Archive for March, 2010

Reaction Pours in to Sale of Chichen Itza

March 31st, 2010 by ejalbright

Chichen Itza: SOLD!

[Editor’s note: A full-length article on the sale can be found HERE.]

The public reaction to the state of Yucatan’s purchase Monday of much of the ancient city of Chichen Itza from Hans Jurgen Thies Barbachano is decidedly mixed, depending upon whose ox has been bettered or gored.

Among the rank and file of INAH, the federal agency that oversees ruins throughout Mexico, the reaction to the announcement that Yucatan had bought Chichen Itza for $220 million Mexican was decidedly pessimistic. An informal survey of archaeologists and other INAH employees in nearby Quintana Roo by the newspaper El Universal revealed many thought that Chichen Itza will now be host to even more shows and concerts, such as this Saturday’s performance by Elton John.

Executive management of INAH, by comparison, is optimistic. Adriana Velazquez Morlett, INAH general director in Quinatana Roo, thought that the sale will result in greater control of the site and the services offered, to preserve it in the best possible conditions.

One of the loudest groups shouting for the government to take Chichen Itza has been New Kukulcan, the association of vendors who everyday invade the archaeological zone to sell trinkets and handicrafts to tourists. Yet, despite apparently having their demand granted and received assurances from state authorities that they will have a seat at the table with regard to Chichen Itza’s future, comments about the sale have been disparaging.

Villevaldo Pech Moo, who formerly ran Chichen Itza for INAH, now represents the vendors as a legal adviser. He told La Jornada that the state has announced its intention to move the vendors out of Chichen Itza and to space provided for them at the Museum of Maya Culture that has been proposed for Yaxuna, 11 kilometers away from the archaeological zone. “The change of ownership continues to be risky, because of the history of repression that has characterized other governments of Yucatan, as were the cases of evictions in 1996.” In 1996 soldiers used teargas to drive vendors out of Chichen Itza.

Pech Moo pointed out that the state only bought 200 acres, and that the site of Chichen Itza is much larger, potentially as much as 4,000 acres. He also complained that the Barbachano family still owns more than 1,600 acres [NOTE: Most of this is a different branch of the family from Thies Barbachano].

“Artisans, merchants are not against expropriation,” Pech Moo said, referring to the legal process of a government taking property against the owner’s will, “but of the sale.”

Details of the Transaction Emerge

Expropriation, however, was not going to happen. According to La Jornada, “Experts in the field agree that it was the lack of political will and legal expertise of INAH” that resulted in expropriation from even being attempted. And because INAH failed to act, “the ownership of the land occupied by Chichén Itzá is virtually in the hands of the PRI government of Yucatan, with all the economic benefits that this implies including site usage as a stage for concerts,” the newspaper concluded.

In 2006-7, INAH attempted to negotiate to purchase Chichen Itza or better, swap it for property elsewhere in Mexico. By federal law, the most the federal government could offer for the property was $8 million Mexican, or less than 4 percent what the state of Yucatan eventually agreed to. Officially, the head of INAH reported that the agency never received an answer to its proposal; however, according to one official account, the head of INAH told another official that upon presenting the offer, “se rieron de nosotros, se rieron” (“they laughed at us, they laughed”).

On Monday, the state of Yucatan paid Thies Barbachano $80 million Mexican, and promised the remainder within six months. The state is currently seeking bank financing for the remaining $140 million, which will be paid over 15 years. The loan will be repaid from Chichen Itza related revenues, according to Sergio Cuevas Gonzalez. a legal adviser to the state government.

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BULLETIN: Yucatan Buys Chichen Itza!

March 30th, 2010 by ejalbright

The state of Yucatan announced yesterday that it has purchased much of the archaeological zone of Chichen Itza from owner Hans Thies Barbachano for $220 million Mexican ($17.6 million US).

This groundbreaking transaction ends more than 500 years of private ownership of the land under the monuments of Chichen Itza.

For more than a decade the owners of the archaeological zone have been engaged in a battle of wills with the Mexican government, Yucatan government, and with other special interest groups over control of the ancient city. The previous owner, Fernando Barbachano Gomez Rul (grandfather of the current owner) had been forced to reassert his ownership claim in the Mexican courts in the early 2000s after the state of Yucatan began withholding monies from the sale of tickets into the site. In 2004 the federal courts confirmed that Chichen Itza was private property.

Since that time, tensions continued to escalate. When the state stopped paying Barbachano his portion of ticket revenues, Barbachano took over two large palapas inside the archaeological zone from which families of those who worked at Chichen Itza in security and maintenance had been selling trinkets and other tourist-related merchandise. In retaliation, these families organized a daily “invasion” of Chichen Itza, in which hundreds from the local villages would enter the archaeological zone and set up tables and blankets from which they sold trinkets and handicrafts. More than a year ago the vendors established an association that has regularly been calling for the government to take Chichen Itza.

