5 things you didn’t know about the Chichén Itza equinox
Following the trail of the feathered Serpent
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Chichén Itzá is one of the most well-know Mayan cities in the world, it was inscribed on the list of World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988 and in July 7th of 2007, the Temple of Kukulkan was recognized as one of the New Seven Wonders of the Modern World. When visiting this archaeological site in Yucatan, Mexico, you travel back in time to discover a civilization that with its knowledge and perfectionism earned recognition worldwide.
While thinking of Chichén Itzá, the first thing that goes through your mind is the Temple of Kukulcan, known as “El Castillo” or The Castle, and the first thing you remember is the great phenomenon of lights and shadows called the equinox, don’t you?
Here we share with you five things you probably didn’t know about the equinox:
1 -Mayans considered the movements of the Earth to build the Temple of Kukulkan.
If for a year from a fixed point you watch the sunrise over the horizon, you will notice that the sun appears at different positions and its path and in the sky changes. This is due to the rotation and translation of the Earth, as well as its variant ecliptic, and the tilt of Earth’s axis. This apparent movement has a further variation if we move to different latitudes of the planet.
The Maya considered these variables and observed any signs of light and shadow generated every day. So, they built the Great Pyramid of Kukulkan considering all these variables, plus the architectural considerations, they built the facade of the pyramid with an angle of approximately 20° with respect to the north.
2 – What you see during the equinox are seven reversed isosceles triangles of light.
At sunset of equinox day, on the steps of the Kukulkan pyramid, you can see a descending serpent consisting of seven reversed isosceles triangles made up of sunlight and shadow. As time goes by, it looks like a snake-form descends from the temple and at last a light is projected on the head of the feathered serpent at the base of the steps.
3 – It happens twice a year.
This phenomenon occurs in March and September and can be observed approximately during five days: on the day of the equinox and the days surrounding it. The effect begins about 3 hours before sunset, at the beginning a form of undulating light can be seen on the railing of the main staircase of the Temple of Kukulkan that slowly shows seven isosceles triangles. This effect can only be seen for 10 minutes, and then it gradually begins to disappear.
4 – There is another pyramid where you can also see the descent of Kukulkan.
In the archaeological site of Mayapan, also located in Yucatan, there is a pyramid similar to the Temple of Kukulkan but smaller. The projection of the snake can also be seen here at sunset during equinox time, however, due to the deterioration of the structure, it is not seen as clearly as in Chichen Itza.
5 -The equinox was very important for the Maya.
With the spring equinox, the Maya initiated the planting and with the autumn equinox the harvest. They considered these days sacred times.
Each year, thousands of people travel from around the world and gather at the foot of the Great Temple of Kukulkan at Chichén Itzá to observe this unique phenomenon. Visitors usually wear white clothes in order to get rid of “bad vibes” and attract positive energy from the new sun.
Have you seen Kukulkan descent? Tell us your experience.
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