The ancient capital city, Chichen Itza, of the Mayan Empire located in the Yucatan province of Mexico is one of the most famous historical landmarks of Latin America. Built by mysterious people ahead of their time, the city takes up the space of 4 square miles (10 square kilometres), with its tallest pyramid structures reaching right above the height of 98 feet (30 meters). It was the main centre of political, military, trading and religious activity at the time, housing around 35,000 people.

              The site first saw settlers in the year 550 A.D, that were most likely drawn there due to the location’s easy access to water through sinkholes carved in limestone land formations around it called cenotes. (They were formed by the meteor that crashed into Earth in the Mesozoic Era around the centre of the Yucatan province, wiping the dinosaurs from existence as well as many other creatures living in that time era). However, when archaeologists first found the ruins of the great Chichen Itza in the late 1800s it was unrecognisable from the great city it once had been due to the greenery invading its premises.

              In the centre of the city is located the famous Kukulkan Pyramid, which from the 8th to 12th centuries A.D served as a temple to the deity of Kukulkan. In Mayan mythology, Kukulkan was one of the most important gods (the serpent god) and controlled water, storms, winds, and life. Many rituals were performed for him in the ancient Mayan empire, and he took a prominent role in the lives of daily people by dictating weather and climate.

              Located North from the Kukulkan Pyramid is Sacred Cenote where in the past, sacrificial rituals to the Mayan deity of the rain, Chaac, were performed. The main one consisted of finding children between the ages of 3 and 11, adorning them with the finest jewels and garments of the era, tying them up, and having them jump off the ledge built at the border of the cenote. This was allegedly supposed to bring rain to the land and make the city’s agriculture grow and prosper. Although this may seem brutal to the modern-day reader and even horrifying, most of the time, the beliefs of the children that sacrificed themselves were so strong that they did so willingly. This is because they were most likely raised as holy figures from the start of their lives, knowing that they would eventually be sacrificed. Therefore for them, this was considered an honour.

              Northwest of the Kukulkan Pyramid is located the ancient ball court that was used for a ball game developed by the Mayans called Pok-A-Tok, which is essentially a mix of basketball and soccer. As depicted in the infamous movie El Dorado, athletes had to kick the ball around the court, and high up on the arena walls was located a vertical hoop which the ball had to be kicked into. These were usually very long and aggressive games, and the spectators with ‘jaguar’ rank (the highest social class in this society) would sit in a reserved spot for them in the stands. Pok-A-Tok continues to remain a prominent aspect of Mayan culture and continues to be played today by the descendants of this ancient civilization.

              West of the Kukulkan Pyramid is located the Group of a Thousand Columns and the marketplace. The Group of a Thousand Columns is what is now left of the architectural features that supported the roof of the Warrior’s Temple. There are only 200 columns in the ruins seen today, but the name is meant to display the greatness of the empire’s warriors. Right next to it is the marketplace where merchants and vendors used to sell anything from food to tools that have come from all over the empire

              The Mayan people were very astronomically advanced and had a whole calendar based on the sky’s patterns and stars. South of the Kukulkan Pyramid is located an observatory where scholars and astronomers used to study the planets and the stars in the sky.

              Nowadays, Chichen Itza is still being studied and new facts get revealed every day about this mysterious civilization. As tourists visit the sacred site today, local artisans and vendors can be found standing along the roads selling traditional Mayan crafts such as wood-carved masks and calendars, precious gems collected from the area and stone-carved statues of ancient Mayan gods.

              The are many who are not aware of the true potential and intelligence once held by the ancient Mayan people and imagine them as the European colonizers had described them: savages. The Mayan empire was actually one of the most advanced empires in Mesoamerica and saw many innovations in trading, farming, astronomy and architecture. In some aspects, they were even more advanced than some European and Asian societies at the time. Although not nearly enough is known about these mysterious people to properly understand them, one thing is certain, their empire was a long-lasting powerhouse of innovation and advancement throughout centuries of Mesoamerican history.