Chichen Itza has been private property since colonial times. It was originally part of a land grant by the Spanish crown dating back to the 1580s. For centuries the property had been part of a cattle ranch. In 1894, an American, Edward Herbert Thompson, acquired the property. In 1926 the Mexican government seized it, charging Thompson had looted Chichen Itza of artifacts. In 1944, after Thompson’s death, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that Thompson had broken no laws, and the property reverted to his heirs. They, in turn, sold it Fernando Barbachano Peon, great-grandfather of the current owner. Chichen Itza has been in the family ever since.

While yesterday’s sale involved the archaeological zone that most tourists are familiar with, there are two other parcels still in private ownership. The Hacienda Chichen, owned by Carmen Barbachano y Gomez Rul, includes what is called Chichen Viejo (Old Chichen), a large group of structures, many of them restored, south of the main archaeological zone. The Mayaland Resort, owned by Fernando Barbachano Herrera, includes a swath of property to the east of the archaeological zone. None contain ruins that are open to the general public.

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Elton John Countdown Begins, Chichen Light Show Cancelled

March 29th, 2010 by ejalbright

Elton John at Chichen on April 3

Elton John will perform this Saturday at Chichen Itza, and the buzz machine is already working overtime.

Antonio Banderas, the actor, was spotted in Cancun and reportedly was staying through this weekend to catch the Elton John show. Don’t be too surprised if he has a part to play in the program.

The stage is almost in place, and as such, the evening light shows have been cancelled, at least according to William Lawson of the Lawson’s Yucatan Web site.

According to organizers of the concert, the show was canceled as many as five times until the singer and the sponsors of the show could agree on appropriate ways to “respect” the site of Chichen Itza. According to Jorge Esma Bazan, the director of Cultur, the Yucatecan state agency behind the show, “There was a lot of work of refining the ideas, so that it would be valued and understood that it is an honor for an artist to have access to the historic site of Chichen, that the archaeological zone is ancient and the pyramid is the star, is a marvel.”

At first, neither the manager nor the assistants seemed to understand this, Esma Bazan said, but eventually came around.

The stage and accoutrements for the Elton concert will be the most complex ever attempted at Chichen Itza, Esma Bazan said. No fewer than eight computers will be required to coordinate the technical aspects of the show.

Elton’s piano arrived Saturday. The singer will follow on Friday.

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Chichen Itza News Roundup: Beer Sales and Equinox All Wet

March 25th, 2010 by ejalbright

Traditional Equinox Celebration Washed Out

Kukulcan failed to appear Sunday for the big equinox celebration at Chichen Itza when a cold front pushed rain through the region, preventing the sun from casting the shadow of the feathered serpent god.

This year, however, the actual spring equinox occurred the day before, on Saturday, and the sun accommodated the several hundred visitors who came to see the unique light-and-shadow effect.

In the early morning and late afternoon in the days around the equinox, the sun strikes off the serrated corner of the great pyramid, El Castillo, and casts a serpent-like shadow against one of the balustrades with a carved serpent’s head at the foot. Many believe the Maya created this effect intentionally, to represent the arrival of Kukulcan, the feathered serpent god.

Since the 1980s, the spring equinox has been a big tourist draw at Chichen Itza.

Tourists drinking beer at Chichen
(photo Diario de Yucatan)

Much Gnashing of Teeth over Beer Sales at Chichen Itza

A vendor has been selling beer near the foot of El Castillo, the giant pyramid at Chichen Itza, and some officials are none too pleased about it.

The vendor began dispensing the alcoholic beverage during the spring equinox celebration and has continued the practice through the week. The practice has attracted the ire of general secretary of the union that covers workers for INAH, the federal agency that oversees archaeological zones. Angel Ricardo Toro Encalada told the Diario de Yucatan newspaper that selling of alcohol within an archaeological zone violates the agency’s rules.

However, no one from executive management of INAH has issued an public statement on the beer sales, and as such, tourists continue to tip them back amidst the Maya ruins.

Farmers Protest Private Ownership of Chichen Itza

Two dozen residents of San Felipe Viejo, a small village near Chichen Itza, held a protest during the equinox celebration at a nearby airfield.

The Mexican government shut down the airfield more than a decade ago, and today it is used for parking by bus companies and tourists when other parking is unavailable.

The protesters, dressed in peasant clothes and sandals, were protesting that a private family benefits from income generated by Chichen Itza while they get nothing. The land under the monuments at Chichen Itza is privately owned.

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Spring Already? Here Comes Kukulcan!

March 20th, 2010 by ejalbright

It’s hard to believe that the vernal equinox is here already. That’s the first day of Spring, for those of you not up on your equinoctial terminology.

