Chichén Itzá chēchān´ ētsä´ [key], city of the ancient Maya, central Yucatán, Mexico. It was founded around two large cenotes, or natural wells. According to one system of dating, it was founded c.514, probably by the Itzá, and after being abandoned (692) and reoccupied (c.928) was chosen by Kulkulcán (see Quetzalcoatl) as his capital sometime between 968 and 987. After being defeated by Mayapán in 1194, the Itzá abandoned the city for the last time. Spanning two great periods of Maya civilization, Chichén Itzá shows both Classic and Postclassic architectural styles. The Classic style is massive, with heavy, decorative sculpture and cramped interiors. The later buildings have plainer, more austere lines, with the sculpture based on the Mexican feathered-serpent motif and columns, and Toltec influence is strong. The Castillo, or principal temple of Kulkulcán, is representative of the period. Rare among Maya buildings is the round tower called the Caracol [snail shell], built in the Postclassic period; it was probably an astronomical observatory. Into Chichén Itzá's sacred well, mecca of countless pilgrimages from Central America and the Mexican plateau, were thrown jade and metal offerings. Humans were also sacrificed. Dredgings of the well in modern times have yielded a valuable collection of artifacts.
See studies by D. Ediger (1971) and M. Cohodas (1978).
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