Anyone who has ever heard of the Mayans would be familiar with the image of El Castillo, the iconic step pyramid that rises in the middle of the jungle in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Also known as Temple of Kukulkan, the white stone building dominates the ruins of Chichen Itza, a pre-Columbian city built by the Maya civilization close to Cancun, which has become one of the most popular archaeological sites in the world.
As spectacular as this 79-foot pyramid is, El Castillo also stages an unbelievable phenomenon twice a year, at the spring and autumn equinoxes – midpoints in the sun’s yearly cycle when the hours of daylight and night are equal.
The episode that thousands of people gather to see at this magic place around March 21 and September 23 goes more or less like this: as the sun sets the northwest side of the pyramid casts a series of triangular shadows that resemble a snake slowly undulating down the stairway.
Not impressed yet? Well, you might be at least a bit intrigued by the fact that the pyramid is named after the feathered-serpent god Kukulcan. The master stroke comes when the shadow finally reaches a large snake-head sculpture at the base of the stairway, which completes the body of the divine reptile.
There are more signs in El Castillo that suggest its builders made it following astronomical patterns and didn’t do things randomly. To start with, each of the four sides of the building has 91 steps, what makes 364 in total. If you add the top one in which the stairways converge, that’s 365, a number suspiciously similar to the days that complete a solar year. Moreover, as they did with the four stairways, the annual solar cycle is divided in four events that occur every 91 days: winter and summer solstices and spring and fall equinoxes. A happy accident too?
Some experts however argue that there is no evidence to support that the effect of the Plumed Serpent comes from intentional design. As researcher Tomas Garcia Salgado puts it: “neither the event nor the kind of geometry used to build the pyramid is reported in the extant Mayan codices.”
Regardless of the intention behind it, it’s a breathtaking spectacle. If you want to experience it or just visit these iconic ruins at any time of the year, sightseeing tours specialists Cancun Line offer several options to visit Chichen Itza and many other landmarks such as Tulum, Xel-Ha and Xcaret.
Here at Kenwood Travel we can offer you the holiday of a lifetime in Cancun and Riviera Maya.