Twice a year, in the spring and in the fall, the feathered serpent god crawls down the side of Chichen Itza’s great pyramid named after him, the Temple of Kukulcan (or as the Spanish named it, “El Castillo,” the castle). The angle of the sun glinting off the northwestern corner of the pyramid projects a shadow on its north staircase that resembles a wriggling serpent, made even more explicit by the carved serpent head at the base of the staircase.

At around 4:30 p.m. or so for the next several days you can witness this phenomenon at Chichen Itza. Thousands from all over the world descend on the ancient Maya city to see it for themselves.

You can learn more about how the Maya configured the pyramid to take advantage of the sun HERE. Below is a 10-minute video I shot at last year’s equinox {SPOILER: There really isn’t a feathered serpent god crawling down the pyramid; it just sort of looks like it].

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Mysterious Beam of Light Shines on Chichen Itza from the Heavens

March 18th, 2010 by ejalbright

My understanding of Spanish, at least when it’s spoken, is terrible. But as near as I can tell, a man visiting Chichen Itza with his wife and two daughter photographed a mysterious column of light shining down from the heavens onto El Castillo, the giant pyramid. Don’t believe it? Watch this very carefully copyrighted video broadcast and decide for yourself:

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Chichen Itza News Roundup: Elton Protested, Protected, and Placated; Chichen Coins; Author and Mystic Dies

March 13th, 2010 by ejalbright

There has been a lot of little news concerning Chichen Itza over the past couple weeks:

Is It a Debate If Only One Side Shows Up?

Employees of INAH, the federal agency that oversees Chichen Itza, protested the upcoming Elton John concert after their bosses and representatives from other agencies that oversee Chichen Itza failed to show up for a debate on the appropriateness of using the archaeological zone for rock concerts.

Joining the INAH workers were representatives of the vendors who invade Chichen Itza every day to sell trinkets and handicrafts to tourists. On Thursday, an estimated 100 demonstrators marched with banners and posters to the doors of tourist stop. A day earlier the same group set up a public address system inside the visitor entrance to Chichen Itza and denounced the government of Yucatan and Mexico to the passing tourists.

According to the Diario de Yucatan, the actions apparently worked, for INAH representatives were meeting behind closed doors with leaders of the protest to reach an rapprochement.


Meanwhile, Elton Wants Enhanced Security and Tickets to the Concert

Elton John’s representatives have demanded enhanced security for the singer during his stay in Yucatan for his April 3 concert.

Yucatan officials organizing the concert suspect that accounts of narco violence elsewhere in Mexico was the source of the new stipulation. According to Jorge Esma Bazan, the director of the Yucatan state agency Cultur which is organizing the concert, his staff has taken great pains to explain to Elton John’s representatives that there is no place more peaceful than the region of Chichen Itza. However, the desire for greater security will be met, he said.

Representatives of the singer also asked for around 100 tickets to the concert, reportedly for members of British and Spanish royalty and other friends of Elton.

Mexico Senate Approves Proposal for Five Silver Coins Depicting Chichen Itza

In honor of the centennial of the Mexican Revolution and the bicentennial of Mexico’s independence from Spain, the Mexican Senate last week approved a proposal to mint five silver coins depicting five monuments from Chichen Itza. The other house of Congress, the Chamber of Deputies, approved the proposal last week.

During debate over the decree, Yucatan Senator Cleominio Zoreda Novelo said that with these coins, “we propose to look into the past to illuminate our current complexity; and to nurture our determination that Mexico has changed it course towards growth with justice.”


More Than 100 Skeletons of Ancient Maya Found in Cenote in Quintana Roo

Some 120 skeletons, some dating to the third or fourth century, were uncovered in a cenote in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, according to a press release from INAH, the federal agency in charge of archaeology.

Late last month INAH reported that the cenote, Las Calaveras, “could be the best-preseved burial deposit from pre-Columbian times and possess the highest concentration of human skeletons in the Maya area.”

Skeletons have been found in other cenotes, most notably in Chichen Itza’s Cenote Sagrado or Sacred Well, where human sacrifices were hurled. There was no mention by INAH if the skeletons found at Las Calaveras had any evidence of being victims of sacrifice. Furthermore, the newly discovered skeletons predate those in Chichen Itza’s Sacred Well by several centuries.

Chichen Itza Author Dies

Adalberto Rivera Avila
Photo by Chris Bowerman, Up Magazine.
Adalberto Rivera Avila, the author of several books and guidebooks about Chichen Itza, died last month at his ranch about a mile away from the ancient city.

Mr. Rivera Avila specialized in writing about the light-and-shadow phenomenon that occurs every equinox on Chichen Itza’s main pyramid, El Castillo. His most recent book, “The Mysteries of Chichen Itza,” is available in English at bookstores and gift shops in Yucatan and throughout Mexico.

