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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

“Inwood, Manhattan, is worth preserving,” says Historic Districts Council (HDC)

April 20, 2011: Inwood, Manhattan—along with Bedford-Stuyvesant, The Bowery, Gowanus,
Jackson Heights, and Mount Morris—was selected as one of the “Six to Celebrate” historic New York City neighborhoods by the Historic Districts Council (HDC), New York’s city-wide advocate for historic buildings and neighborhoods. “Six to Celebrate” is the HDC’s new annual advocacy program. The purpose of “Six to Celebrate” is to provide strategic help to the six chosen neighborhood groups. The selected groups will receive the HDC’s hands-on help strategizing and implementing aspects of their effort to define or promote historic neighborhood districts.

Inwood, Manhattan’s application to the HDC was submitted by Volunteers for Isham Park, a community group first formed in 2009, with assistance from Partnerships for Parks, to benefit Isham Park. As part of their mission, members of Volunteers for Isham Park researched the history of Isham Park and its crucial role in the development of Inwood. Newspaper accounts reveal that land for Isham Park was given by Julia Isham Taylor and her aunt, Flora Eliza Isham, for its views of the surrounding area, as it is a natural and central highpoint.

Volunteers for Isham Park asks that everyone who is devoted to or resides in Inwood participate in this effort to highlight and preserve historic aspects of the built environment in our community by attending a meeting on:

Saturday, April 30, 2011
Auditorium of the Inwood Branch of the New York Public Library
4790 Broadway, block north of Dyckman Street
2:00pm to 4:00pm
For more information please contact: volunteersforishampark@gmail.com

The meeting will begin with a slide show of studies of the historic aspects of Inwood. A description of the processes involved in defining a district for Inwood will follow. Finally those in attendance will be asked to sign up to assist: research the history of their residential building; photograph and/or help describe Inwood buildings and architectural details; research and document the exceptional view corridors of the neighborhood; interview long term residents or natives of Inwood; or, if passionate about landscapes and their restoration, sign up to work outdoors and assist in the parks of Inwood as a “Volunteer.”

Inwood, Manhattan is unique among the “Six” as, to date, no historic district or other scenic/historic designation has been proposed for the area, even though it is known to represent the geologic history of the island of Manhattan, with its dramatic glacially formed rock outcroppings, tall tree forest, and salt marsh, as well as the history of its diverse resident population, from pre-historical time to the present.

Residents know that the influence of natural topography and geology on the built environment sets Inwood apart. Please come to the meeting and help us to gain the recognition that Inwood has long deserved.

For more details on “Six to Celebrate” go to: http://www.hdc.org/6tocelebrate2011.htm
Or go to our blog at: http://volunteersishampark.blogspot.com

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Travelers Guide to Chichen Itza

The aspiration to create a guide to places reaches back to antiquity. Early efforts were made to name the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World in guides prepared for Greek tourists between 200 B.C. and 100 B.C. Recent efforts to name the New Seven Wonders of the World culminated in 2007. Among the seven sites listed was Chichen Itza. When I visited Mexico recently, I went to Chichen Itza in search of the qualities that made this place great.

Chichen Itza is unique in the sense that so much about this place is unknown, that the mystery of the place defines it more than the few accepted facts. This does not prevent any number of people from claiming to be an authority about this place, though beneath their professed certainty are a series of tantalizing questions – who built this place, for what purpose, and after building on such a monumental scale why was all of this abandoned and left for ruin? The destruction of most Mayan written records, with the exception of four books known to be in existence today, shrouds the place in further mystery.

Being in Mexico, the primary language used to interpret the site is Spanish. For that reason most of the names used are in Spanish with the English translation following in parentheses. The use of a language other than that of the Maya provides a level of distortion from the very start. Given there are almost no written records that have been passed on naming specific buildings and explaining the use and functions of the site, many of the names that have been selected are speculative by their nature. One building named El Caracol clearly functioned as an observatory according to features of its design. El Caracol translated into Spanish means “the snail,” with this name selected to describe a spiral staircase inside the building that is supposedly like the spiral on a snail shell. The name El Caracol clearly has a limited connection with the use of the building, however, showing the need to take all names that are used with a grain of salt.


