Getting to Chichén Viejo requires a bit of a hike on a path that is just over one mile long. But even with the intense sun, this walk is far from a slog, with the ruins of ancient temples lining the way and its lush vegetation offering shade.
Chichén Viejo is a section within the Mesoamerican city of Chichén Itzá, but it does not feel like it.
This section of Chichén Itzá, which has been closed to the public for over 30 years, offers visitors a completely different experience than the “main” site.
For one thing, distant are the crowds (at least for now) as well as the vendors and the nonstop selfies, such as in front of the pyramid of Kukulkán.
Once through the massive oval archway, a vast plaza chock-full of fascinating structures suddenly comes into view.
Though unique in Mexico, a somewhat similar structure can be seen in Copan, Honduras. but in this case, one of the turtles is alive, while the other is dead. The life/death, east/west, and light/darkness symbology may point to a similar cosmological origin.
Beneath the existing turtle platform, archaeologists have discovered a previous hexagonal structure and 15 silex arrowheads.
Just past the turtle platform on the right is a large palatial structure known as the Temples that make up the complex known as la Serie Inicial.
The temple of La Serie Inicial is also full of remarkable stone carvings, which need to be seen in person to get the full effect.
At the base of most southern structure of the complex stands a restored stairway with a Chaac Mool at its front, while its top is adorned with twin Atlantes in the style of Tula. Both artistic motifs are repeated multiple times, both in Chichén Viejo and Chichén Itzá in general.
But just as interesting as the facade of this temple is its interior, which is temporarily open to the public, but probably won’t be for much longer.
Within, it is possible to observe several chambers, complete with a good deal of original stucco and stone artifacts.
Though the influence of Toltelc and Mesoamerican architecture from Central Mexico in general is more than obvious, several more typically Maya elements can also be observed.
Aside from elements like rain god masks, decorative elements characteristic of Puuc architecture can also be observed, intermingling with elements that seem somewhat out of place.
The Temple of the Phalluses, which technically belongs to La Serie Inicial, is a sprawling complex with several chambers that, for the time being, are still open to visitors.
As one would imagine, with a structure named after a part of male anatomy, said part can be seen as decorative elements within the temple.
La Serie Inicial also boasts several much more open chambers lined with columns which lead to more secluded interior areas.
Sections of the Temple of the Atlantes remain in ruins, though given the methodological layout and numbering of carved stones in the area, it will likely be restored to something resembling its former glory at a later date.
I typically refrain from offering personal opinions, but the name Atlante, which translates as Atlantean, has always been somewhat problematic — as it gives ammunition to all sorts of quacks trying to argue for connections between Mesoamerica and the Hellenistic world and even Africa.
The Temple of the Owl depicts, as you would expect, reliefs of owls on its facade, though several of the owl heads are badly eroded or missing.
Despite the impressive amount and quality of stone carving found in Chichén Viejo, relatively few explicitly human figures are represented.
Chichén Viejo is full of way too many treasures to cover in a single article, but if you are interested in experiencing it for yourself, keep in mind that the site is currently open to the public but only Friday through Sunday with a reservation. Groups are limited to 50, but so far, the largest group to enter has been made up of 20 people.
To visit the site with yours truly, fire off an email to firstname.lastname@example.org — as I am thrilled at the prospect of more people getting to experience this splendid site.
One thing to keep in mind, as stated earlier in the article, is that the path to Chichén Viejo (roughly one mile) remains a bit rough in some sections, though workers at the site say that they are making improvements every day.
The site is protected by Mexico’s National Guard, but don’t let this dissuade you, as they are all smiles and seem to be thrilled with their assignment and are even keen to point out interesting things they have spotted.
There is no timeline for when this 50-person-a-day, three-times-a-week limit trial opening will come to an end. That said, it is likely Chichén Viejo will never truly be overrun in the same way the main sections of Chichén Itzá are, as the path is long and the average visitor is only interested in seeing “the pyramid” for a selfie.
It has to be said that the archaeologists working at Chichén Viejo have done a splendid job and should really be commended.
Impressive discoveries are almost certain to continue being made in Chichén Viejo, so stay tuned.