A wonderful profile of Mr. Rivera Avila can be found at HERE.

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Minneapolis Museum Exhibits Maya Fake that Fooled Everyone

March 4th, 2010 by ejalbright

For years this 'Chac Mool' statue toured the world as representative of ancient Maya art, but it turned out to be a fake
Chac Mool fake, Minneapolis Institute of Arts

When the curators at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) selected 20 pieces from their collection to display as part of their “In Pursuit of a Masterpiece” exhibit, Molly Huber selected a fake. And one that wasn’t very good, either.

But it was a fake that fooled everyone for years, a fake that toured museums in Europe. The statue was of a figure first made famous at Chichen Itza known as a “Chac Mool.”

According to Huber, the MIA acquired the statue in 1947. The museum exhibited the statue for years as an example of pre-Columbian artistry. In the 1950s it loaned the statue to museums in Rome, Berlin and other European cities.

“Its true nature was only revealed in the mid-1970s, when research by the first curator of what was then called the primitive art department showed it to be a 20th-century fake, created with intent to deceive and likely modeled loosely after a chac mool from the Chichen Itza in the collection of Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology,” Huber wrote in the new exhibition’s online catalog.

The original Chac Mool found at Chichen Itza.

Huber, until recently, was the MIA’s assistant curator of African, Oceanic and Native American Art. She did not explain, at least not in any online materials, why she selected the Chac Mool and unfortunately, she is no longer working at the institute and therefore unavailable to answer questions about it. But if you happen to be in Minneapolis and would like to the fake that fooled everyone for decades, drop by the MIA.

In Pursuit of a Masterpiece” Web site

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Vendors at Chichen Itza Vow to Protest and Blockade Elton John

March 3rd, 2010 by ejalbright

Maya vendors at Chichen threaten to protest and blockade Elton John concert

The association representing hundreds of vendors who flood into Chichen Itza every day to sell crafts and trinkets to tourists has vowed to begin blockading Chichen Itza over the next month in protest of the forthcoming Elton John concert April 3.

While the vendor association maintains that the Elton John concert is illegal, of greater concern is the current ownership situation of Chichen Itza. The land under many of the most significant monuments is owned by Hans Thies Barbachano, who the association is claiming discriminates against them.

In retaliation for actions by Thies Barbachano and the Elton John concert, the vendors are threatening to protest and set up blockades to prevent tourists from seeing Chichen Itza. In a statement, Viveldo Pech Moo, representing the vendors, demanded that a dialogue be opened with Yucatan states Patronato Cultur and the federal Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), which co-manage Chichen Itza, and with Thies Barbachano, so that the indigenous Maya “are taken into account when it comes to tasteless performances,” referring, presumably, to Elton John.

The purpose of the protests and blockades will be to bring attention to the plight of the Maya, who desire to be able to sell their wares at Chichen Itza without interference and, at least according to the news source La Jornada, to be able to see the concert for free, if they so desire.

Meanwhile, INAH has released a statement in response to a declaration by three members of its staff representing hundreds of workers that holding concerts at Chichen Itza is illegal. According to INAH spokesman Julio Castrejon, steps will be taken to insure installation of the concert stage and audience platforms will not affect the archaeological remains of Chichen Itza. “We will protect all archaeological remains.”

Organizers of the concert have also argued that a portion of the proceeds from the Elton John concert and previous concerts held there (Placido Domingo, Sarah Brightman) go to the communities affected and to augment research efforts at Chichen Itza.


INAH Staff Protest, Again, Using Chichen Itza for Concerts

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Chichen Itza to be Honored with Five Silver Coins

March 2nd, 2010 by ejalbright

Chichen Itza will be memorialized in five new silver coins

The Mexican Congress last week approved a proposal to strike five silver coins using images from the ancient Maya city of Chichen Itza.

Each coin will depict a different monument of the Wonder of the World. The coins will be minted and distributed by the Bank of Mexico.

When explaining the bill, Rep. Rolando Zapata Bello to his fellow representatives, “We support the minting of these five silver coins as 2010 will be a year of such importance to our country.” This year represents the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s independence from Spain and the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution. “It is largely congruent to pay tribute to the architecture of the Maya culture through the selection of five major buildings … that are considered representative of the same: the pyramid of Kukulkan, the Temple of the Warriors, the Iglesia, Las Monjas and the Caracol.”

He continued, “Chichen Itza and our national culture expect us to provide consistency and solidarity with the history we have inherited. Chichen Itza is a national and world symbol, but at the same time is a beacon that calls to us to take our time and dare to dream of a visionary Mexico that must dawn for our children in the celebrations of the Centennial and the Bicentennial.”

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