How Many Stairs does Chichén Itzá Have?

Quck answer

Chichén Itzá, a famous Mayan archaeological site in Mexico, has a total of 91 steps on each side of its main pyramid, known as El Castillo or the Temple of Kukulcan. These steps, combined with the top platform, make a total of 365 steps, representing the number of days in a year. The pyramid’s design reflects the Mayan calendar and demonstrates their advanced knowledge of astronomy and mathematics. Chichén Itzá’s significance as a cultural and historical site attracts numerous visitors who marvel at its unique architectural features and the mysteries of the ancient Mayan civilization.


What methods do you use to measure time? Do you have a calendar hanging on your wall? How about a watch on your wrist? Do you know anyone who relies on the calendar app on their smartphone?

These are all common ways to keep track of time in the present. However, ancient civilizations did not have access to these tools. They couldn’t simply glance at a watch or open a calendar app. Instead, they developed alternative methods to measure time.

Like many other ancient civilizations, the Mayas observed the sky to measure time. The position of the Sun indicated the time of day, while the stars provided information about the season. The Mayas even noticed changes in the distance between the Earth and the Sun throughout the year.

By observing the sky, the Mayas created their own calendar. This calendar differed from most other ancient calendars in several ways. One notable difference was its circular shape, as the Mayas believed that time moved in a cyclical pattern rather than a linear one. Additionally, the Mayan Calendar stood out due to its number of days. While the Ancient Roman calendar had 304 days and the Chinese calendar had between 353 and 385, the Maya Calendar consisted of 365 days per year, just like our current calendar!

Do you have a calendar displayed in your home? The Mayan Calendar was too large and intricate to be found in every household. However, it greatly influenced the construction of Mayan cities. Some Mayan structures even served as timekeeping devices! One example can be found in the city of Chichén Itzá.

Chichén Itzá was a prominent city from approximately 750 CE to 1200 CE. It served as a hub for trade and culture. Many buildings in Chichén Itzá offer insights into Maya culture. For instance, a sinkhole within the city was discovered to be filled with jewels, which experts believe were offerings to a Maya deity. Chichén Itzá also boasts the largest ball court in the Americas, where Mayas played a primitive form of basketball. However, the city’s most significant structure is based on the Maya Calendar. Known as El Castillo (“The Castle”), it stands prominently in the city center, visible from miles away.

El Castillo has four sides facing north, south, east, and west. Each side has 91 steps. The north side, however, has an additional step leading to the flat top of the pyramid. Now, let’s do the math – how many steps does El Castillo have?

That’s right, 365! One step for each day in the Maya Calendar. El Castillo also aligns with the calendar in other ways. During the spring and autumn equinoxes, the sun casts unique shadows on the temple’s sides. These shadows resemble large serpents gliding down El Castillo, continuing until sunset.

The exact reason behind the decline of the Maya Empire remains uncertain. At some point in the 13th century, they abandoned Chichén Itzá and allowed it to become engulfed by the jungle. Centuries later, explorers stumbled upon the ruins of Chichén Itzá in present-day Mexico. Today, Chichén Itzá is well-preserved and recognized as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. However, tourists are prohibited from climbing the steps of El Castillo. Nevertheless, the city continues to attract millions of visitors each year. What do you think happened to the Mayas? Would you like to visit Chichén Itzá? Perhaps you could count the steps of El Castillo yourself!

Give It a Try

Remember to seek the assistance of an adult friend or family member before engaging in these activities!

  • Are you curious to learn more about how the Mayans measured time? Take a look at this information about the Maya Calendar System. Then, summarize your findings for a friend or family member. How does the Maya calendar differ from the calendar you use?
  • Are you ready to visit Chichén Itzá in person? Get a taste of the city through these pictures of Chichén Itzá. Then, select three attractions you would most like to see in the city. Write a paragraph explaining your choices and the reasons behind them.
  • Imagine your teacher has assigned you the task of sharing what you’ve learned about Chichén Itzá and the Mayas with your class. Create a list of the facts you believe your classmates would find interesting about this topic. What important details would you disclose to them?

Sources of Wonder

  • https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/483 (accessed 28 Jan., 2019)
  • https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/world-heritage/chichen-itza/ (accessed 28 Jan., 2019)
  • https://www.ancient.eu/Chichen_Itza/ (accessed 28 Jan., 2019)
  • https://www.ancient.eu/article/416/the-maya-calendar-and-the-end-of-the-world-why-the/ (accessed 28 Jan., 2019)

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