El Caracol (meaning the snail) which was actually an observatory

Given this backdrop of the unknown let’s begin with the facts. Chichen Itza is a Mayan settlement built in the interior of the Yucatan peninsula between roughly 400 A.D. and 1100 A.D. It became the most powerful city in the Yucatan in the last centuries of the Classic Mayan era (750 A.D. to 950 A.D.). Then it was virtually abandoned. The reasons for the site being abandoned are unclear. Only in the 20th century did intrepid archaeologists, with varying motivation, re-discover this magnificent ruin and bring it back to the attention to the world. Visitation grew in the decades to follow and is now over 3 million. This represents over 10% of the roughly 22 million people who visit Mexico as tourists each year.

Touching briefly on the “religion” of the Mayan, there was a reverence and connection for areas beneath ground, especially the sacred cenotes (a cenote is a sinkhole with rocky edges containing ground water). Important structures were built above the cenote, indicating the important role these places played in Mayan life. Whether ceremonial or more practical in their purpose the culture above ground most certainly relied on the rich and varied spaces below ground as an important part of a unified system. What the cenote potentially provided in terms of sustenance, namely access to abundant water in the dry and arid climate of Mexico, is reason alone to warrant celebration.

What follows is an account of my visit on Friday, March 4, 2011, from my arrival at 12:30pm to my departure four hours later at around 4:30pm. Joining me was my father who is responsible for taking most of the photos contained in this account.

Any story of a visit to Chichen Itza would not be complete without an explanation of how we got there. This was complements of a tour bus that took us approximately 3 hours one-way from Cancun. The bus had all the amenities with air conditioning, on-board movies, and, of course, our “guides.” One of our guides was a likable enough fellow who claimed to have been doing this work for the past 15 years. His narrative was part personal relating his Mayan heritage, part factual interspersing stories and experiences he accumulated (including a surreptitious visit to the jaguar throne in El Castillo), and one part sales pitch (he was keen to have us buy cartouche necklaces that he assured us were of the highest quality, and that would be ready by the time that our tour bus left). Some lines were presented to get the requisite laughs, such as “The name is CHI CHEN EET ZA, it does not rhyme with chicken pizza.” Where our designated guide left off, the on-board DVD and a video with Peter Weller providing narration helped to fill the gaps. For anyone who knows the name Peter Weller and his on-screen credits including Robo-Cop, this gave a good laugh.

En route we made a brief diversion to the village of Valladolid. This ought to be a required stopping point for any visitor. This is such a fine example of Spanish Colonial architecture that the Spanish government in recent years has been investing massive amounts of money into its preservation. There in the central square is the Cathedral of San Gervasio. This was completed in 1570 by the Franciscans and made from stones salvaged from the ruins of Zaci, a Mayan village that had previously been located here. The church was subsequently desecrated in the struggle between the Maya and Spanish and in 1702 it was destroyed and rebuilt. Across the square from the cathedral is the priest’s house, where, according to our guide, the priest who was responsible for ordering the destruction of all the Mayan books once had lived. Also across the square in what is now a hotel today, was the villa where Francisco de Montejo once had lived. De Montejo was the Conquistador who made ware on the "Cupules" in 1543 and established Valladolid. As an aside, the guide tried to square his faith as a Catholic with the destruction of the culture of his ancestors, though it was unclear how he or anyone could truly make peace with this conflicted past.

Continuing on for roughly 29 miles between Valladolid and Chichen Itza we saw people living in conditions not much different from 1,000 years ago with reed and thatched roof and walls. Whether these were built and placed along our route for the pleasure of tourists, or were truly meant for contemporary living is unclear. Our guide weighed in about how he had once lived in huts like that, and how they were preferable to concrete block buildings without air conditioning. He also noted how the thatch buildings had no flat screen televisions.

The bus dropped everyone off around lunch time at Ik Kil, site of a cenote open for the public to swim in, and with a restaurant and other amenities targeted towards tourists. A little persuasion to our bus driver and guide allowed us to go to Chichen Itza along with them two hours before the rest of the group came separately. We sacrificed the lunch buffet, though in retrospect that was a small price to pay.

