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Sunday, December 4, 2022

Pisté de Chichén Itzá — From Mayan antiquity to the Caste War and modernity

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Pisté has recently rebranded itself officially as Pisté de Chichén Itzá, which gives an idea of how vital the archaeological site is to the town. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Pisté is the gateway to the world-famous archaeological site of Chichén Itzá.

Many locals and archaeologists who work at Chichén Itzá have homes or rent rooms in Pisté. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

But the town is more than just a place to drive by or stay the night. It’s a thriving Yucatecan town with a long history and complicated legacy

Today, Pisté is a place where ancient traditions coexist with modernity and tourism. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

During antiquity, Pisté was a part of Chichén Itzá’s outskirts, stretching out several miles in every direction from the archaeological park that exists today. 

Archaeological remains on the grounds of Cenote Ikil, 6 kilometers from Chichén Itzás central plaza. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Today, few archaeological remains survive in Pisté, the major exception being its chapel and surrounding grounds.

Aerial photograph of Pisté’s chapel and surrounding grounds. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Pisté’s chapel was built in 1619 by the Franciscan order and was named after John the Baptist. But in 1754, the chapel was re-consecrated by Friar Miguel Leal de las Alas as Nuestra Señora de la Inmaculada Concepción, or Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.   

Pisté’s chapel and military garrison sometime in the late 19th century. Photo: Courtesy

The chapel was destroyed during the Caste War, though the exact date is unknown. What we do know is that in the 1850s, the Catholic temple was already burned out.

A reproduction of a pre-Hispanic figure known Chac Mool sits in front of Pisté’s chapel. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

During the 2010s, archaeologists began preliminary archaeological investigations at the chapel as it was known that stones from Mayan temples belonging to Chichén Itzá had been used in its construction.

Archaeologists working on the reconstruction of Pisté’s chapel. Photo: Courtesy

As it turns out, the entire chapel appears to have, in fact, been built using ancient carved stones from Mayan structures, which have been made readily visible after its reconstruction.

The head of a feathered Maya serpent and the visage of an ancient Maya nobleman adorn the facade of the Chapel in Pisté. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

During the excavations, archaeologists also discovered the foundations and walls of what appeared to be ancient structures beneath the cement of a 20th-century park. 

Ruins of the restored Caste War era military garrison in Pisté, Yucatán. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Some archaeologists have suggested that the foundations show evidence dating back at least 1,000 years, which would point to a repurposing of an ancient Mayan construction rather than a construction of new architecture using ancient existing materials as was previously thought. 

Ancient carved stones have been left exposed purposefully by archaeologists on the facade of Pisté’s chapel. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Excavations and restoration on the chapel and its surrounding area wrapped up in late 2021. In September 2022, the Catholic temple was repurposed as a museum telling the story of the Caste War and Pisté’s role.

Inside Pisté’s chapel today, a museum dedicated to the history of the Caste War in the region. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

If you go

Getting to Pisté from either Mérida or Cancún is easy. Just follow the multiple signs to Chichén Itzá. 

Map indicating the location of Pisté in the municipality of Tinum, Yucatán, Mexico. Photo: Google Maps

Staying the night in Pisté is a good idea, as this will make it easier to get to Chichén Itzá just as it’s opening at 8 a.m. and avoid the crowds. 

A sculpture of a Maya woman and her baby is located in the park directly behind the ruins of Piste’s Caste War-era garrison. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The town is full of hotels and restaurants ranging greatly in price to accommodate visitors and locals working at the archaeological site. 

Ancient Mayan carved stones can be seen from just about every angle on Pisté’s former chapel, which today is a museum. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
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