Thursday, February 07, 2008

Chichen Itza 2: The Ball Court

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

The ball game, or pok ta pok in Mayan, played an important role in Mayan society, for both religious and entertainment purposes. In nearly every Mayan city there is a Ball Court, but the great Ball Court in Chichen Itza is the largest at 551 feet (168 meters) long by 229 feet (70 meters) wide. It swallowed up the tourist crowds like we were nothing. Enormous.

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

The court today consists of the Jaguar Temple that sits atop the east wall, a ruined platform on the west wall, the North Temple which is in fairly good repair, and the South Temple.

Here is the Jaguar Temple.

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

The North Temple. Here it is thought that the King would preside over games. The acoustics are also of note. It is said that if you are standing in the North Temple and another person is in the South Temple, you can converse in a normal tone of voice even though that person is 551 feet away from you.

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

The game itself was played with two teams consisting of seven players, each with an appointed team captain. They tried to either hit (to score) a stone ring 23 feet above the playing field with a large rubber ball, or put the ball through the ring to win.  Sound challenging? Under normal circumstances this would be challenging enough but how would you like to do that without using your hands? The ball was propelled by using either the knees or hips. (Note: some references say the use of wrists and shoulders were allowed as well.)

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

I’ve added arrows to this duplicate of the photo I used above earlier to show you where the stone rings are located. Look closely and you should see them. And, actually, you can also see a ring in the photo of the Jaguar Temple if you’re looking for it. See it you can find it.

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Of course, getting the ball to actually pass through the hoop didn’t happen very often, but when it did it ended the game. Now what happened to the “winner” (aka the team captain) is a source of debate. It was first thought that the losing team’s captain “lost” his head, but today’s belief is that the winning captain won the honor to become a sacrifice if he so chose. A great honor indeed since this meant he would get a straight ticket to the Gods instead of going through all the underworlds first. And oh, did I happen to mention that only the nobility were allowed to play the game? Hmm… maybe there’s something to being lower class after all ...

The benches that line the court on either side are carved with images of players wearing protection on their arms and legs and the rituals of the game.  A snake runs the entire length of the bench. In one scene, a player kneels as his head is severed; blood spurts from his neck in the form of writhing serpents which then become garlands of flowers and leaves. Rebirth. Giving back to the Earth. If you look closely at the scene depicted in the third photo below you can see him on the far right side.

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

Lynne Robinson, Hewitt, New Jersey

I couldn’t help wondering as I gazed upon all these carved reliefs about the time it took to create them. And the detail! Just amazing! By this time I was falling under the spell of these ancient people.


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