The Visitor Center building was sizable. Ample parking lots provided room for tour bus parking and those arriving by car. There was a small marketplace to the right just before entering the Visitor Center proper. We ignored this coming in. Once inside, a book store, restaurant, and well-appointed public bathrooms opened off a central open-air courtyard. It was there in the courtyard that our tickets were passed off on to us, and we were left to our own devices.


Visitor Center at Chichen Itza with stark modern design meant to imitate classic forms. Note the columns flanking the entrance, and corbelled entrance.

The turnstile was the last stop before formally entering the park. There we were asked to give two tickets – one apparently for the State, and one Federal. Then we were in. We were not given a printed map upon entering, though there was a way-finding map conveniently placed near the entrance. I don’t recall seeing any others like this elsewhere on the site, so it’s mere placement by the entrance was of questionable value, except for guests with a photographic memory. Unless visitors bought their own guide at the site or brought one with them (as we did) the experience of navigating Chichen Itza and seeing everything would have been truly daunting.


The Agony and the Exstacy, A Profusion of Vendors Competing with Ancient Monuments

What was jarring and somewhat bizarre is that all of the major thoroughfares were lined by merchants and vendors of one kind or another who were selling souvenirs. This took away considerably from the experience of the place. It was hard to really focus on ones surroundings and make sense of them, when constantly being confronted by knick-knacks, carved wood, clay bowls, and pyramid replicas. While it is understandable how people need to make a living, there has to be ways to do that in a manner that amplifies rather than detracts from the place.

After a short walk we came upon a large open plaza and El Castillo (Temple of Kulkulkan) was immediately before us. This was our reason for coming and in less than the first five minutes it was in view. The four stairways leading up to the central platform each have 91 steps, making a total of 364, that with the central platform make up 365 days in the solar year. Additionally, there are 9 terraces on either side of the stairways, making 18 on each face of the pyramid, equaling the number of months in the Mayan calendar. The facing of these terraces have 52 panels that represent the 52-year cycle when the solar and Mayan religious calendars become realigned. The temple had some other unique features. When making a clapping sound near the base, the echo that comes back is an animal sound. Imagine the countless guides and tourists that sought to recreate this effect. Likewise, during the spring or fall equinox (March 21 or September 21), the setting sun casts a shadow of the terraces on the northern stairway. A diamond pattern is formed suggesting the geometric designs on snakes. We were a few days shy of the equinox, when massive crowds descend on Chichen Itza, though the site was still thoroughly satisfying.

A few people approached us asking to show us around for a fee of course. We disregarded them, however, and when they persisted started to walk away. After taking the compulsory photos in the plaza area with El Castillo behind us, we made a B-line to the cenote from which Chichen Itza got its name (the name Chichen Itza means the ‘Well of the Itzaes’).

To find our way to the Cenote Sagrado (Sacred Cenote), we went beyond the Muralla (Walls) and walked along the Sacbe No 1 (White Lane). This elevated road or causeway is 271 meters long and 9 meters wide. These facts were gleaned from the first of several interpretive signs we found throughout the site. A brief note should be provided on the design and construction of these signs. They were placed at ground level so as not to compete with the monuments and sites being interpreted. Further, their construction was somewhat crude though also innovative in its economy. Clay tiles were laser etched with writing in three languages (Spanish, French, and English). Sometimes elaborate maps or drawings were also etched on the tiles. These tiles were then placed on large concrete slabs that were angled sloping slightly downwards towards the ground.


Two views of platform at Cenote Sagrado - side view with salvaged stones, and frontal view facing towards the cenote.


