Archive for November, 2011

Chichen Itza, Tulum Closed as a Protest?

November 23rd, 2011 by ejalbright

What if you held a protest and no one noticed?

According to various news outlets (none of the major ones, as far as I can tell), workers of INAH, the federal agency that oversees Mexico’s patrimonial heritage such as ancient Maya ruins, held protests and closed popular tourist sites such as Chichen Itza, Tulum, Tajin, and Teotihuacan.

There were protests in other areas less popular to tourists and at INAH offices, but no reports of closings at Chichen Itza or Tulum.

The workers are protesting, among other things, the decision by INAH management to pay workers their year-end bonus with food stamps. In Mexico, all workers are entitled to an annual bonus in December equal to two weeks of their annual salary.

Contrary to the assertion that Chichen Itza and other sites were closed, there were no reports of protests or closings from tourists visiting those sites yesterday. This is not to say that such closings cannot occur in the future. Stay tuned!

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Pyramids at Chichen Itza and Egypt Named ‘Twins’

November 21st, 2011 by ejalbright

Pyramids at Giza, Egypt, and Chichen Itza, Mexico, becoming twin sons of different mothers.

Giant pyramids constructed on opposite ends of the globe by two different civilizations will soon be partnered.

The government of the state of Yucatan is reporting that Egypt’s ambassador to Mexico, Ibrahim AhdyKhairat, requested that the last of the original 7 Wonders of the World, the Great Pyramid at Giza, be “twinned” with one of the new 7 Wonders, the Temple of Kukulcan (El Castillo) at Chichen Itza.

The director of Yucatan’s Office of International Affairs, Manuel Carrillo Esquivel, announced the agreement between Egypt and Mexico yesterday, which was one of several international agreements between Yucatan and other nations.

The original list of 7 wonders was compiled by a Greek writer more than 2,000 years ago, and the pyramid at Giza is the only one that has survived. In 2007 a worldwide contest to name a new 7 wonders selected Chichen Itza.

As “twins” go, the two pyramids have little in common. The Great Pyramid at Ghiza was constructed by the ancient Egyptian civilization 4,500 years ago; the ancient Maya civilization constructed the Temple of Kukulcan approximately 1,000 years ago. The Egyptian pyramid dwarfs its New World cousin, rising almost 150 meters versus El Castillo’s 30 meters. The Ghiza structure was a tomb and is a true pyramid while the Maya version is a temple which sits atop a series of 9 platforms.

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Animating Chichen Itza: Ancient Maya art gets modern update

November 15th, 2011 by ejalbright

Recently several computer animators brought to life Chichen Itza’s great pyramid, the Temple of Kukulcan (aka El Castillo). The results are stunning, as each artist found a unique way to transform a millennium-old structure into a modern piece of art.

The first is by Kino Visual Lab, which projects its animations onto physical objects. For this exercise, they projected stunning visuals onto a model of El Castillo:

Whoever is responsible for the current light and sound show at Chichen Itza should contact Kino to create a show that can be projected nightly onto the real El Castillo.

The next video is by Julio Magaña Gongora of Merida, Yucatan. He uses digital animation to break El Castillo into its individual components and then rearranges the pieces to form an abstract design.

Finally, this video by Mr. Wisdom demonstrates construction of a 3D model of El Castillo.

Many computer animators use Chichen Itza for inspiration. Here are some earlier blog posts:

Chichen Itza as Chess Set

Chichen Itza in 3-D

Another Concept of 2012

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ANALYSIS: Chichen Itza Restoration — What Impact on Tourism?

November 13th, 2011 by ejalbright


A video of the restoration currently underway at Chichen Itza (INAH video)

What impact will the recent decision by Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (National Institute of Anthropology and History or INAH) to “restore” Chichen Itza have on tourism? And will that impact result in yet another showdown between archaeologists and tourism officials?

Earlier this week INAH, the federal agency that oversees the ruins of Chichen Itza, announced a long-term plan to restore the most famous monuments, hundreds of thousands tourists come to see each year. Several weeks ago INAH closed access to The Great Ball Court, the first monument to be restored. The current phase of work is to be conducted through March, INAH reported, which coincides with high season for tourism.

The program of work announced by INAH is ambitious and extensive, and although unsaid in the announcement, will take several years. During that period it is conceivable that other monuments will be closed to public access or encased in scaffolding, possibly for years at a time.

The work was originally proposed by INAH’s Consejo de Arqueología (Council of Archaeology), an advisory body made up of archaeologists. This same council has repeatedly opposed the state of Yucatan, which for several years has been holding large concerts at Chichen Itza. In addition, the union representing INAH archaeologists also frequently attacks the state, most recently issuing a denuncia at last year’s Elton John concert, claiming it violated numerous federal laws and regulations.

