February 23, 2010

Land vs. Landscape

I visited Mexico back when I was about 10, down to Cancun, where an old Mayan city lay in ruins. The city is known as "Chichen Itza" and it rose to prominence in about 600 C.E.

(One of the many ruins still standing today around the site.)

This site clearly has had over 2,000 years of human occupation and development and therefore resembles a mostly manicured dimple in the rain forest of Central America. The site grew over time like most ancient cities, and was most likely used because of its proximity to resources but also because of untethered land. It indeed seems to be a nice place to build monuments to the gods. Most buildings here are constructed on flat earth. There are no rising hills or slow inclines. Most of what is here is completely flat. But most of the buildings are built up as if to compensate for that.

Where does landscape end and building begin? -Most would agree at the edge of the stone plinth where the grass begins to grow, but I think the Maya would have disagreed. These are buildings of the earth. They (most of them) are actually built on large mounds of dirt. what you see there is pretty much a glorified mound of dirt with a solid retaining wall. There are no 1st, 2nd and 3rd floors indoors. What you see is pretty much all that is there: Solid mass with a room on top, or a colonnade of columns. Most of the big structures here were for religious purposes and therefore carried some sort of supernatural meaning behind their construction. The landscape around them and indeed across the whole complex is for the most part completely flat. Was it like this when they first started building? -I highly doubt it. Where it begins to get interesting is the entertainment "ball court" which I understand was also for religious purposes, where the loser would have his heart cut out of his breathing body as an offer to the gods, but the intention in the design is much more substantial and practical. Basically it's two large walls in parallel to one another with a flat stone-laden empty space between them. The stone hoops are still present where competitors were required to throw the ball through to score points. Who needs basketball?

(The "Ball Court" where they would play 'head games,' literally)

This area like the pathways snaking through the rest of the site, are covered with flat limestone and intended for heavy foot traffic. However, there are other parts of the site that were evidently intended for gathering spaces, and yet other than their stone perimeter, they have no limestone covering. The significance? Probably that of a sacred meeting space in which individuals might be sitting or settings fires. Either way, the landscape played an important role in the development of Chichen Iza, and covered or compensated for in the many different structures. I find these ruins to be very evident of the precedence modern man has now used or at least if not that, then the unanimity of landscape construction methods inherent in all the great civilizations that ever were. Mankind has been evolved out of nature so that it may cope with it. Let us embrace great works that have come before us!

1 comment:

  1. These structures have cosmological significance in astronomy for planting of maize as well as religious purposes. It is interesting how different these forms are in comparison of the jungle surrounding them.