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Chichen Itza (pronounced /tʃiːˈtʃɛn iːˈtsɑː/; from Yucatec Maya: Chi’ch’èen Ìitsha’, “At the mouth of the well of the Itza“) is a large pre-Columbian archaeological site built by the Maya civilization located in the northern center of the Yucatán Peninsula, in the Yucatán state, present-day Mexico.
Chichen Itza was a major regional focal point in the northern Maya lowlands from the Late Classic through the Terminal Classic and into the early portion of the Early Postclassic period. The site exhibits a multitude of architectural styles, from what is called “Mexicanized” and reminiscent of styles seen in central Mexico to the Puuc style found among the Puuc Maya of the northern lowlands. The presence of central Mexican styles was once thought to have been representative of direct migration or even conquest from central Mexico, but most contemporary interpretations view the presence of these non-Maya styles more as the result of cultural diffusion.
The ruins of Chichen Itza are federal property, and the site’s stewardship is maintained by Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (National Institute of Anthropology and History, INAH). The land under the monuments, however, is privately-owned by the Barbachano family.
The Maya name “Chich’en Itza” means “At the mouth of the well of the Itza.” This derives from chi’, meaning “mouth” or “edge”, and ch’e’en, meaning “well.” Itzá is the name of an ethnic-lineage group that gained political and economic dominance of the northern peninsula. The name is believed to derive from the Maya itz, meaning “magic,” and (h)á, meaning “water.” Itzá in Spanish is often translated as “Brujas del Agua (Witches of Water)” but a more precise translation would be Magicians of Water.
The name is often represented as Chichén Itzá in Spanish and when translated into other languages from Spanish to show that both parts of the name are stressed on their final syllables. Other references prefer to employ a more rigorous orthography in which the word is written according to Maya language, using Chich’en Itzá (pronounced [tʃitʃʼen itsáʔ]. This form preserves the phonemic distinction between ch’ and ch, since the base word ch’e’en (which, however, does have a neutral tone vowel “e” in Maya and is not accented or stressed in Maya) begins with a glottalized affricate. The word “Itzá'” has a high rise final “a” that is followed by a glottal stop (indicated by the apostrophe).
There is evidence in the Chilam Balam books that there was another, earlier name for this city prior to the arrival of the Itza hegemony in northern Yucatán. This name is difficult to define because of the absence of a single standard of orthography, but it is represented variously as Uuc Yabnal, Uuc Hab Nal, or Uc Abnal. While most sources agree the first word means seven, there is considerable debate as to the correct translation of the rest. Among the translations suggested are “Seven Bushes,” “Seven Great Houses,” or “Seven Lines of Abnal.”
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