On March 20 and 21, the period marking this year’s spring equinox, thousands of people will gather in the Great Plaza, the sacred heart of the ancient Mayan city of Chichén Itzá, Yucatán’s famous World Heritage Site to watch the sunset. As the sun’s rays strike the massive Pyramid of Kukulcan, it begins to reveal its secrets.
Pyramid of Kukulcan
The pyramid is a solar clock, aligned to catch the rays of the sun. As it sets on the spring and fall equinoxes in March and September, triangles of light and shadow form along the side of the north staircase and the figure of a snake appears, merging with a stone head at the foot of the building, creating the illusion of a gigantic serpent slithering down from the heavens and across the ground towards the Sacred Cenote. The snake symbolizes Kukulcán (also known as Quetzalcoatl in central Mexico), the feathered serpent god and an ancient ruler of the city, returning to earth to give hope to his followers and heralding the planting (spring) and harvest (fall) seasons for the Maya.
The shadow creates the image of a descending snake.
The pyramid also represents the ancient Mayan calendar as the number of terraces and wall panels coincides with the number of months in the year (18) and years in a calendar round (52), respectively, and the number of steps in the staircases, including the top platform, equals 365, the days in the year.
In 2012, the equinox falls on March 20, but the snake of light and shadow is visible the day before and after the equinox, cloud cover permitting. March 21 is also the anniversary of the birth of Benito Juarez, one of Mexico’s most famous reformist presidents.
If you would like to explore one of the greatest ancient cities in the Americas and see why UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site and a global poll in 2007 rated it as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza TripsandChichen Itza Toursare available throughThomas More Travel, our on-site tour operator. Book now!