Last year the state purchased much of Chichen Itza, at least the land that contains the monuments open to tourists. The property had long been in private hands, while the monuments themselves are property of the people of Mexico and administered by INAH. The private ownership of the land at Chichen Itza had long been a source of friction, but it appears the state purchase, rather than mitigating the conflict, has actually enhanced it.

Communication breakdown?

From all appearances, the state of Yucatan and INAH do not appear to be talking with each other about their respective designs for Chichen Itza. At the end of last year the state released its Plan Maestre Chichen Itza — master plan for Chichen Itza, a document that was long on ideas and short on details. And while it made reference to INAH, it contained numerous proposals that INAH or its staff in the past have opposed, indicating that INAH did not have a hand in developing the plan.

In turn, INAH is well known for not communicating with the state or anyone else when it comes to Chichen Itza. It is more than possible that this week’s announcement of extensive work over several years at Chichen Itza came as news to the state of Yucatan, which is currently planning its next slate of concerts at the ancient city, including Paul McCartney in 2012.

As yet no one from the state has commented on INAH’s restoration plan. In the past, the state has gone over INAH’s head to it’s bosses in the federal Secretariat of Public Education (SEP), for example in seeking permission to hold concerts.

The state believes that Chichen Itza is central to the economic recovery and future viability of Yucatan; INAH, or at least those who work for it, believe that such activities run contrary to federal laws designed to protect patrimony of the nation from exploitation.

Selling 2012

The state has a powerful ally in the federal government, the Secretariat of Tourism. Last week Gloria Guevara Manzo, the Mexican Secretary of Tourism, was in Merida and her staff spoke at length about extensive plans to promote the end of the ancient Maya calendar, which runs out on Dec. 21, 2012, in a campaign to tourists.

Mexico’s tourism secretariat announced the first promotional event will be Dec. 21 at Chichen Itza. For months, officials in the state of Yucatan, including Governor Ivonne Ortega Pacheco, have been hinting that the next concert — Mexican singer Juan Gabriel — will be held on that date. The Mayaland Resort, which is next to Chichen Itza and is where performers at Chichen Itza are housed when they visit, has been promoting the concert, although they have no details.

Declining Tourism

The number of tourists visiting Chichen Itza has fallen precipitously from historic levels in the early part of this century. While numbers have recovered slightly from the low after the H1N1 flu scare and the collapse of the world economy, they are still running under projections and are slipping compared to other Maya sites. Tulum, which is near Cancun, now receives 50,000 more visitors per year than Chichen Itza, according to a recent report.

An INAH official quoted in the story says the major reason Chichen Itza is falling behind is because of the extra fee the state of Yucatan charges tourists at Chichen Itza. State tourism officials have noted the drop in attendance, but claim it is due to other factors.

On Internet tourism boards, ticket prices are rarely mentioned as a reason for dissatisfaction. Chichen Itza continues to rate highly (more than 4 stars out of five on TripAdvisor.com), but of those who people rate their experience as poor or unsatisfactory, the main reason cited is the hundreds of vendors who invade the site on a daily basis. Even those that rave about the experience point to the vendors as a big negative.


INAH’s impact on tourism

Another point of dissatisfaction, although mentioned less frequently, is INAH’s actions. Specifically, tourists list the closing of monuments, expecially El Castillo to climbing, as a disappointment. Over the past several years INAH has put up ropes and other barriers around most of the monuments to prevent them from being touched by tourists.

Will the slate of restoration work at Chichen Itza disrupt tourism plans for Chichen Itza? The press release issued by INAH on this new project states that the restoration work is to correct what had been done in 1922, but that is not accurate. Restoration work in Chichen Itza has been conducted continuously into the present. The Great Ball Court has undergone significant restoration work over the past decade. Curiously, INAH indicates that the new restoration project will include those areas that have been restored recently.

The ball court has been closed during the restoration, even though the work is only being conducted on one part of it. As can be seen from the video atop this post, the restoration work itself would be of great interest to tourists, but even though it is charged with managing the public patrimony of Mexico, INAH strictly limits its engagement with the public during its projects.

The question that has yet to be asked, at least publicly, is how will INAH’s plan of work for Chichen Itza affect access to the ancient city by tourists. If there is any conflict between INAH and tourism officials, one thing is certain — it is a battle that will be conducted behind closed doors.

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Kickoff to Year-Long Maya Calendar Countdown Begins at Chichen Itza

November 12th, 2011 by ejalbright

Tourism officials from Mexico will gather at Chichen Itza on Dec. 21 to kick off the last year of the Maya calendar.

