The Maya left behind a lot of secrets that are still hidden in their grandiose constructions and encrypted in hundreds of hieroglyphs. Not all structures have been carefully studied. Every year, archeologists and researchers use the most advanced technologies to uncover the mysteries hidden behind the walls of temple complexes, buried in the depth of sacred cenotes and caves.
Bright Side carefully studied all the modern data about the Maya civilization and revealed the secrets of centuries-old ruins that tour guides never show to ordinary tourists.
1. Temple of Kukulkan, Chichen Itza
This is what the pyramid looked like when it was first photographed back in 1880 — almost completely hidden in the jungle. Kukulkan has 9 platforms and 4 stairs with a total of 365 steps, which is equal to the number of days of the year.
During the autumn equinox and the vernal equinox, after 5 PM, one could see a crawling shadow of a snake on the pyramid’s balustrade. In March, it’s moving upwards, in September — downwards. The illusion goes on for almost 3 hours and attracts thousands of tourists who come here to see such a unique event.
Another mystery of the Maya is hidden inside the pyramid. If you remove the upper layer of stones, you’ll see another pyramid of a smaller size and even a third smaller one inside of the second pyramid; it has a secret room in it.
Only recently, researchers used the magnetospheric exploration of the soil and found an underground lake 65 ft below the pyramid of Kukulkan. It might be one of the Maya sacred cenotes. Archaeologists believe that the water might loosen the ground resulting in the destruction of the pyramid in the near future.
The whole pyramid serves as some kind of a resonator. When people go up its stairs, on the inside, one could hear sounds similar to the calls of the sacred bird Quetzal. The bird lived in the local forests and was sacred among the Maya. In 2006, a tourist fell off the stairs; after the accident, the pyramid was closed to the public. Today, you can only look at it from the distance.
2. The Balancanché caves
This place isn’t usually included in the classic tourist route along Chichen Itza, but its mysterious atmosphere is mesmerizing. The Balancanché caves are situated 1.8 miles from the Maya temple complex. The name translates to “the cave of the sacred jaguar throne” where the Maya performed religious rituals more than 3,000 years ago.
In 1959, local guide José Humberto Gómez found a sealed entrance in one of the cave passages. A sacred sanctuary with “the jaguar throne” along with many ancient artifacts was located in it.
One of the most famous rooms in the cave complex is the room of Mayan World Tree or Mayan Tree of Life. The 3D model shows the whole cave with a limestone column in the center. It symbolizes Mayan World Tree — a so-called axis that connects the heavens and the underworld.
3. Cenote Ik Kil
On the way back from Chichen Itza, tourist buses usually stop by the sacred Mayan cenote Ik Kil. The Maya used this cenote as a place for sacrificial rituals.
At the depth of 130 ft, archeologists found human skeletons, bones, and ancient Mayan jewelry. Today you can see dozens of swimming tourists here.
4. Coba pyramids
If you can’t imagine your trip to the ancient Mayan pyramids without climbing on one of the structures and taking an impressive photo, well, you would like visiting the ancient city Coba. The 135-ft-high pyramid El Castillo is located here; you can climb right to the top using the 120 really steep steps.
If you manage to climb to the top, you’ll see a wonderful view of the ancient city and might even take a look inside the ritual chamber; the Maya used to make sacrifices in there.
5. Ancient city Tulum
It’s the only Mayan city located on the shore of the Caribbean Sea on 40 ft cliffs of the Yucatan peninsula. Tulum used to be called Zama, meaning “the City of Dawn.” Unlike other Mayan cities, Tulum was surrounded by the impermeable walls that protected the city from the attacks of nomadic tribes from the north.
Besides the ancient structures, beautiful white-sand beaches with crystal clear ocean water attract a lot of tourists; the weather is especially pleasant most of the year.
6. Pyramid of the Magician, Uxmal
Uxmal is the 130-ft-tall Pyramid of the Magician; its other name is the Pyramid of the Dwarf. In fact, it’s not just one pyramid but 5 of them that were built on top of each other over the centuries. According to the old Mayan legend, the pyramid was built by a magician-god named Itzamna in just one night. He later became the local god.
7. Temple of the Inscriptions, Palenque
The temple was built above the tomb of the local ruler; its inner walls were inscribed with 617 hieroglyphs; a part of them still hasn’t been deciphered. A hall with 3 chambers is located at the top of the pyramid. In 1949, one of the chambers revealed a sacred passage to the ruler’s tomb replete with ancient treasures and artifacts.
Tourists aren’t allowed to walk inside the tomb but you can see the exact copy exhibited in The National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico.
8. Mayan city Yaxchilan
The ruins of the ancient city Yaxchilan are located within a 4-hour drive from Palenque, on the border of Guatemala. Until recently, there were no roads within a radius of 90 miles from the city. The only way to get here was to rent a small airplane, but in 1990, the Mexican government built the road and facilitated access to the unique ruins. Here you can explore almost 50 ancient buildings, investigate the collection of sculptures, and try to decipher ancient Mayan hieroglyphs yourself.
9. The murals of Bonampak
Another ancient city located near Yaxchilan was accidentally discovered in 1946 by American photographer Giles Healey. Bonampak literally means “painted wall.” Today this place is known all over the world for its wonderful murals in several temple’s rooms. The murals depict the Mayan rulers, dancing people, musicians, battles, and acts of sacrifice.
10. The Temple of the Great Jaguar, Tikal
The city of ancient Maya was discovered only in 1848 while the secretly sealed entrance to the ruler’s tomb was found only in 1962. Archeologists got into the tomb through the roof of the temple that hid a secret tunnel. There they found pelts of jaguars, pearls, jewelry, and even an 8-lb necklace on the chest of the ruler.
On December 21, 2012, as part of the celebration of the end-date of the Mayan calendar, modern Maya held a fire ceremony in front of the temple; more than 3,000 people participated in the ceremony.
Would you like to visit the Mayan cities and temples? Have you already been there? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.