Caracol, Columns & Keystone

El Caracol, the Observatory

El Caracol, the Observatory

Drawing of El Caracol

Drawing of El Caracol

September 24th, 2020

After yesterday’s faces, today we’re taking a quick look at three areas of Chichén Itzá.

El Caracol, located on the south side of the site, is an astronomical observatory with several tiers topped by a rotunda. El Caracol means “conch,” and refers to the spiral steps that lead to the top of the observatory, much like the spiral formation of a conch shell.

The Maya sometimes built things in layers, on top of existing buildings. According to research by the Carnegie Institute in the 1920s, that is the case here with six superimposed structures forming the final observatory we see today.

El Caracol, the Observatory

El Caracol, the Observatory

Do you see the face in the crumbling top of El Caracol? Straight above the opening in the rotunda, the eyes, nose and mouth look northwest. The protruding rock on the left side may be another “bignosed” face in profile.

On the east side of Chichén Itzá, the Market faces north on a platform accessed by 11 steps. A closer look at the wall construction feels reminiscent of the work of the Incas at Machu Picchu. It’s interesting to think about some of the world’s well-known historic sites and when (generally) they were constructed in relation to one another:

Stonehenge: 3000 B.C.
Pyramid of Djoser, Egypt: 2650 B.C.
Knossos, Greece: 1950 B.C.
Ephesus, Turkey: 10th century B.C.
Acropolis, Greece: 10th century B.C.
Petra, Jordan: 400 B.C.
The Great Wall, China: 221 B.C.
Roman Colosseum, Italy: 1st century
Chichén Itzá, Mexico: 7th century
Borobudur, Indonesia: 8th century
Angkor Wat, Cambodia: 12th century
Lalibela, Ethiopia: 12th century
Machu Picchu, Peru: 15th century
Taj Mahal, India: 17th century

Next to the market, the Group of the Thousand Columns takes some time to explore. The rows and rows of columns would have held up a roof of some kind, and connected to the Temple of the Warriors at the west end. Even here, faces peer out from the platform’s high wall and corners.

Group of the Thousand Columns

Group of the Thousand Columns

More faces at center and corners

More faces at center and corners

Group of the Thousand Columns

Group of the Thousand Columns

Lastly, here’s a closer look at the angular Mayan arch, formed by “boot” shaped stones that are weighted on the outside to form the inside surface of the arch. The Mayan arch is not a traditional arch with a keystone locked in the center. As you can see, the center stone was instead placed on top, bridging both sides.

Mayan Arch

Mayan Arch

Tomorrow, we’ll visit Chichén Itzá’s grand ball court.

Game on!
Kelly

Post of the Day: Adding a bit of light to the darkness as we get through the pandemic together. This series features travel photos from my archives, shared with you while staying close to home.

15 comments

  • The round structure and the series of columns seem to me rather rare architectural features in the Mayan style where the square dominates. It is interesting to show them for a change.

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  • Such precision in the work. Row upon row of steps! Looking back at the timescale does make the achievement seem extraordinary, Kelly. 🙂 🙂

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  • Thanks for continuing to point out faces — it’s fun to find them! And that timeline — really says it all. I just don’t know how these amazing structures were built with no tech and few resources except rock and strong backs. Pretty amazing. Thanks so much for sharing. We probably won’t ever get to this part of the world, but you’ve opened my eyes, for sure.

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    • Aren’t the faces fun? I found so many more when I went back through my photos. You should go see Chichen Itza, Rusha!! It’s so close! I hope you’ll keep it in mind when travel resumes. The number of historic places you can see in relative proximity makes the Yucatan a great value, in my opinion. Thanks for stopping by and hope you have a great weekend!

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  • Wonderful. Love the timeline. It’s the first time I’ve seen it presented this way; brilliant 😊

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    • Thank you! All the sites I gravitate to seem to be in the 7th – 15th centuries. It really struck me to see Angkor Wat and know that other grand sites were happening around the same time on the other side of the world. Happy weekend to you! ♥

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  • Looking at the pictures of the Group of the Thousand Columns I can’t help thinking of Karl Pilkington’s comment on Idiot Abroad: “That’s too many though. It’s like an Ikea for columns”

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    • Interesting comment! I read somewhere (while researching this part of Chichen Itza) that the Maya hadn’t engineered a roof structure that didn’t require loads and loads of columns. So, they were necessary and driven by the need to hold the roof up here, but was there possibly a better way that would have required fewer columns? Most definitely!! Ironic that they excelled at the calendar and so many other things, but roof architecture was not a focus. Thanks for your comment, Sirri! 🙂

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  • That timeline sure got my attention. I had no conception that Machu Picchu for instance, was relatively recent. Also Angkor Wat. I guess I had them all lumped together as being built sometime BCE or early CE. Enjoying the virtual roam around Chichen Itza.
    Alison

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  • Like others, I studied the timeline with great interest! Happy to see my relatives, the Greeks, getting things started well ahead of many famous old civilizations! 🙂

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  • Interesting about the arches. And why do I suspect you’ve seen many of those sites in the timeline?

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    • Ha ha! I’ve been to nine of the sites on the list. I hadn’t even counted until your comment. I remember being at Angkor Wat thinking about its construction in relation to other sites. There was actually a sign at Angkor Wat about it. I think I took a photo. Will have to look for it!

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  • If you’d ever consider submitting some of your work for publication, Dixie State University has an online literary journal and is currently open for submissions.

    You can check us out at https://www.r7review.com/. The deadline to submit this year is November 6th.

    We are in need of fiction and nonfiction submissions. We also accept memoirs, audio recordings, visual art, book reviews, multimedia (video/audio), photography, etc.

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    • Hi, Rachel! Thanks so much for getting in touch. I’ve recently returned from road trip vacation and have missed your 11/6 deadline but I appreciate you letting me know about the publication. I would like to share my writing with a larger audience at some point, in some way. If there’s opportunity in a future publication, please let me know. I was just in Utah and will be writing about Bryce Canyon soon. Maybe that’s a good fit… not too far from where you are. Thanks again and stay safe! ~Kelly

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