After walking on the Sacbe No.1 for a few minutes we arrived at the Cenote Sagrado (Sacred Cenote). Plaques there identified this as “an important ceremonial center and pilgrimage destination between the 5th and 16th centuries.” The plaque went on to identify ritual offerings of gold, copper, tombac, obsidian, quartz, shell, wood, copal?, rubber, and textiles. The skeletal remains of children and adult males were later found. As is often the case, the story of how these artifacts were recovered is almost as interesting as the artifacts themselves. Various excavation and extraction attempts were made in the early and mid-20th century by different people and groups with different motivations. Methods were used to retrieve the artifacts that were very destructive. An earlier effort around 100 years ago used a crane that plunged into the muck beneath the water and brought back bucketfuls of broken artifacts. The later effort involved suction, bringing the artifacts up by tube and hurtling them through the air before they landed (often damaged) on a large net and the silt was separated. This method was quite destructive too and discontinued after a short trial.

There was a large stone platform at the point where the Sacbe met the Cenote Sagrado. The stones on this platform were clearly taken from other locations and re-assembled here. Some tantalizing stones with elaborate carvings were interspersed with other roughly cut blocks that had no ornament at all. As an interesting aside, a contemporary covered pavilion offering souvenirs and bathrooms was just steps from the Cenote Sagrado. One could hardly imagine a greater clash between the sacred nature of the cenote and a clearly visible modern structure, despite being made to look like an an earlier thatch hut, that detracted from the scenic setting and historic character of this area from which Chichen Itza gets its name.

Returning back along the sacbe we headed towards the main plaza again. Just inside the walls, another interpretive marker to the right immediately caught my eye. We went over to inspect this and found something not in any of the guidebooks and which fewer than 2% of visitors probably saw. This was the Platforma de Columnas (The Platform of Columnes). This low lying platform was joined to the Muralla at some point during the Post Classic period. Among its features were a small sloping bench built with stones recycled from other buildings. The decorated side of the re-used stone faced inward in most cases. A series of fourteen columns placed in single file supported a sloping roof (that no longer exists). Some of the columns were later dismantled and used to replace the lateral walls on the Sacbe. This very possibly might have been a staging point for people going to or from the Cenote Sagrado.


Templo del Norte, exterior walls of El Gran Juego De Pelota, and Templo De Los Jaguares

Anyone who has been in similar situations knows how one chance discovery can often lead to another. Heading from the Platforma de Columnas was an unkept path that went all of the way to the El Gran Juego De Pelota (The Great Ball Court). Going off the “beaten path” can often present one of the most exciting experiences in travel for those willing to take a chance. This certainly was the case for us. After walking a short while, we came across the outer walls of the ball court. This gave us a privileged view of the other side of the walls that few visitors see where the finished stone and the rubble stone that was encased within could be seen in cross-section. We also saw the sides and back of the Templo del Norte (North Temple) in ways that few tourists are able to do. On the other side of the temple, however, was one of the ubiquitous merchants who was just as surprised to see us emerging from the bush as we were surprised to see him. He implored us not to continue going forward (probably because he had a stash of tourist trinkets hidden away to sell), so we crossed under the rope that kept most tourists in the El Gran Juego De Pelota and rejoined our fellow travelers.

El Gran Juego de Pelota (The Great Ball Court) is as impressive as it is immense. One guide dates the construction to around 864 A.D. The guidebook also noted this as being the largest ancient ball court in Mexico. Many have remarked on its acoustical qualities and how one voice can clearly be heard from one end of the immense court to the other. What was even more striking to me is the function this court played, and its placement in proximity to all of the other structures in the complex. It clearly had a privileged position being off of the main plaza. The route along the Muralla to the Platforma de Columnas, and then along the Sacbe to the Cenote Sagrado, provided for an easy connection between El Gran Juego De Pelota and the Cenote Sagrado. For me this spatial arrangement and close proximity indicated that these and the other structures were joined together in some sort of ceremonial function. One can almost imagine the victor or the defeated from a game in the court being taken to the cenote afterwards along the reverse of the route we followed.

Returning to the main plaza, the Templo de los Jaguares (Temple of the Jaguars) abuts El Gran Juego De Pelota near the entrance from the main plaza. This is a sizable building in its own respect, with some impressive carvings near the top. One guidebook noted a mural inside the temple documenting a battle in a Maya village, though this clearly was not visible to us.


