The Day of the Dead festival dates back to the Aztecs and is meant to honour the dead, and is a very festive celebration meant to celebrate loved ones who have passed and the lives they led. They spend it in a Graveyard, surrounded by friends and family playing music, socializing and drinking.
Mexico does have parades, but traditionally the night is spent in the graveyard, alongside the resting place of their loved one. The best festival experience will be found in either Mexico City or Oaxaca. The Dia de Los Muertos festival in James Bond’s “Spectre” was a little more “Hollywood” than the real thing.
As the world’s largest pyramid, it looks more like a hill with a church on the top, rather than the largest archaeological site of a pyramid in the New World, as well as the largest pyramid known to exist in the world. The pyramid stands 55 metres above the surrounding plain, and in its final form it measured 450 by 450 metres.
The pyramid is a temple that traditionally has been viewed as having been dedicated to the god Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god of wind, air, and learning.
Understanding the Maya Calendar and Date Calculations
The Maya Long Count Calendar calculates present day by counting the time from an established start date. In the Maya culture, the universe started on August 11, 3114 BC on the Gregorian calendar, September 6, 3114 BC on the Julian Calendar. At the time, the calendar didn’t account for the year, the Long Count fixes this. The date is calculated by using a series of placeholders to indicate the number of days passed since the start of the cycle / the creation of the current successful world. The Mayans believed that the universe is destroyed, then recreated at the start of each cycle. Success of this world was last decided when it ended on December 21st, 2012, and so according to the Maya, we are now living in the final fourth world, based on the fact that the previous unsuccessful creation ended on a long count date of 126.96.36.199.19, with the next cycle starting on 188.8.131.52.0, or the final Baktun, as the Baktun scale only goes up to 13.
The date is made up of 5 placeholders (X.X.X.X.X), each placeholder has a name (Baktun.Katun.Tun.Uinal.Kin), and each number in it’s place is a multiplier for how many days the place represents. Here is the calculation;
The Kin, Tun, and Katun are numbered from zero to 19; the Uinal are numbered from zero to 17; and the Baktun are numbered from zero to 13.
The Long Count has one cycle of 13 Baktuns, which will be completed after 1,872,000 days (13 Baktuns). This period equals 5,125.36 years and is referred to as the “Great Cycle” of the Long Count.
Example Calculation: A date of 184.108.40.206.15 = (4 x 20 x 20 x 18 x 20) + (6 x 20 x 18 x 20) + (3 x 18 x 20) + (9 x 20) + 15 = 576,000 + 43,200 + 1,080 + 180 + 15 = 620,475 days, or 11,699 years, 11 months, 3 days since the start of the calendar on August 11th, 3014 BC. This would equate to some time in the second week of September, 1314 BC.
The presence of the number zero for a placeholder is also one of the first instances of the concept of zero, and used as a placeholder.
The power Uxmal had as a partnership of power with Chichen Itza as Northern Lowlands ruling settlements, waned when Chichen Itza was conquered and deserted after the Spanish took the Peninsula and remained overgrown. In the final 300 years, little construction took place which may have been the first sign of it’s decline. The Uxmal site is considered to be as well preserved as any, blessed with both a remarkable state of preservation and grand design, combining to provide visitors with a true sense of what it was like in Mayan times.
The site includes The Governor’s Palace which has the longest facades in Mesoamerica, a large ballcourt, Nunnery and the Adivino, referred to as the Pyramid of the Dwarf, telling the story of a dwarf who magically built the pyramid overnight during a series of challenges issued to him by the king. A large pedestrian causeway links this site with the gulf coast trade route at Kabah, 15 miles away.
In a 1975 visit, Queen Elizabeth endured a torrential rainstorm during a reading of a Maya prayer to Chaac, the Mayan Rain God. This, despite the fact that it was during the region’s dry season.
