BIZARRE IMPRESSIONS AT YUCATAN

Preparing for the Day of the Dead – public skeleton sculpture

In late October of 1997 I had the pleasure to stay for a week in Mexico D.F and Merida / Yucatan. What I did not know this is the time when Mexicans prepare themselves for the Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos). Especially in Merida I was dazzled to see shops full of plastic skeletons of any kind, souvenirs, decoration and weird disguise all related to the topic of death. This reminded me all of European carnival however with a different purpose and a more strange direction.

Central place with nice green shadows and town hall at Merida

Sweet death – delicious sugar coffins in a shop

Prior to Spanish colonization in the 16th century, the celebration of death took place at the beginning of summer. And the origins of the modern Mexican holiday  can be traced back to indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec festival. Gradually, it was associated with October 31, November 1, and November 2 to coincide with the Western Christianity, nowadays legal holidays to remember friends and family members who have died.

View on Chichen Itza Castle with really steep steps

View from Chichen Itza Castle on the jungle of Yucatan

Today the view from the old temples and buildings at Chichen Itza just reveals a total wilderness and endless rainforest which more than thousand years ago meant the homeland for the Maya, a loose alliance of city-states in southern Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. You do not see anymore the cities, roads, reservoirs, channels or terraced fields being swallowed again by a thick jungle.

Around the year 900 the Maya quickly and more mysteriously left the country and vanished most probably due to a climate change, little food and too much fighting. Estimations say that the population dropped around 90 % during this time. At a few locations, such as Chichen Itza, the Maya still lived furtheron, though they would never gain their former grandness.

Cryptical message and petroglyphs from the past

 

LOST CITIES IN THE JUNGLE

Chichen_Itza_Castillo_Frederick Catherwood_1843_drawingThe Castle of Chichen-Itza, 1843, graphic by Frederick Catherwood

“In 1519 Hernan Cortez, the great Spanish conquistador stormed and took the city of Mexico-Tenochtitlan. He did not then, and he never knew, that it was built upon the ruins of the Mayan civilization. Five years later he travelled across what is now the little republic of Honduras, hacking his way foot by foot through an almost impenetrable forest given over to reptiles and insects and the odours of putrefaction. Had he turned aside from the path he was cutting, by only a fraction, he would have come to a little stream where he would have found in the midst of all this luxuriant foliage the ruins of what had once been a great city. It was the city of Copan, the chief light amongst others such as Tikal or Palenque of the Mayan civilization which existed between A.D. 176 and A.D. 620. They are still, far from all other human habitations, lost in the powerful tropical forest which like some sylvan boa-constrictor, has literally swallowed them up and is now devouring them at its leisure, prising the finehewn, close-laid stones apart with its writhing roots and tendrils.”

John Stewart Collis in “The Vision of Glory, The extraordinary Nature of the Ordinary”

Façade_principale_du_palais_des_Nonnes_Désiré Charnay_1859AMain Front of the Palace of the Nuns, Chichen-Itza 1859, graphic by Désiré Charnay