I am glad I did. The visit turned out to be far too short. The place needs a week or so to really appreciate. But our short visit was enough to make me revise my original impression of the place.
In the process of walking about and analyzing this great commercial city, I think I have discovered why I was so indifferent to the place four years ago.
There is a rumor that Steve Cotton is a contrarian, He is. If the general opinion of anything is that it is popular, Steve Cotton will strike the pose that anything popular is bound to be déclassé. In short, Steve Cotton acts like the very people he loves to lampoon.
And if the popular "whatever" receives cheesy accolades such as "One of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World," it doesn't have a chance to be taken at face value. No matter how grand it might be.
Something about el castillo -- the much-vaunted symbol of all that is
Chichén Itzá -- rubs me the wrong way. It may be its over-reconstructed facade that looks eerily like the face of a San Miguel de Allende matron. Along with its intentional dehumanizing scale.
It is not Chichén Itzá that leaves me indifferent. It is el castillo.
If Uxmal is Greece, Chichén Itzá is Rome. Uxmal developed a very pleasing architectural style of its own. As we saw yesterday (snakes -- why did it have to be snakes?). Its public spaces were well-balanced and designed to reflect the beauty of its era.
Chichén Itzá adopted a grab bag of of styles during its 600 year history -- from 600 to 1200 AD. It may lack a unified style, but it makes up for it in a rather bustling style of the commercial center it was.
Starting with one of the oldest areas of the city where the architecture is very reminscent of Uxmal's pure Maya style. Such as the observatory -- with its advanced system of tracking the stars, planets, and seasons, to predict the arrival of what kept this water-starved land thriving. Rain.
And there is the face we have come to recognize immediately -- Chac -- that adorns buildings in the older section of the city. Along with the sacred rattlesnake. In stylized form.
But this was also a center for the Maya to show their individual talents. On the largest ball court in Meso-America.
And because the game also had its sacred aspects, the captain of the winning team would be led to a platform where he and his family would be honored with his ceremonial decapitation.
This tablet commemorates that act. You can see death carrying away the captain's head, while an eagle eats a human heart, and the rattlesnake brings fertility to the earth. It is certainly no accident that the myth of the rattlesnake and the eagle is quintisentially Mexican.
If you take El Castillo out of the mix, Chichén Itzá is a fascinating spot. You might meet the souls of more merchants than artisans, but the city offers up its past where you can meet the dead on their own level.
And, for one brief moment, you can live their lives with them. In a place you will never be able to go. But a place where you can touch another world -- and take away what it gives you.
Amongst the snakes and the eagles.