Favorite place explored by Meredith Gourash

The Yucatan Peninsula is full of history, culture and beauty, and it is impossible to narrow down my favorite place explored. I can, however, name several breath-taking places that continue to reassure my investment in my study abroad program. Our program includes several group excursions to many Mayan ruins in this area of the Yucatan. The ruins we see on these excursions are incredible and it is difficult to imagine the construction of these spectacles.

Uxmal was the first ruined city of the Mayan civilization we visited on an excursion. I can remember learning about these pyramids and ruins in several of my classes and only having these images in my head prior to the excursion. Upon arrival to Uxmal, I was overwhelmed with the monstrosity of these buildings. As one enters the city of Uxmal, the pyramid of the Magician and a beautiful view of a dozen other structures behind it greet you. While our tour guide explained each ruin and we observed several structures, I found myself gazing around and picturing the hustle and bustle of the city at its peak. I pictured Mayan women dressed in traditional clothing with painted faces, elaborate pieces of jewelry and children surrounding them. I imagined their markets and the commerce that took place between families. At that moment, I was able to connect all of the Mayan legends and history I learned in my classes with the actual city they lived in. This opportunity to connect my knowledge with the actual site was a pinnacle of my academic life. To see these ruins and appreciate the history behind these elaborate structures reminds me to truly enjoy school and engulf myself in the material. These moments when you witness the information from class in person are what define the total immersion this program offers. The other buildings at this site demonstrate the Mayan lifestyles and religious practices through the hieroglyphics and statues. The Great Pyramid at Uxmal is one of my favorite places because it is climbable and the top of the ruin has a panoramic view of the city of Uxmal.

Chichen Itza was the other ruined city of the Mayan civilization we visited on an excursion. It is a large pre-Columbian archaeological site and peaked in the Late Classic into the early part of the Postclassic period. This site has amazing architecture with intricate details on each façade of the buildings. I am fascinated with the splendor of the ruins at Chichen Itza and their ability to utilize mathematics to create such durable buildings. Chichen Itza is an experience because of the grandness of the site and the amount of ruins. The ball court at Chichen is the largest in ancient Mesoamerica, measuring 166 by 68 meters, and on each of the walls are rings carved with intertwining serpents. When I stood at one end of the ball court, I imagined the athleticism that the juego de pelota took and how the captain of the winning team was sacrificed to the gods because it was an honor to die for the game. I struggle to imagine the actual intensity during the game and how these men utilized their bodies to place the ball through the small ring. My favorite structure at Chichen Itza is the Temple of Kukulkan. It is a perfect example of how the Mayans used mathematics in their construction. During the fall or spring Equinox at a specific time in the afternoon, a shadow of the serpent known as Kukulkan appears off the left side of the building. The head of the serpent is at the bottom of the building and at the specific time the entire serpent is visible. This structure also has 365 steps and 26 facades on each side of the building, which, according to our tour guide, was one of the buildings they used in the formulation of the calendar.

I am emotional when I am at these ruins because I understand the importance of these ruins and appreciate the intricately decorated buildings. The Mayan ruins are my favorite place in the Yucatan Peninsula because they represent the ancient culture that still exists today.

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