The Ancient City of Chichen Itza

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Joshua Leo and Liz Waid visit the history of Chichen Itza. It was a Mayan city, located in southern Mexico. Why did people abandon this city, once full of life?

Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Joshua Leo.

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And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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On two days every year, most places on earth experience 12 hours of light, and 12 hours of darkness. These two days are the Spring Equinox and the Fall Equinox.

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On these two days something special happens in the ancient city of Chichen Itza. The sun shines on one of the large and ancient stone structures built here. On this particular structure, it appears as if a snake made of light is moving slowly down the wall.

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This special effect depends on exact measuring of the sun’s position. Experts think that ancient people called the Maya built this structure, and the city, many years ago. Experts say that the Maya’s knowledge of the sun’s position is unusual.

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Today’s Spotlight is on the ancient city of Chichen Itza. This city is in southern Mexico. Thousands of years ago Chichen Itza was full of people. It was one of the most powerful cities of one of the most powerful ancient cultures – the Maya. But today, no one lives there. It is only a group of old buildings. However, people from around the world still come to see it. People come to learn about its ancient culture, the culture of the Maya people.

The ruins of Chichen Itza
The ruins of Chichen Itza; Image by Vincent Godfroy from Pixabay
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The Mayan culture began almost 3,000 years ago. It grew in parts of Central America. Today we know this area as the countries of Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize.

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The Maya were skilled in many areas. Experts believe the Maya were excellent farmers. They also believe that the Maya created a complex written language. This may have been the first written language to come from the Americas. The Maya were also very good at mathematics. Their number system included the number “zero.” Mathematics experts say that using the number zero was an amazing thing. Other ancient cultures of the time did not use this number.

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However, people may know the Maya best for their calendar. A calendar separates time into different lengths, like months, days and minutes. Making a very exact calendar is extremely difficult. But the Maya used their knowledge of mathematics and their interest in the stars to build a calendar. They carefully observed the movements of the sun, moon, and planets. This knowledge helped them to create their calendar.

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Other cultures also influenced and helped build parts of Chichen Itza. After a few hundred years, the Maya had left their city. They did return later. But then about 1,000 years ago a group called the Toltecs invaded the Maya. They did not conquer the Maya. Instead, the two cultures lived together. They even began to combine parts of their religious ceremonies. The Toltecs ruled the city for about 300 years. But they left the city. No one knows why.

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A little later, the Itza invaded the city.  The Itza were invaders from a different area. The Itza built new parts of the city. And they gave the city its name. The name “Chichen Itza” means “mouth of the well of the Itza”. However, the Itza did not rule the city very long. They left Chichen Itza after about 25 years. Again, no one knows why the Itza left.

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Experts know that the Toltecs and Itza built some of the buildings in the city of Chichen Itza. They used many images of their god in their building designs. The Toltecs and Itza worshipped the same god. Their god looked like a snake, but with feathers like a bird. In the beginning of this program we told you about a snake of light that climbs the wall of an ancient building. The snake of light is an image of this god.

Carvings at Chichen Itza;
Carvings at Chichen Itza;; Image by DEZALB from Pixabay
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This interesting structure in Chichen Itza is the Pyramid of Kukulcan. A pyramid has four sides. These sides all come together at one point at the top. Each side on the Pyramid of Kukulcan has 91 steps. And there is one more step at the top of the pyramid. In all, there are 365 steps on the pyramid. This is the same as the number of days in a year. Some experts believe the Maya could have used this building to help them know when to plant crops. Each day the sun falls on a different step of the pyramid. This could be a way to follow the year.

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The people of Chichen Itza especially designed one building to observe and study the movement of the stars and planets. This building is the observatory. Experts say that the observatory is one of the most complex structures the Maya built. A set of steps went up and around and around the observatory tower. The steps made the observatory tower look like a large shell – like a snail’s shell. The top of the observatory tower was a dome, that is, it was shaped like a half circle. And there were windows in the tower. Each window had a purpose. Experts believe that a person looking through one of these windows could see particular stars on particular dates. The Maya may have believed that studying the stars could tell them the future.

But Chichen Itza was not only ancient buildings and studying stars. The citizens of Chichen Itza also had their own very popular ball games! Chichen Itza had the largest game area, or court, in Central America. The Maya probably played a game that was a little like football. Pictures of past games cover the walls of the ball court. But these pictures also show some violent events in these games. One picture even shows an official cutting off a man’s head in the centre of the game court.

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Around the year 1300, the Itza people left the city. Experts do not know why they left. Some Maya people still lived there. In 1517 Spanish invaders tried to invade the area around Chichen Itza. The Maya resisted for a time. But they could not resist the Spanish for long. The Spanish finally defeated the Maya. Sadly, Spanish invaders later destroyed many historical documents. So, we may never know the full history of Chichen Itza.

