UNESCO World Heritage-listed Chichen-Itza

UNESCO World Heritage-listed Chichen-Itza

If you clap your hands at the base of the steps ascending the pyramid Temple of Kukulcan, you’ll be met with a strange chirping echo, much like the call of the revered Quetzal bird. The Quetzal is the embodiment of Quetzalcoatl, or Kukulcan, one of the most revered Mesoamerican gods, and to clap your hands here is said to replicate part of an ancient Mayan and Aztec ritual. The pyramid is clearly linked to the sacred bird - Kukulkan is often depicted with the Quetzal on his back, and both share the same Mayan root word.

The echoes sound like chirps because the sound from your clapping reverberates off hundreds of small steps, producing hundreds of small echoes. The difference in the distance traveled by echoes bouncing off lower steps is small, so the echoes follow each other closely and make a high-pitched sound; the distances and intervals between successive echoes returning from the higher steps, however, are longer, so their pitch is lower. Thus, when the echoes from your clap reach your ear the change in pitch sounds like a chirping bird.The high and narrow steps cause the effect - if the stairs were deeper and not so high, the effect on the echoes would not be as great, and wouldn't sound like a chirp. The Mayans obviously thought about more than the view and stars when building these spectacular pyramids.

If you happen to be at Chichen Itza during spring equinox, spend the afternoon at the pyramid temple of Kukulcan, designed so that, at the same time every year, sun and shadow play create the illusion of a huge serpent descending from the sky and down the pyramid. The return of the feathered serpent God, Kukulcan, or Quetzalcoatal to the Aztecs, will amaze you, as will a wider tour of Chinchen Itza at any other time of year. The site is perhaps the most mind-bending nexus for art, philosophy, science, engineering, religion and culture in the known world. Astronomical alignments and curious design integrations make this one of the finest places for you to ponder lost knowledge and the staggering abilities of ancient civilisations.

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