The stark and squat Tzompantli

Nearby is Tzompantli (Temple of the Skulls). This low-laying building has a base, three rows of masonry blocks, and a top row of blocks that serves almost as a cornice. The middle and top rows of stones have the carvings of skulls from which this structure gets its name. One guidebook noted this is “an obvious borrowing from the post-Classic cities of central Mexico.” This would seem to date this structure at a later date than many of the others we saw. The same guide also describes how “When a sacrificial victim’s head was cut off, it was impaled on a pole and displayed in a tidy row with others.” Looking at Tzompantli in strictly architectural terms, devoid of any emotionally charged content, this structure and its diminutive scale when compared to great monuments like El Castillo speaks to limited ambition architecturally. Perhaps there is a corollary between the people who built Tzompantli and the eventual abandonment and destruction of Chichen Itza.

Impressive sight lines abound at Chichen Itza, from El Gran Juege De Pelota (left) and Tzompantli (right) to El Castillo

One feature that is particularly striking is how from Tzompantli, El Gran Juego De Pelota, and other points as well, is how El Castillo is a central orienting point for the whole site, constantly in view and serving an anchoring or orienting function. This clearly was intended by design, with the many different and scattered parts making sense only in relation to one another.


Platforma de las Aguilas and Platforma De Venus

Next we made our way past the Plataforma de las Aguilas (Platform of the Eagles) and the Platforma De Venus (Platform of Venus) to the Templo De Los Guerreros (Temple of the Warriors). Just before arriving here we found the first grouping of several round columns lined in rows near one another. A profuse number of columns surround and radiate from the Templo De Los Guerreros. Some of these had carvings of figures meant to represent the Chichen elite. There were some impressive carvings at the top of the Templo De Los Guerreros as well, though I was struck how this structure was of a more diminutive scale than others we encountered, whether it be the overwhelming height of El Castillo, or the large expansiveness of El Gran Juego De Pelota. The plaque described how the temple was erected over an ancient structure known as the Templo Del Chac mool. The plaque noted the interior pillars of this earlier temple had richly colored carvings of plumed serpents, warriors, and priests. Again, these were out of view to visitors.


Excavation pit near El Castillo.

Excavation pits were near El Castillo on the opposite side from the main entrance. These showed walls with similar contours to those above ground, albeit several feet below the ground. A thick layering of stones separated the below ground sections from portion of the building visible above ground. This introduced the tantalizing possibility of what else remained buried beneath the surface. As of now the excavation is only partially completed, and we did not see anyone actively working on this the day of our visit.


View passing into the Corte De Las Mil Columnas.

At a point beyond the Templo De Los Guerreros, we were able to pass through between several rows of columns lined up as long as the eye could see. This took us to another assemblage of buildings infrequently visited by most visitors. There we encountered several new buildings and sites including the Corte De Las Mil Columnas (Court of the Thousand Columns), a number of other ball courts, markets, and steam baths. This clearly was the working center of Chichen. The columns here would have supported wood and palm roofs at one time. This is where business was done, including buying, selling, and voicing disputes. Appropriately enough, a structure named El Mercado (The Market) was located here as well, though surprisingly devoid of merchants who were abundant seemingly everywhere else at Chichen.

We had been told at the entrance that Chichen Viejo (Old Chichen) was closed off and inaccessible. This was not entirely true as we soon discovered. According to one guidebook Chichen Viejo was a 1km walk from through heavy bush. Here may be found the Templo de los Inscripciones Iniciales (Temple of the First Inscriptions) with the oldest inscriptions discovered at Chichen, and the restored Templo de los Dinteles (Temple of the Lintels) from the Puuc period.


Tumba Del Gran Sacerdote with its wonderful stone statuary.

After walking along a short path from the El Mercado, I was very pleased to encounter the Tumba Del Gran Sacerdote (Tomb of the High Priest). According to one guidebook, this sat atop a natural limestone cave where skeletons and offerings were found, that gave the structure its name. Particularly striking here are the serpents mouths with their elongated tongues, and body snaking upwards along the stairs leading to the top of the pyramid. Just beyond this was the Casa De Los Metates (House of the Grinding Stones). The name for this structure came from the concave corn-grinding stones found here, and it was hypothesized this was an upper class home where production of food for great festivals might have occurred.

