Today is the Spring Equinox and thousands of people are expected to be in attendance at Chichen Itza to witness the descent of Kukulkan (Mayan word that means “feathered snake”) on El Castillo, the site’s grand pyramid. Every Spring and Fall, at the time of the equinox, huge crowds gather at the ancient Mayan ruin site of Chichen Itza to see the “snake” (it’s merely shadows created by the setting sun) travel from the top to the bottom of the pyramid. At the bottom of the stairs, in the stone, there is a large head of a snake. The shadows create the body of the snake, but the head is made of stone.
Many people also go to Chichen Itza because the equinox is believed to be a spiritual time. The Mayans used the Spring equinox as a signal that it was time to plan corn.
El Castillo was built with 91 stairs on each of it’s 4 sides. When you add up the number of stairs, plus add in the final step, which is the platform at the top of the structure and the total is 365. The number of steps on the pyramid represents the number of days in the year. Then, at sunset on the days of vernal and autumnal equinoxes, shadows appear on the stairs of one side of El Castillo and it appears to take the form of a snake slithering down the side of the pyramid. The Mayan people understood astronomy in ways that we are unimaginable, considering they did not have the modern technology that we have today. Had they not had a strong grasp of astronomy, the pyramid at Chichen Itza would probably not have been built to perfectly show Kukulkan’s descent.
Both the Spring equinox and the Fall equinox draw large crowds to Chichen Itza, but the Spring is generally much busier than the Fall. Today’s attendance is expected to reach nearly 15,000 people.
This short video not only shows the shadows appearing on the stairs as the sun sets at Chichen Itza, but it also shows the massive crowd that attended the event in 2007: