Archive for September, 2008

Opposition Gives Up, but Still Unhappy with Placido Domingo Concert at Chichen Itza

September 30th, 2008 by ejalbright

The opposition to next week’s Concert of a Thousand Columns, starring Placido Domingo, have given up all hope of stopping the concert, but in true Mexican political style, they still complain.

Archaeologists, anthropologists and other members of La Asamblea de Investigadores del INAH, the union of academics within the federal agency that oversees Mexico’s ancient ruins, called for Plácido Domingo to “not be complicit in an act contrary to Mexican law.” Earlier this month the union expressed its belief that the concert violates federal agreements and laws covering historic buildings.

Over the weekend, members of the Yucatan branch of the union protested at Chichen Itza, decrying the concert as “an event for the elite.”

“The cultural heritage is not for sale and archaeological monuments are for the education of the people,” said Cecilia Genel Velasco, a member of the executive committee of the national union.

The professionals said that they have not seen a permit from INAH to authorize the gala, and the strange silence of the authorities, making them think that there is some complicity. However, Jorge Esma Bazan, director of Cultur, the state agency that is overseeing the concert, has repeatedly stated that there is an agreement between the state government and INAH.

The INAH professional union recognizes that it is almost impossible to stop the event and called upon the public not to become accomplices of an elitist event that, in his view, has nothing to education and that does not benefit the archaeological site.

For previous stories about Placido Domingo and the Concert of a Thousand Column, click HERE.

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Yucatan Governor Seeks Federal Assistance to Preserve Chichen Itza

September 28th, 2008 by ejalbright

Yucatan Governor Ivonne Ortega Pacheco took the microphone during World Tourism Day to seek federal assistance to build a sustainable tourism industry in the state, similar to what occurred 30 years ago to build what is today Cancun.

The governor specifically pointed to the developing Plan Integral de Chichén Itzá (“Integrated Plan of Chichen Itza”) and the Gran Museo de la Cultura Maya (“Grand Museum of Maya Culture,” which is planned for Chichen Itza) as two projects where a helping hand by the federal government would be welcomed.

“Yucatan is in real need of support in terms of tourism, preservation of its resources and development of its communities,” the governor said. “Truthfully, one cannot even imagine the potential that exists in tourism in this land and we cannot wait another generation for things to get started. With determination you (the federal government) can make a difference.”

The President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, issued a similar message, but his focused on the threat of global warming. Tourism, mainly through jet traffic, produces five percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, according to a presidential adviser. President Calderón did announce a new program of $65 billion Mexican that would benefit Cancun, but mentioned nothing about Yucatan.

Governor Ortega warned that in order for tourism programs in Yucatan to succeed, it is necessary for the federal government to take “take decisive action” at Chichen, which she said was entering a new phase. “Help us so that the Wonder of the World does not continue to see its environs deforested, it’s water table polluted, and lack of quality urban development.” she said, and than, echoing US presidential candidate, she added, “Together we can.”

The governor declared that she wanted to make the Grand Museum of Mayan Culture into a project that captures the imagination and pride of all Mexicans, an innovative and advanced museum the will be a great showcase of science in Mexico, its archaeological riches and a new, better way to promote tourism.

“I have not lost my confidence in the federal government where there is such good intention and energy, so I know we can create a great alliance that will look after the interests of Mexicans, Mexicans in every corner,” the governor said.

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Lightning Strikes ‘Like a Bomb,’ Foils Equinox at Chichen Itza

September 26th, 2008 by ejalbright

Lightning striking a tree caused tourists to scatter Monday at Chichen Itza, prompting some to think someone had exploded a bomb.

Yucatan, normally immune to the narcos who commit violence throughout Mexico, got its first taste last month when 11 decapitated bodies were found in the outskirts of the state’s capitol, Merida. The victims had been involved in the drug trade and were believed to have been murdered by a rival drug gang.

Since then, there has been a certain level of anxiety among the populace. When lightning hit a tree at Chichen during the bi-annual equinox observance, some believed it to be a bomb. Only a few days before, narcos had tossed a grenade into a crowd in another state, killing women and children.

This time it was only lightning, but one man was injured. Agustín Perera, who sells trinkets to tourists, was standing under the tree when it was struck. He suffered burns on one side of his body and had to be taken away by ambulance. Two tourists suffered “nervous shock,” according to authorities.

The event kicked off several days of equinox observance that would be ruined by rain. Without sun, the light-and-shadow effect of Kukulcan crawling down the side of El Castillo, the pyramid, could not be seen.

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Chichen Itza Pizza

September 24th, 2008 by ejalbright

That’s it. Just, Chichen Itza Pizza.

Remember you saw it here first.

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Rain Date Set for Placido Domingo Concert at Chichen Itza

September 23rd, 2008 by ejalbright

Should Oct. 4 be a rain out, the Concert of a Thousand Columns will take place the following day, Oct. 5, organizers announced last week.

Tickets are still available, although some of the sections have sold out. The cheapest tickets, $500 Mexican, are gone. Don’t worry if you can’t find a ticket for the right price. The concert will be broadcast free at town squares and other public areas throughout the Yucatan. Also, the concert will be recorded and will be sold as a DVD to benefit the so-called “Fund Chichen Itza.”

Some 7,000 tickets were made available for the event, organizers said.

Placido Domingo was recently interviewed about the upcoming concert (among other topics). He looks pretty bushed, frankly, what with so much on his plate (the premiere of “The Fly” in Los Angeles and this concert). NOTE: The video is in Spanish.

For more articles on the Placido Domingo concert, click HERE.

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Chichen Itza Insured for $20 Million for Placido Domingo Concert

September 22nd, 2008 by ejalbright

How much damage can a crowd of a few thousand do during a Placido Domingo concert at Chichen Itza? Apparently not more than $20 million. Pesos, that is. That’s roughly $1.8 million in US dollars.

The organizers behind the Concert of a Thousand Columns, scheduled for Oct. 4, have posted $50,000 for $20 million in insurance against any damage caused by the event.

Today a notario (a Mexican cross between a lawyer and notary public) and a technical team will go out to Chichen Itza to assess the conditions currently in place, plus conduct a survey and photograph each building.

Yesterday crews were out to conduct a dry run of how they intend to get the public in and out of the archaeological zone safely. Yesterday the crowds were heavy at Chichen to see the fall equinox, so it was an ideal test of the logistics of moving thousands of people in and out of the area.

For previous articles on the Placido Domingo concert, click HERE.

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Fall Equinox at Chichen Itza Arrives Saturday

September 18th, 2008 by ejalbright

If you happen to be on the Yucatan Peninsula this weekend or early next week, head over to Chichen Itza and catch the fall performance of Kukulcan, the feathered serpent, as it descends the pyramid, El Castillo at around 4:30 p.m.

The actual day of the equinox when summer officially turns to fall is Sept. 22, but the light-and-shadow phenomenon occurs a couple of days before and for a couple of days afterward.

The great thing about the fall equinox is that the crowds are much, much smaller. The bad thing is that this is the rainy season, and clouds means no shadows. Weather forecasts are predicting clouds and rain, so visitors may have to wait until tomorrow before the sky clears enough so that the sun will project the shadow of the feathered serpent upon the north balustrade of El Castillo.

Here’s a video (in Spanish) of this past spring’s equinox, which was marred by overcast skies:

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COUNTDOWN TO 2012: Ivy League Professor Debates Apocalyptos

September 12th, 2008 by ejalbright

As part of our occasional series on 2012 and the forthcoming end of the world, we bring you an article from the Brown Daily Herald, newspaper to Brown University. Will the world end on Dec. 21, when the Maya calendar of more than 5,000 years runs out? Or will it just be a big phfffffffft!

Chaz Firestone reports:

Entering college, students are told that with enough effort they’ll make it out in one piece. But the class of 2012 may not be so fortunate, at least according to Patrick Geryl. If he’s right, the only chance this year’s freshmen have at survival is to chuck their color-coded flash cards in favor of more practical measures: $10,000, survival gear and a one-way ticket to the South African Kingdom of Lesotho.

That’s where Geryl, 53, and his growing group of survivalists plan to be in four years – when he thinks the world will come to a volcano-erupting, tidal-wave-crashing, nuclear-reactor-melting end.

Apocalypse now
Geryl is one of the world’s best-known supporters of the increasingly popular belief that a series of catastrophic events will befall the Earth in 2012, a year supposedly pegged for doom millennia ago by the ancient Maya civilization.

“It will be the single most destructive event in the history of the human race,” Geryl said from his home in Antwerp, Belgium. “Everything will be gone.”

On the agenda for the destruction of the world is a massive increase in heat from the sun, a change in the spin of the Earth and the eruption of volcanoes everywhere, the biggest of which will burst out from beneath Yellowstone National Park’s famous geyser, Old Faithful. Geryl said the only livable place on Earth will be Africa, since it is the only continent without a nuclear reactor.

Inspired by this “ancient calculation,” Geryl left his oil company job two years ago after having saved enough money to pay for six years of food, 72 months of bills and an 11-page manifest of survival items.

The now famous “survival list,” which has made its way around online discussion boards and blogs, covers everything an intrepid survivalist will need, with a few extra amenities: food, shelter, transportation, clothing, paragliders, wooden abacuses, catapults and rechargeable batteries.

“We’re going to build bunkers, bomb shelters with two meters of ground overtop of them,” Geryl said. “We’ll need to rebuild all of civilization after the catastrophe.”

These concerns, which now attract millions of believers and Google hits, can be traced back to ancient stone inscriptions found in a few ruined Mesoamerican cities. The Maya are known for their cyclical understanding of time, and believers in these “prophecies” say that when the current millennium-long cycle comes to an end in 2012, the result will be similar to the last time the cycle ended: destruction.

‘Ritual renovation’
While more and more people fret over the coming apocalypse, at least one man hopes talk of the 2012 theory will end long before the world does.

(Brown University) Professor of Anthropology Stephen Houston is one of the world’s leading experts on Mayan civilization, with a specialty in deciphering Mayan texts. The author of numerous books on the Maya, Houston has recently appeared in the popular media opposite Geryl and other doomsayers, defending a less sensational interpretation of the prophecy – if it can be called a prophecy at all.

“Most of it is based on spurious information and a pretty shoddy understanding of the material,” Houston said. “There are a variety of readings of highly esoteric information.”

Houston said it may be the case that a Mayan cycle will end in 2012, but that the end is neither significant nor relevant. The Maya kept track of thousands of cycles, he said, so it’s important not to key in on one and ignore the others.

“It’s kind of like a clock. There’s a cog that turns on the second, another cog on the minute and another cog on the hour,” he said. “Imagine such a complicated clock that it would contain thousands of these cycles, and that’s the way to understand Maya time.”

Houston said the end of a Mayan cycle is no more an “end” than the end of a modern month or decade – it just starts up again afterwards.

But what has Geryl and others worried is what the Mayan writings describe the last time this cycle ended – collapsing buildings and devastating infernos – and what that could mean this time around.

Houston, again, was skeptical. He said the writings describe a “ritual renovation,” which can sound frightening if misinterpreted but is actually quite harmless.

“To be honest, it’s not terribly apocalyptic,” he said. “It’s about the changing of hearths and the kindling of fires – a household metaphor writ large.”

In addition to being quoted in stories for ABC News and other media outlets, Houston said he has been approached by PBS and the History Channel to appear in documentaries and special episodes about the phenomenon, a prospect he welcomes, if cynically.

“I’m always happy to inform people who are genuinely interested,” he said, “but this isn’t really about the Maya evidence. It’s about obsession.”

Read the rest of the article HERE.

For previous posts in the occasional series, Countdown to 2012 and the end of the world in general, click HERE.

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Chichen Itza to Get Millions

September 5th, 2008 by ejalbright

Chichen Itza will get millions (in Mexican pesos, but still a lot money) for conservation, preservation and investigation, announced Jorge Esma Bazán, director of Patronato Cultur. Of that, almost one million dollars is coming from the World Monument Foundation, a New York-based charity.

The funds represents an “unprecedented” investment in Chichen Itza, as well as other sites such as Ek Balam and sites in the Puuc Route (in western Yucatan). The sponsors, in addition to the World Monument Fund, are Fundación Banamex, Patronato Cultur, and INAH.

This work will begin “soon” and will take three years, he said. The project will provide maintenance for ruins visited by tourists, it will restore others so that tourists can visit them, and it will pay for research.

Below is the press release on the grant from the World Monuments Fund:



For Immediate Release—Maní, Mexico, July 16, 2007… Bonnie Burnham, president of the World Monuments Fund (WMF), announced today that WMF has signed two agreements with Fomento Cultural Banamex, the philanthropic branch of Banamex; the State Government of Yucatán; and the National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico (INAH) to provide a total of $925,000 towards conservation, archaeological research, and site interpretation projects at four Maya sites and a former Franciscan convent complex, all located in the Yucatán Peninsula.

To kick off the restoration work, WMF and Banamex are holding onsite press conferences outlining the plans for San Miguel Arcangel, a former convent, in Maní on July 16, 2007, and for the four Maya sites of Aké, Kabáh, Chichén Itzá, and Xocnaceh, at Kabáh on July 17, 2007. Bonnie Burnham; Ambassador Alfonso de Maria y Campos, National Director of the INAH; Cándida Fernández, Director of Banamex; Patricio Patron Laviada, Governor of the Yucatán state; and other distinguished guests will be in attendance.

“These sites are important testaments to the cultures that have made an impact not only on this region, but on human history,” said Bonnie Burnham, WMF’s president. “They are faced with a number of serious threats and we must address these issues now, before it is too late and they are lost forever. We are very happy that Banamex and the state government has once again stepped up to make such a generous donation, and we look forward to working with our longtime partner, Banamex, on a critical long-term program in the Yucatán.”

One of the three most important centers of Franciscan activity in 16th-century Yucatán, San Miguel Arcangel in Maní is a significant example of an early Franciscan convent complex; these complexes bridge the past with the present and thus represent an important part of Mexico’s patrimony and history. Built in the 16th century by Friar Juan de Mérida and currently maintained solely by the parishioners of Maní, San Miguel Arcangel houses one of the best collections of locally made altarpieces, sculptures, and mural paintings dating from the 17th through the 19th centuries. WMF is working with Banamex to develop a conservation plan to address a broad range of threats, including water infiltration, humidity, roof damage, cracked walls, and more. Once restored, the site will continue to serve as a parish church and cultural center for the village and surrounding countryside, as well as a stop for tourists in the region.

Thousands of tourists are drawn every year to the Maya sites of Aké, Kabáh, and Chichén Itzá, cities with ceremonial centers marked by impressive building ensembles and dating back to the pinnacle of Maya culture (AD 800 – 1000). An older and relatively unknown Maya site, Xocnaceh is a Pre-Classic settlement (300 BC – AD 300) and important for archaeologists researching the origins of Maya civilization. Xocnaceh’s acropolis is one of the largest known surviving structures from the Pre-Classic Period.

While all four sites contain some of the Yucatán Peninsula’s best preserved examples of architecture and urban settlements, including highly sophisticated temple pyramids, palaces, plazas, and ritual ball courts, they have been seriously compromised by exposure to the elements, which has deteriorated the stone and mortar and destabilized monuments, as well as by inappropriate repairs made in the 19th and 20th centuries. WMF’s restoration projects at these sites will couple best-practice conservation methods with archaeological research, site interpretation, and tourism management.

The World Monuments Fund (WMF) is the foremost private, nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of endangered architectural and cultural sites around the world. Since 1965, WMF has helped save historic structures at more than 450 sites in over 90 countries. WMF’s work spans a wide range of sites, including the vast temple complexes at Angkor, Cambodia; the historic center of Mexico City; the iconic modernist A. Conger Goodyear house in Old Westbury, New York; and the extraordinary 18th-century Qianlong Garden complex in Beijing’s Forbidden City. From its headquarters in New York City —and offices and affiliates in Paris, London, Madrid, and Lisbon—WMF works with local partners and communities to identify and save important heritage through innovative programs of project planning, fieldwork, advocacy, grant-making, education, and on-site training. Every two years, WMF issues its World Monuments Watch list of 100 Most Endangered Sites, a global call to action on behalf of sites in need of immediate intervention. (

Esma Bazán also introduced 10 new promotional brochures for tourists for the sites of Celestún, Ek Balam, Uxmal, Izamal, Dzibichaltún, Balankanché, Mayapan, Loltún, Chichen Itza and Xcambó. Each brochure also contains an advertisement for the Concierto de las Mil Columnas (The Concert of a Thousand Columns, to be held Oct. 4 at Chichen Itza and featuring Placido Domingo). Some 20,000 of each brochure have been printed and will be distributed around Mexico and the world.

Between now and October Cultur expects to print a million brochures, at a cost of 650,000 pesos.

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Placido Domingo at Chichen Itza: How Do I Get There?

September 2nd, 2008 by ejalbright

Lately I’ve been asked a lot of questions about logistics, that is, the getting to and from the Placido Domingo concert on Oct. 4 at Chichen Itza.

The concert Web site doesn’t seem to offer a lot of help, but boy is it loud. Nor does the State of Yucatan, the state’s tourism office, or Cultur (the agency in charge of cultural events). Placido Domingo’s Web site offers no help.

There is one site that, although not affiliated with any of the above, seemed to have the straight dope. I can’t vouch for it, and don’t know where it got its information, but it sounds correct. According to Mexico Premiere, concert attendees can park in one of five parking areas: the parking lot at the Archeological Zone, the Hotel Mayaland (next door to the archaeological zone), the old airport (across the highway from the archaeological zone, about 1/2 kilometer from the entrance, and two locations in Piste, up to 5 kilometers from archaeological zone. Shuttle buses will be available for those locations that require them.

The Web site doesn’t say if there is a charge for parking. The Hotel Mayaland, for example, normally charges people who are not staying at the resort to park in its lot.

Amenities once you get inside the archaeological zone include bathrooms, paramedics, strategic directional signs, assistance for those with disabilities, ushers, section assistants, sale of soft drinks, public telephones, and security.

Again, I can’t vouch for this information, but it sounds correct.

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