The Mayan Ruins at Tulum offer a stunning setting, located on 40 foot coastal cliffs right on the Caribbean. The word Tulum means “wall” or “fence”, and may have been formally called Zama, meaning “dawn”, and served as an obvious first contact point for Mayan defenses against invaders.
The site resembles the architecture at Chichen Itza, but is a much smaller version. The twenty-six foot thick walls indicate that this was an important defensive position and likely one of the best fortifications the Maya had.
It is thought that this location was one of the major prayer locations for worshipping the Descending, or Diving God, who also makes an appearance in the Temple of the Diving God in the center of the site. The Maya considered this site important, not just for it’s defensive position, but also that the inlet in the cliffs afforded a perfect landing zone for trade and commercial vessels. The site includes a beacon to afford watercraft the ability to navigate the shoreline for their arrival, and was likely an important trading port and supply line for the Maya inland on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Artifacts found in the area suggest trade from all point in Mexico and Central America, including copper artifacts from the Highlands, and objects representative of places throughout the Yucatan. Obsidian originating in the Guatemala Highlands over 400 miles away has also been found here in high quantities suggesting that it was a major trading center of this prestigious material.
The location of Tulum makes it one of the most desirable locations for tourists, and defines the Mayan Riviera by being the region’s southern-most destination.
Located at the northern end of central Yucatan, Mexico, Chichen Itza was a sizeable settlement in the area in Mesoamerican civilization. The name means “At the mouth of the well of Itza”, “chi” meaning mouth or edge, and Itza the name of an ethnic group in the area. Interesting to note that although the ruins are maintained by the Mexican government, that the property is privately owned by the Barbachano family, who operate a 16th century Spanish hacienda resort near-site, and are faithfully devoted to sustainable tourism and green and eco-friendly development.
Chichen Itza’s glory days culminated towards the end of the sixth century, and it is often noted that this is roughly around the time when other areas in Mayan culture were in massive decline. It is believed that around the end of the first millennium, a king from central Mexico conquered Chichen Itza and made it his capital city. Unlike sites like Palenque, Chichen Itza was ruled or governed by a group of people made up exclusively of members of previous ruling families, however this theory is always debated.
In the 16th century, the Spanish, led by a conquistador by the name of Francisco de Montejo, launched a campaign to overtake the Yucatan Peninsula, first in 1527 and then again by his son Francisco the Younger in 1532, with the primary goal to take Chichen Itza and make it his capitol. This goal was achieved and was renamed Cuidad Real and subdivided as reward to his soldiers. In the two years that followed, the local Maya population cut off his supply route, and with no reinforcements coming to his aid, attempted to resolve the situation by attacking the Maya to no avail. He and his remaining forces had to flee the Yucatan Peninsula at night and by 1535 there were no Spanish remaining in the area. Eventually, Francisco the Younger returned to the area with a much larger force and took the Peninsula and by 1588 had turned it into a cattle ranch.
At the center of Chichen Itza is a great temple, named Temple of Kukulkan and dubbed The Castle. This temple has stairs rising to it’s top on all four sides, and at the turn of the Spring and Fall Equinox, at sunrise and sunset, casts a shadow on the ground in the shape of a serpent. El Castillo is also an example of a common Mayan technique, which is to construct new pyramids overtop of older ones. In the 1930s, the Mexican government uncovered a hidden staircase to an older temple inside the newer one.
Chichen Itza also houses the largest ball court in Mesoamerica, measuring 540 feet by 220 feet with almost 40 foot high walls, with statues of team players carved into them. The game played has been referred to simply as the Mesoamerican Ballgame, played for roughly 3000 years, with a modern version still played today by local indigenous peoples. As far as archeologists can tell, the game is similar to something like racquetball or volleyball, with the purpose of the game to keep the ball in play. The ball was made entirely from rubber, and the rules have been considered to have rituals associated with them, including human sacrifice.
* Based on a typical trip for two (2) for seven (7) nights in a winter month on the Yucatan peninsula including hotel. food, entertainment, local travel, Approx. $1000 CDN.