Prehistoric Mesoamerican civilizations in Mexico and Central America created a calendar that has run for more than 5,000 years and will end on Dec. 21, 2012. That final day has been linked to everything from the end of the world to a raising of human consciousness, but those stakeholders in tourism on the Yucatan Peninsula and the rest of Mexico hope to link the end of the calendar to cold, hard cash.

The Diario de Yucatan reports that Mexico will begin a heavy promotional campaign, “La cuenta regresiva del Calendario Maya” (“The Maya Calendar Countdown”) that kicks off on Dec. 21 at Chichen Itza. Gloria Guevara Manzo, the Mexican Secretary of Tourism, was in Merida, the capital of Yucatan state, and with her staff discussed the promotion.

Assistant Secretary Fernando Olivera Rocha said that various activities have been planned throughout the year that include participation of artists, intellectuals and celebrities. The first event at Chichen Itza will be a full day of celebrations, demonstrations, and explanations of archaeological phenomena.

The 2012 Countdown promotion is designed to drive tourism traffic to the Maya world in the states of Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas. The goal will be to increase tourism by 25 percent in 2012.

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Restoring the Restorations at Chichen Itza

November 9th, 2011 by ejalbright


The Great Ball Court of Chichen Itza under restoration (Photo by INAH)

The art and science of restoring Maya ruins has advanced considerably over the last 90 years, and for the next few months archaeologists at Chichen Itza will correct past wrongs that have slowly, inexorably, damaged many of the monuments.

The restoration project is being touted as the largest at Chichen Itza in decades, a project that has resulted in the temporary closing of one monument to tourists.

Over the past two months specialists at Chichen Itza have been restoring the restorations in the Great Ball Court, the largest monument of its kind in Mesoamerica. According to INAH, the federal agency that oversees the ruins, this is one of seven ruins in the ancient city that will undergo restoration.

According to an INAH press release on the project, specialists will be addressing “problems of conservation of the ancient Mayan monuments caused by the passage of time, excess humidity in the region and many visitors.” The same release goes on at length to explain that the restoration is necessary because previous restoration projects used practices that, while appropriate for the time, proved to be impermanent and, in some cases, destructive.

Specifically, the use of concrete, a building material unknown to the ancient Maya, had been widely used in earlier restorations. Concrete, however, traps moisture, eroding the monuments from within. INAH specialists will demolish the work of earlier generations and restore the monuments again. They will replace the concrete with a cement made from lime, stone dust, and fine bark called bajpek, similar to that originally used by the ancient Maya.

The director of the project, José Huchim Herrera, had previously supervised restorations at Uxmal. The techniques learned there are being applied to Chichen Itza.

During the demolition and restoration project, INAH scientists are taking the opportunity to learn more about the monuments and, they believe, the people who built them. Short trenches have been dug around the monuments in search of rubble and other stones that originally came from the monuments but fell away under the elemental assault of centuries of rain and wind.

The Great Ball Court consists of five distinct structures that will undergo restoration: The two walls of the court (each of which has a giant, carved ring, and lined with beautifully carved friezes), the Temple of the Bearded Man on the north end, the ruined temple at the south end, and the two temples of the Jaguar, with Upper Temple of the Jaguars atop the east wall and the Lower Temple of the Jaguar behind the east wall.

The project came as the result of a study by INAH’s Consejo de Arqueología (Council of Archaeology), which determined that extensive restoration was required of the ball court and six other structures on what is called the Grand Platform: The Tzompantli, Platform of Venus, Platform of the Eagles and Jaguars, and the internationally famous Pyramid of Kukulcan pyramid and Temple of the Warriors.

The Great Ball Court restoration is first, and will be conducted in two phases, the first to the core structure of the monuments, and the second to the friezes and other decorative elements. According to INAH it will continue the current season of work through March.

The restoration project will be disruptive of tourism at Chichen Itza, but as yet, no officials from the federal or state tourism agencies have commented.

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Day of the Dead Continues at Chicago Museum

November 6th, 2011 by ejalbright

Repent 2012, by CHema Skandal!
“Repent 2012” by CHema Skandal!

Celebration and recognition of Mexico’s Day of the Dead has spread to the United States, and one of the best artistic commemoration’s of Día de los Muertos is in Chicago at The National Museum of Mexican Art.

Through Dec. 11, the museum is hosting for the 25th year an exhibit of contemporary artists and their view of the Day of the Dead. One of the artists, CHema Skandal!, made Chichen Itza the subject of his acrylic on canvas, which he calls “Repent 2012” (see photo above). In it, tourists visiting Chichen find themselves caught up in a Mayan-themed apocalypse.

Admittance to the museum is free. For more information, visit the museum’s website HERE.

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