Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Sacred Well

When I was around 11 years old, I loved to read the Book of Marvels by Richard Halliburton, which was written a few years before I was born. I especially remember his description of the "sacred well" and other monuments at Chichen Itza in the Yucatan. I always hoped to go to some of the places that Richard Halliburton visited, and in fact, over the years, I have been to many of them -- even once before to Chichen Itza.

Here is the page of the book that I remember. The tiny figure is Halliburton jumping from the platform into the water far below:

With his early-20th-century romantic view, Halliburton emphasized the drama of the now-disproven idea that virgins were regularly sacrificed by being thrown from the platform. Recent explorations in this well suggest that many bodies and valuable goods went into the well -- but not only virgins, and perhaps not living humans.

Last week we were in Mexico, and we made a day trip to Chichen Itza, and we visited two of the "wells" -- called cenotes in Spanish. These are special geological features of the underground rivers that flow under the limestone surface of the Yucatan. The fragile limestone surface breaks through, and you see down to a large pool of water that seeps from the river into the limestone basin. Roots of plants droop from above down to the water perhaps 150 feet below. Here are two photos of the "sacred well" at Chichen Itza as we saw it.

We also visited another cenote. It's in a beautiful garden setting, and has been artificially set up with a tunnel-like descent and a two-level platform for swimming and diving. In the first photo you can see me in the water. In the second photo, you can get an idea of what it's like from above.

I've been reading a lot more about the Maya and their magnificent cities, and I enjoyed seeing the monuments and touring the area. But the visit to the two cenotes was really special for me.

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