What Materials Were Used to Build Chichen Itza?

Located on the Yucatan peninsula, the Mayan city of Chichen Itza was built out of limestone blocks chiseled out of nearby quarries. The blocks were so finely cut that they fit together without mortar. The sheer weight of the limestone stabilizes the structures, some of which are nearly 1,000 years old.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site has elements of both the Mayan and Toltec architectural styles. One of the most noted structures is El Castillo, the stepped pyramid of Kukulkan. The pyramid is covered with carvings, including the outlines of twin snakes along the staircase, leading to carved serpent heads at the bottom.

Other structures that have survived earthquakes and limestone erosion include the Warrior’s Temple, El Caracol, an ancient observatory and the ball courts. Evidence exists that some of the carved walls were painted in bold colors, but today the intricate carvings of battle scenes and various deities are mostly bare stone.

The city was built near two limestone caverns that held an underground water supply. Called “cenotes,” these cisterns are found throughout the Yucatan. At Chichen Itza, no one is really sure if the drying up of these two cenotes led to the eventual abandonment of the city or if Chichen Itza’s downfall had political undertones. The answer may someday be found in the carved limestone blocks of this ancient city.