The next structure we encountered was El Caracol (The Snail, or Observatory). Additions and modifications were made to reflect the Mayan’s observation of celestial movements and a need for increasingly exact measurements. From the tower’s walls, astronomers could see cardinal directions and predict the equinoxes and the summer solstice. The building name itself means snail, a name inspired by the spiral staircase inside the structure. Much like El Castillo dominated its space and helped to bring all of the surrounding buildings together into a unified whole, El Caracol served a similar function for all of the buildings in its immediate vicinity.


Templo De Los Ciervos and Chicanchob

A brief side-trip took us to see two buildings near El Caracol: the Templo De Los Ciervos (Temple of the Deer) and Chicanchob (Little Holes). The Templo De Los Ciervos was named for the relief of a stag that once was present which now is gone. Chichanchob is a temple with a roof comb having little holes from which this temple gets its name. Three masks of the rain god Chaac are visible here. This is among the oldest buildings at Chichen, built in the Puuc style from the late Classic period. Just south of El Caracol was the Templa De Los Tableros (Temple of the Panels), whose name came from the carved panels on top. The guidebook commented how this “was once covered by a much larger structure, only traces of which remain.”



Edificio de las Monjas showing the explorative archaeology by Le Plongeon.

One of the most unexpected and surprisingly pleasant group of buildings we encountered were those surrounding the Edificio de las Monjas (Edifice of the Nuns). The Edificio was a new building from the late Classic period built over an older one. French archaeologist Le Plongeon working in the early 20th century, put dynamite between the two structures and blew away part of the exterior, revealing the older structure within. While a method that would be met with great resistance today (imagine someone trying to do the same to El Castillo), this served an important function providing tantalizing clues about the evolution of buildings at Chichen Itza over time. La Iglesia (The Church) is another building separate from though very near the Edificio de las Monjas. This is unlike any church most visitors have ever seen before. One of the oldest buildings at Chichen, La Iglesia has masks of Chaac on the two upper stories. Other pagan symbols including an armadillo, a crab, a snail, and a tortise are present. These are representations of Mayan gods, called bacah, whose job is to hold up the sky.

La Iglesia with its' impressive carvings in relation to Edificio de las Monjas

After everything we had seen La Iglesia stood out as being not just one of the oldest, but also the most intricately carved of all the buildings we saw at Chichen. This caused me to reflect about how its uniqueness and special detail was its saving grace over time, and how the craftsmanship and art demonstrated in this impressive building inspired successive generations to want to see this building preserved and passed on. After feeling the reverie from seeing this and so many other impressive buildings, we began to make our way back to the Visitor Center and bus.

We were very near some of the many hotels located adjacent to the site. These hotels undoubtedly play no small part in promoting the line in guide books that people should plan for an overnight stay to see all the sights. We found this direction to be dubious, for unless special tours are given that take you inside of monuments or to areas inaccessible to tourists, everything is accessible in approximately three to four hours without feeling rushed.

On one path leading from the hotels was an above ground metal sign above ground providing the following description of the site. The description peculiarly celebrated the commercial aspects of the site, while giving short shrift to religious and military aspects which are mentioned though not explored much in the marker text.
Between 600 and 1250 A.D. this ancient city, whose name means “at the mouth of the Itza well,” was the center of political, economic, religious, and military power, not only in Yucatan, but also in the entire southeastern part of Mesoamerica. The Itza domain included part of Tabasco and Campeche, the northern Gulf Coast, and a large part of the southern lowlands. Its sphere of control was based on regional and long distance mercantile activities, which generated one of the most important commercial circuits in all Mesoamerica.