Visitors at the pyramid of Kukulcan;
Visitors at the pyramid of Kukulcan;; Image by VViktor from Pixabay
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Today, people from all over the world visit the ancient ruins of Chichen Itza. The Secretary of Tourism in Mexico says that over a million tourists visit Chichen Itza every year. Large crowds gather at the Pyramid of Kukulcan to watch the snake of light climb. They see the carefully designed buildings. But today, the ruins will not be destroyed. Chichen Itza is a UNESCO World Heritage site, an important part of the world’s history.

Voice 1 

The writer and producer of this program was Liz Waid. The voices you heard were from the United States. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, “The Ancient City of Chichen Itza”.

Voice 2 

You can also leave your comments on our website. And find us on Facebook – just search for spotlightradio. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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Are you interested in history? Do you know the history of your country and its people?

Join the discussion

  • I wanted to read again “Seven Wonders of the World”. But I found it nowhere here. Can you help me?

  • Hello spotlight team, Thank you for the wonderful lesson again. yes, history is my favorite subject in school and I love reading about history and the culture of the countries. Well, I am from Kuwait and my country has many stories about our culture that may interest you to read about it. Such as weaving tents we call it Sadu, which is one of our Kuwaiti heritage. We have a distinctive quality of knitting for tents. Before our ancestors lived in the desert and wove their homes from the Sadu.

  • 200 million years ago the earth was inhabited by dinosaurs. Human history began 2 million years ago in Africa. 2,000 years ago in Central America the Maya built pyramids, while in North America herds of bison roamed the prairies, and frogs croaked along the reeds and swamps of Manhattan Island. What scene will appear at sunrise in 200 million years?

  • Thanks for interesting story. I like reading about history all around the world. I’m from Ukraine. I know history of Ukraine. Ukranian people always fight for their freedom and independence of our country.

  • yes, I am interested in history, especially history my country Syria . In my country there are a lot of ruins, castles, and ancient cities.
    in this comment i will talk about Palmyra , It located in central of Syria . the Palmyrene empire was ruled by queen Zenobia .

  • My name is Amer and I am from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the Middle east. I am a student at King Abdulaziz University and I am Mechanical Engineering.

    I love to read about history so much because I know that there are many things that happened in the past that we do not have any idea about. One of these things is I believe that the people in the past had more powerful and amazing technology and until now we do not have this knowledge. It is like we are babies and they are adults. why I say this because as we knew after the Spanish defeated the Maya. They destroyed many historical documents. And there are many stories like this. One of these stories is Physicist Pierre Curie, who won the Nobel Prize in 1903, who says: We were able to divide the atom with the help of 30 books that we have left from Islamic civilization. And he continues, saying: If the books of Muslims had not been burned, we would be circulating among galaxies today. Burning books is one of the many ways to destroy history.

    Finally, we know a few of many. I hope you all the best. Goodbye from Amer to all the people who read my message.

  • Studying history allows us to observe and understand how people and societies behaved. For example, we are able to evaluate war, even when a nation is at peace, by looking back at previous events. History provides us with the data that is used to create laws, or theories about various aspects of society.

  • Are you interested in history?
    If Iinteresting history
    Do you know the history of your country and its people?
    Not all, but I am very interested to know it
    Summary of the 30 words
    I am amazed at this nice place, it causes me a great curiosity of the place since they describe it in a way as in fairy tales, it has many stories that catch the tourist, as if it were in that same instant in which I pass

  • i hatdly ever interested in hidtory. So
    i know exactly one day of the history that is July 19 that is our indepentent day.All citizen have to respect our general leader Aung San and nine hero at those day for 5 min that whever we all have.
    i know by myself i should more read books.
    Thank you spotlight.

  • Yes, so much ❤️

    I live in Egypt as long as we have heard about the pharaonic culture in the past, they have discovered more things like astronomy and the movement of the sun and they can highlight one of the statues from the sun
    This has become an important historical event in my country now
    I can’t talk much about the history of my country because I wasn’t living in it when I came to this land but I still love this country and its history ❤️

  • yes, i now.My country of a greatest country around of the world.My country it is important for all muslims.And my people it is a greates people.brave people and genrous people.Finally i proud of my country and my people.

  • I don’t like history but i really like traveling. Therefore, i am very exited with this ancient. I hope I can visit the ancient ruins of Chichen Itzad.

  • Since a bit years, I wasn’t interested over in history, I tought that we shouldn’t focus on history such what we see on visial document. By now, I changed my mind, I read many stories about Algeria’s resistant against France invaders and how algerian solider did fight with worn guns better than the advanced france’s matirel to get independance instead breacking down and give rules to invaders. I may not have all information about history of my county, but only the above information enough to make me feel proud and honor.

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