Engineering the 7 New Wonders: Pyramid at Chichén Itzá

First came the 7 ancient wonders, but once their glory faded, the world selected a new group of wonders that stand with unmatched engineering prowess. This is the Pyramid at Chichén Itzá.

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The pyramid at Chichén Itzá, while not as large as the pyramids at Giza, is an engineering wonder for reasons far beyond its structure. Built by the Mayans somewhere in the 9th to 12th century, it is also known as the Temple of Kukulcan. Sitting now in the Mexican state of Yucatan, the pyramid rises 79 feet with a 20-foot tall temple placed at the precipice.

More impressive than its height is the acoustic engineering that was built into the structure. If you stand directly in front of the main steps and clap, the structure was designed to echo back a noise that sounded like a quetzal bird. This bird is a vibrantly colored Central American bird which would have captured the eyes of the Mayans. Imagine the acoustical engineering foreknowledge that would have been needed to design a structure that reverberated a specific sound. You can hear the effect in the video below.

As a civilization, the Maya people were obsessed with geographically sacred sites, often in line with celestial bodies. The pyramid at Chichén Itzá and the other Maya temples are remnants of this mystical obsession. Even within the pyramid’s architecture therein lies a sacred serpent, only visible through perfectly cast shadows at select positioning of the sun. During a 5 hour window of the day, 7 triangular shadows are cast on the main staircase that lead down to a large stone serpent head at the base. Every inch and point of this structure was tediously designed, to a degree beyond much of modern engineering

You might be starting to grasp why even today many people fear the predictions of the Mayan people, they were one of the most brilliant and scientifically minded civilizations to ever live.

Let’s dig even deeper into some of the intricate designs of the pyramid temple that glaringly present the Mayan obsession with mathematics. Each of the four sides of the pyramid was perfectly 174.86 feet long, which isn’t necessarily significant numerically other than the tolerance each side was built with. Each sloped side has 91 steps on it, adding up to 364 steps altogether. The temple on the top of the pyramid is considered the last step, bringing the total to 365, equivalent to the days in a year.

The Mayan calendar had 18 months in it, and each side had 9 larger stages cut in half by the ascending staircase. Each side then having 18 larger stepped stages, exactly like the Mayan calendar. In the larger picture, this pyramid was designed to physically represent the Mayan calendar and all of their astronomical knowledge.

The engineering prowess of Chichén Itzá is unmatched not in structural design, but rather mathematical, astronomical, and acoustical design for the structures of the time and even today. While the structure is meant as a temple to worship the Mayan god of Kukulcan, it now serves as one of the greatest indications of the intelligence of this lost culture.

Sources: Atlas ObscuraSacred Sites

Image Sources: [1][2][3]

Profile photo of Trevor English
Trevor is a civil engineer by trade and an accomplished internet blogger with a passion for inspiring everyone with new and exciting technologies. He is also a published children’s book author whose most recent book, ZOOM Go the Vehicles, is aimed at inspiring young kids to have an interest in engineering.


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