Chichen Itza, one of the largest of the Mayan cities, was inhabited from about 600 A.D. to 1200 A.D.
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Forget King Tut and camels. The pyramid at Chichén Itzá is plenty awesome, a marvel of Maya architecture built around the year 1000, rising nearly 100 feet above the jungles of Yucatán in southeastern Mexico. Known as El Castillo (The Castle), it draws huge crowds at the spring and autumn equinoxes, when the afternoon sun sends seven triangular shadows slithering down to join a giant serpent's head at the bottom, like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie.
Stand at its base and you'll see why Chichén Itzá is considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. The ruins of the once great city stretch over six square miles and include platforms, temples, carved pillars, a sacred cenote (waterhole) almost 200 feet across, and a vast ball court where, some archaeologists suspect, the captain of the losing team was ritually decapitated. (Perhaps sore loser comes from Maya times.) Visitors can also explore an observatory in which early astronomers charted the stars, moon, and planets to create astonishingly accurate calendars. One of these, the Long Count, predicts the end of our era on December 21, 2012. After that, who knows? Better visit Chichén before it's too late.
Photography courtesy of Bjørn Christian Tørrissen/Wikipedia
This article was first published in March 2010. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.