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Pyramid of Kulkulkan/Quetzalcoatl, Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico
           While the earliest archaeological artifacts thus far found at Chichen Itza date from
           AD 1 to 250, it is probable that the site was settled at an earlier time.  The flat
           limestone plateau that makes up most of the Yucatan peninsula had been inhabited
           by proto-Mayan tribes for at least 8000 years.  These nomadic peoples would
           certainly have discovered (and imbued with legendary sanctity) the enormous natural
           well, next to which the great city of Chichen Itza later grew.  As a social center
           Chichen Itza began its rise to prominence with the arrival of a seafaring people in
           the eighth century.  Called the Itza by archaeologists, these merchant warriors first
           colonized the northern coastal areas of the Yucatan peninsula and then ventured
           inland.  After their conquest of the holy city of Izamal, the Itza settled
           at a sacred spot that would become known as Chichen Itza, "the Well of the Itza."
           From this site they rapidly became the rulers of much of the Yucatan peninsula.
         Writing of Chichen Itza, Mayan scholars Linda Schele and David Freidel tell us:
           "After over a thousand years of success, most ot the kingdoms of the southern
           lowlands collapsed in the ninth century.  In the wake of this upheaval, the Maya of
           the northern lowlands tried a different style of government.  They centered their
           world around a single capital at Chichen Itza.  Not quite ruler of an empire, Chichen
           Itza became, for a time, first among the many allied cities of the north and the pivot
           of the lowland Maya world.  It also differed from the royal cities before it, for it had
           a council of many lords rather than one ruler."
           The written history of the city covers only a short period, with the earliest clear date
           being AD 867.  The traditional interpretation of the history of Chichen Itza held that
           the city was occupied several times by various groups of people, beginning with the
           Mayans and ending with Toltec invaders from the city of Tula in central Mexico.
           While numerous archaeology and history books still ascribe to this interpretation, it
           is now known that Chichen Itza was occupied continuously by the Mayans.  The
           Toltec influences found in the art and architecture of certain areas of the great city
           were the result of the patronage of a cosmopolitan nobilty involved in trade with the
           Tula Toltecs and other Mesoamerican peoples.
           The Pyramid of Kukulkan (the Feathered Serpent God, also known as Quetzalcoatl)
           is the largest and most important ceremonial structure at Chichen Itza.  This
           ninety-foot tall pyramid was built during the eleventh to thirteenth centuries directly
           upon the multiple foundations of previous temples.  The pyramid is a store-house of
           information on the Mayan calendar.  Each face of the four-sided structure has a
           stairway with ninety-one steps, which together with the shared step of the platform
           at the top, add up to 365, the number of days in a year.  On each face of the pyramid
           the central stairway divides the nine terraces into eighteen segments representing the
           eighteen months of the Mayan calendar.  The pyramid is also directionally oriented to
           mark the solstices and equinoxes.  The axes that run through the northwest and
           southwest corners of the pyramid are oriented toward the rising point of the sun at
           the summer solstice and its setting point at the winter solstice.  The northern stairway
           was the principal sacred path leading to the summit.  At sunset on the vernal and
           autumnal equinoxes, an interplay between the sun's light and the edges of the
           stepped terraces on the pyramid creates a fascinating - and very brief - shadow
           display upon the sides of the northern stairway.  A serrated line of seven interlocking
           triangles gives the impression of a long tail leading downward to the stone head of
           the serpent Kukulkan, at the base of the stairway.
           The massive pyramidal temples found at Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Palenque
  and many other major Maya sites were symbolic sacred mountains.  Schele and
Freidel explain in A Forest of Kings:  The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya:
          "To the Maya, the world was alive and imbued with a sacredness that was especially
           concentrated at special points, like caves and mountains.  The principal pattern of
           power points had been established by the gods when the cosmos was created.
           Within this matrix of sacred landscape, human beings built communities that both
           merged with the god-generated patterns and created a second human-made matrix of
           power points.  The two systems were perceived to be complementary, not separate.
           ....The world of human beings was connected to the Otherworld along the wacah
           chan axis which ran through the center of existence.  This axis was not located in any
           one earthly place, but could be materialized through ritual at any point in the natural
           and human-made landscape.  Most important, it was materialized in the person of the
           king, who brought it into existence as he stood enthralled in ecstatic visions atop his
           pyramid-mountain. ... When new buildings were to be constructed, the Maya
           performed elaborate rituals both to terminate the old structure and contain its
           accumulated energy.  The new structure was then built atop the old and, when it was
           ready for use, they conducted elaborate dedication rituals to bring it alive. ... So
           powerful were the effects of these rituals that the objects, people, buildings, and
           places in the landscape in which the supernatural materialized accumulated energy
           and became more sacred with repeated use.  Thus, as kings built and rebuilt temples
           on the same spot over centuries, the sanctums within them became ever more
           sacred.  The devotion and ecstasy of successive divine kings sacrificing within those
           sanctums rendered the membrane between this world and the Otherworld ever more
           thin and pliable.  The ancestors and the gods passed through such portals into the
           living monarch with increasing facility.  To enhance this effect, generations of kings
           replicated the iconography and sculptural programs of early buildings through
           successive temples built over the same nexus. ... As the Maya exploited the patterns
           of power in time and space, they used ritual to control the dangerous and powerful
           energies they released.  There were rituals which contained the accumulated power
           of objects, people, and places when they were no longer in active use.  And
           conversely, when the community became convinced that the power was gone from
           their city and ruling dynasties, they just walked away."