Spring Equinox, Chichen Itza, and Kukulkan

Ever since first hearing about the play of light and shadow on El Castillo during the spring and fall equinoxes, I’ve wanted to see it first-hand. The Mayan site of Chichen Itza, located in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, is the most visited archaeological site in the region and even more so during the equinoxes.

Equinox (“equal night”) refers to two periods in the year when the sun is positioned directly over the equator making night and day lengths equal. March 20th or 21st usually marks the spring equinox and September 23rd the fall equinox. Thousands of visitors visit Chichen Itza during the equinoxes, especially on the designated dates each year (March 21, 2013).

El Castillo (“The Castle”), Chichen Itza’s central focal point, served as a temple to Kukulkan, the feathered serpent. As the sun starts to set during the equinox, the angle of light striking the northwest side of El Castillo makes it look like a serpent is slithering along the steps. The head of Kukulkan at the bottom of the steps is lit up as well as seven triangles representing the diamond back of the snake. The effect can apparently be seen on the northeast side of El Castillo during sunrise on the same days, but Chichen Itza isn’t open at that time to visitors.

One of our goals at Reefs to Rockies is to provide unique experiences for clients away from the crowds. There are several days around the equinoxes when the sun’s position is almost identical so you don’t have to go on the day when visitation is at its highest. The following photos are from March 20, 2013.

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As a side note – if you see people clapping hands repeatedly while near El Castillo, it’s because hand claps evoke chirped echoes from certain points at the base of the pyramid. The chirped echoes sound like the call of the resplendent quetzal, a bird revered by the Mayans. Click on the following link for more information on the resplendent quetzal. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/birds/quetzal/

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