Chichen Itza, an ancient Mayan city on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Every day, thousands of tourists flock to the site to witness the grandiose architecture of the Mayan people. But twice a year, Chichen Itza is more than just an archaeological site. On the spring and fall equinoxes, Chichen Itza becomes a magical place, when the Mayan serpent god Kulkulkan appears in full view on the pyramid that bears his name.
Kulkulkan’s appearance is a marvel of Mayan engineering. The Kulkulkan pyramid, also known as “El Castillo”, is constructed so that for just one hour, only twice a year, the angle of the sun is exactly right for the shadows to form the image of a feathered serpent descending the west wall of the temple. This serpent is the Mayan god Kulkulkan.
On March 21, the spring equinox, I hopped on a bus packed full with other travellers hoping to catch a glimpse of the ancient god in the present day. The night before, there had been a storm. Water fell from the sky like nothing I had ever seen before, and wild winds rattled the windows. With the spring equinox coming, it seemed nature was throwing her weight around, making sure we were all paying attention to the changing of the seasons.
And so, as we began our long, hot ride to the archaeological site, we were all nervous as the clouds were out, and we had all witnessed first-hand what could come from those clouds. Since Kulkulkan’s appearance is based on the position of the sun and the formation of shadows, we were hopeful but not certain that we would see him on this, our only opportunity.
After exploring the site, we all gathered in front of the pyramid as hot, sweaty, and thirsty from the intense heat despite the gray sky holding our breath to see what would happen. Some people burned incense. Others prayed to Kulkulkan or to another god, I’m not sure. The serpent started to form, there were breaks of sun, and 70,000 visitors cheered in unison. But then the sun slipped behind a solid, massive cloud, and it looked like our hopes of seeing Kulkulkan in his full form had been dashed.
The crowd started to break up, but thousands of us refused to budge, hoping against hope that there would be a break in the huge cloud just for a moment. A few times, the sun shone dimly through, and we could get an idea of what we were missing. The pale outline of Kulkulkan was visible, and this only made us want the full experience even more.
And then, finally, it happened. From behind an impossibly huge, thick, solid cloud, the sun appeared. And there was Kulkulkan, perfectly formed, just as he would have been 1,500 years ago when there were Mayans living at Chichen Itza. Everyone’s arms flew into the air together, as we thanked the Mayans (and maybe their gods) for giving us this incredible gift.
Then, suddenly, as if to emphasize the changing of the seasons that Kulkulkan’s presence signifies, the skies opened up, and with the sun still shining, it started to rain. <
Photo Credits: Christina Newberry and newpn2000 (via Flickr).