mayan pyramid, tulum, mexico

mayan pyramid, tulum, mexico

Photo by: Adam Berent/iStock/Getty Images

Adam Berent/iStock/Getty Images

These Mayan Structures Were Built for the Spring Equinox

By: Nesa Nourmohammadi

See how the Maya built their amazing pyramids and temples with the spring equinox in mind.

March 19, 2020

The first day of spring has been welcomed by people and civilizations in the northern hemisphere for centuries, marking the beginning of warm weather, long days, and short nights.

This year, the spring equinox will occur March 20 at 3:50 Universal Time. But have you ever noticed that the date of the milestone can vary, depending on the year? That’s because the beginning of spring is marked by the equinox, or when the sun’s path passes directly across the equator. As a result, the lengths of night and day are nearly identical.

While celebrated all over the world going back thousands of years, perhaps no ancient civilization took it more seriously than the Maya. The Maya, a Mesoamerican civilization that spanned across parts of modern-day Mexico and Central America, took their interest in the sun and galaxy seriously.

The Maya went as far as to use their knowledge of astronomy to build and arrange their most important pyramids and temples around the equinox. These particular formations have been referred to as E-groups.

Thankfully, Maya civilization isn’t lost to us today, as several archeological sites have been uncovered and preserved. Some of these sites are open to tourists, who have traveled in hordes specifically to witness the equinox. Here are three of those sites:

157582180

157582180

Photo by: CostinT

CostinT

El Castillo, Chichén Itzá (Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico)

El Castillo may be the most recognizable pyramid at Chichén Itzá, not only due to its majesty, but the amazing affect that occurs on the spring equinox. Also known as the Temple of Kukulkan, El Castillo was built to worship Kukulkan, a feathered serpent deity. Two days out of the year on the spring and autumn equinox, the late afternoon sun shines on El Castillo, resulting in the illusion of a snake creeping down the pyramid’s northern staircase. See for yourself:

The Descent of Kukulkan at Chichen Itza 01:27

Every year Kukulkan announces the beginning of the new season at his temple in Chichen Itza, Mexico. On that day, the sun projects a shadow on the side of the pyramid, making it look like the ancient “feathered serpent” is slithering down to earth.
1207262630

1207262630

Photo by: Gerard Puigmal

Gerard Puigmal

El Castillo, Tulum (Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico)

Located in the ancient city of Tulum on Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, El Castillo was constructed so that the rising sun shines directly through the pyramid’s entrance during the equinox. The same effect occurs around sunset later that day.

501320051

501320051

Photo by: Gabrielle Therin-Weise

Gabrielle Therin-Weise

Structures IV and VI, Calakmul (Campeche, Mexico)

Calakmul is a bit off the beaten path, located less than 25 miles from the Guatemalan border in the Campeche state. Needless to say, it is vast and covered in nearly 7,000 structures where more than 50,000 people lived during Calakmul’s peak. Of these structures, structures four and six formed an E-Group to determine and celebrate the equinox.

Next Up

5 Mythical Animals to Uncover in Mysterious Creatures with Forrest Galante

Ancient legends grow in elusive and rare animal sightings. Get ready to investigate in the new series MYSTERIOUS CREATURES WITH FORREST GALANTE, premiering Oct. 17 at 9P on Animal Planet and streaming on discovery+ the same day.

Your Guide to Fan-Favorite Series and Specials Making a Comeback This Spring... Shark Week Anyone?

Starting March 23rd enjoy HOURS of your favorite shows on Discovery, Science, and Animal Planet. From SHARK WEEK and MYTHBUSTERS to CRIKEY! IT'S THE IRWINS and more, scroll through to get the details.

The Puppies have Taken Over THE AQUARIUM!

There is nothing cuter than puppies playing, but we love what we saw at the Georgia Aquarium this week! Puppies playing amoungst all different kind of marine life!

Raney Family Battle the Elements on Homestead

The Raney family face their most difficult challenges yet when HOMESTEAD RESCUE: RANEY RANCH returns with new episodes Thursday, May 6 at 8P ET on Discovery.

Long-Lost Photo of Abraham Lincoln on Deathbed Featured in New Discovery Documentary Series

THE LOST LINCOLN investigates the legitimacy of a new photograph featuring the 16th president on his deathbed when Discovery’s new documentary series UNDISCOVERED premieres Sunday, October 4.

Finalists for Prince William’s Earthshot Prize showcased in this new must-watch series

The five-part series THE EARTHSHOT PRIZE: REPAIRING OUR PLANET focuses on five major challenges facing the planet; Protect and Restore Nature; Clean our Air; Revive our Oceans; Build a Waste-free World; and Fix our Climate. If these ambitious goals for our planet were achieved by 2030, it would improve life for everyone.

Let's Celebrate the Animal Shelters!

Since 1996, the first week of November has been dedicated to National Animal Shelter and Rescue Appreciation Week. This year is no exception! Despite the obstacles and setbacks of 2020, there’s been incredible response from animal lovers in communities across the country.

Unlock the Secrets of the Lost Ark

For as long as we know, explorers have searched for the Bible’s most sacred religious artifacts. All-new series SECRETS OF THE LOST ARK premieres Sunday, May 23 at 10p on Science Channel.

The Definitive Guide to Everything You Can Binge for FREE Now on Discovery, Animal Planet & Sci GO

Looking to get sucked into a world of speed, adventure, or cute baby animals? Discovery has you covered. We have so many shows free for your streaming and binging pleasure across Discovery, Animal Planet, and Science GO.

Here Are Some Things You Never Knew About Saint Patrick's Day

Every year on March 17th, people around the world celebrate Saint Patrick's Day with parades, feasts, and a whole lot of green. But what is Saint Patrick's Day and why do we celebrate it?