Itza rule brought about drastic changes in the internal structure of Yucatecan communities. At the same time, the introduction of an innovative view of the world marked the establishment of an order characterized by changing commercial values, production and distribution systems, and residential and religious architecture of the groups in power

It is calculated that during the age of grandeur approximately 50,000 inhabitants were spread out over an area of 25 km, including such distant groups as those of Balamkanche, Iki, Cumtun, Poxill, and Halakai, among others. All of them were connected to the ceremonial center by means of roads known as sacbeob.”
After a very full day and plenty of walking, we began to make our way back to the visitor center. Along the way we saw the Cenote Xtoloc and the Templo del Xtoloc nearby. The plaque there speculated how this temple was “probably used in religious ceremonies, perhaps related to the cenote.” It was also noted how in front of the altar inside was a chamber beneath the ground where human remains were found. This lid of this chamber was removed, leaving an opening of one foot depth. Clearly this was a tripping hazard though no one seemed to mind. Dates of construction for the Templo del Xtoloc were given as between 900 A.D. and 1200 A.D.

Once back at the visitor center we reminisced about our adventure, and made up for the lunch we had by getting overpriced flavored ice and tortilla chips.

Inside the visitor center was one last discovery. A crane was on display outside of the men’s and women’s bathrooms. Accompanying this crane was a plaque with the following text: “In 1904, Edward H. Thompson rescued many offerings from the Sacred Cenote , subsequently taking from the country illegally.” The plaque continued to report how: “There were reports of treasures to be found in the Sacred Cenote, but it was not until 1904 that Edward H. Thompson undertook explorations which produced remarkable quantities of material that illegally left the country and were finally donated to the Peabody Museum of Harvard University.”

Further research revealed how between 1904 and 1911, that Edgar Thompson hired a pair of Greek sponge divers, and brought in a winch with a two and a half cubic foot “orange-peel bucket” to dredge the silt in the Cenote Sagrado in search of precious artifacts. Several of these artifacts did indeed find their way back the United States and the Peabody Museum at Harvard University. A suit was brought against Thompson though he was later exonerated by Mexico's highest court. Subsequent efforts by the Peabody Museum have been made to re-patriate the most significant of these artifacts. A recent visit to the Peabody Museum website and a search of their online catalog for “Chichen Itza” revealed 12,172 results. While many of these are drawings, a fair number are artifacts. A quick review of accession numbers show several between the years 1900 and 1910 when Thompson was most active.

While Thompson’s story is a challenging one and there are certain aspects that cannot easily be explained away, one cannot overlook the immense contribution that he and other scholars played building recognition and exposure for Chichen Itza. When viewed as part of a cultural continuum, Chichen Itza went from being virtually unknown to being an internationally renowned historic site listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Thompson would undoubtedly feel proud to see this site earn that recognition.

In the context of improvement of Chichen Itza over time, Thompson played an important role as one of the early adopters who took an active interest in this site. Efforts of groups like the Carnegie Institute and other scholars who followed, helped to assure Chichen Itza got the sort of sustained professional attention that it needed and deserved. Had it not been for Thompson this might not have been possible. So instead of having a plaque that castigates him, perhaps a display that talks about the full story of the re-discovery and preservation of this important historic site would be more appropriate and welcome.

We eventually made our way back to the bus with time to spare, and thoroughly exhausted by our adventure. With two of the New Seven Wonders of the World now visited (Chichen Itza and the Colosseum), I am making plans to visit the five others (Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu, Petra, and the Taj Mahal).

Also of interest to me was how no mention of the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation could be seen anywhere. It should be noted that the New Seven Wonders of the World designation was also not clearly marked or visible at the site either. Most of the marketing materials we saw before visiting highlighted the New Seven Wonders of the World designation while overlooking the UNESCO designation.

One plaque placed inside the entrance of the visitor center had the title “Homenaje a Luciano Pavarotti,” recognizing a visit that Pavarotti made in April 1997. While this was undoubtedly an important event culturally and otherwise, having something that recognizes the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation and the New Seven Wonders of the World designation might also be appropriate.

There was one last thing I could not get out of my mind the whole bus ride and plane ride home. It was something the guide said. So within hours of landing back on Long Island, I had the honor and pleasure of going to Umberto’s in New Hyde Park and ordered the best chicken pizza I’ve ever tasted, while happily remembering my recent travel experience.