El Caracol

T

he Observatory at Chichén Itzá is called el Caracol (the Spanish word for snail) because it has an interior staircase that spirals upward like a snail's shell. The round, concentrically-vaulted Caracol was built and rebuilt several times during the time of its use, in part, scholars believe, to calibrate astronomical observations.

The first structure was probably built here during the transition period of the late 9th century and consisted of a large rectangular platform with a stairway on its west side. A round tower about 15 meters high was built atop the platform, with a solid lower body, a central portion with two circular galleries and a spiral staircase with an observation chamber on the top. The second vertical zone of the tower is decorated with 4 chac-masks, on which seated figures are represented.

This tower sits high on a four-cornered but not quite square platform and gives excellent unobstructed views of the skies and surrounding landscape. In particular, it seems to be carefully aligned with the motions of Venus.

Venus had tremendous significance for the Mayan community; this bright planet was considered a war god and the sun’s twin. Mayan leaders used the changing position of Venus to plan appropriate times for battles and raids.

Later the complex was extended by a Northwest Temple, built upon the platform, as well as a West Annex in front of the Caracol.

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Round Tower Front Structure



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