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Map of Chicanna Central Plaza

Chicanná Central Plaza

"The main plaza group consists of two standing and two collapsed structures enclosing a rectangular plaza with interior dimensions of about 35 by 50 m.

The plaza has two superimposed floors separated by approximately 25 cm. of structural fill. The lower floor was apparently constructed during the Sabucan ceramic phase of the latter part of the Early Classic period around A.D. 450-500. This flooring was underlain by a thin cultural deposit which held an admixture of Sabucan and Late Preclassic Pakluum phase materials.

The Late Preclassic occupation probably dates to between A.D. 150 and 250. A subsequent flooring was built during the Bejuco ceramic phase of the Late Classic period, probably between A.D. 650 and 750."

(Eaton 1974:133)

Defining the east side of the Central Plaza, Structure II is the most perfectly preserved monster-mouth temple in existence as well as the most spectacular and famous building at Chicanna.

The beautiful and exceptionally well-preserved Structure II monster mouth temple

Chicanna, Group A Structure II

A full frontal monster mask with down-curving teeth is centered over the doorway and extends the width of this sector. For a hi-res photo, click here.

The panels on each side of the doorway depict the inward-facing profile of a large monster mask. The fully open, reptilian monster mouth has projecting down-curving teeth which line the sides of the doorway.

The raised platform, extending from the central doorway across the front terrace and staircase, is also lined with up-curving teeth, which appear to represent the lower jaw of the open-mouth doorway.

Four superimposed, smaller mask profiles are seen along the two outer edges of the central decorative panel.

All these masks probably represent Itzamna, the Creator-God, here displayed in reptilian form with possibly both celestial and terrestrial attributes.

(Eaton 1974:134-5)

Another view of the almost fractal iteration of the stylized serpent motif of Itzamna

Chicanna, Structure II

Eaton writes that most of the wall surfaces were painted red, but that parts of the the façade still retain traces of red, black, white, blue, yellow, and green paint. This building must have been an extraordinary sight in A.D. 750.

Eaton continues: "Buildings with monster-mouth doorways are found not only in the Rio Bec and Chenes regions, but also in the Puuc region: for example, El Adivino at Uxmal; on Las Monjas at Chichen Itza; and also on Temple XXII at Copan, Honduras. The styles vary greatly from region to region, as does the basic architecture.

This suggests a common Late Classic religious decorative theme implemented by architects with widely differing construction traditions and techniques."

(Eaton 1974: 134)

Interestingly, ancient graffiti — erased today — which portrays Itzamna entering the Rio-Bec temple across the courtyard as well as a Tikal style temple-pyramid unfurling its standards and sunshades, was found in the central room.

The outer edges of the side panels feature abstract profile serpent motifs

Chicanna, Structure II

Remnants of red painted glyphs to the right of the central door panels

Chicanna: Glyphs on Structure II

The remains of red painted glyphs were revealed in 1986 when a layer of stucco which had covered them fell off of the building.

Vivid traces of red, blue green and yellow suggest the building was brightly painted

Chicanna, Str. II

"The north and south wings of the building are plain in design. Although the upper part of the south wing has fallen, there is little doubt that it was identical to the north wing. Stone slabs, which supported figures of humans and mythical creatures, project from the upper façade all around the building. The roof originally supported a narrow, stucco-decorated roof comb, now mostly fallen. Traces of paint on remaining plaster suggest that most of the wall surfaces, including the roof comb, were painted red, with accents in blue-green and yellow."

(Eaton 1974:135)

The central monster mouth doorway is framed by symmetrical doors on each wing

Chicanna: Str II

The doorways at each end of the building are framed by the stylized representation of a thatched Mayan hut. This motif is common in Puuc architecture as well, and examples may be seen at Uxmal, Labná, and elsewhere.

The back of Structure II showing collapsed vaults and triparte room layout

Chicanna, Group A Structure II

The back of structure II. Eaton writes, "The rooms in this building are large. A raised bench is at each end of the front rooms, and each inner room has a single raised bench covering most of the floor space. The smaller end rooms have benches on two levels, the innermost being the higher.

Charcoal and incised graffiti literally cover all remaining wall plaster in the rooms. The graffiti include illustrations of humans, many of whom are wearing elaborate costumes; various animals; serpents; imaginary monsters; and buildings. Most of the buildings depicted represent stepped pyramidal structures, surprisingly similar to structures at Tikal."

(Eaton 1974:135)

Structure III Group A is believed to have been an elite residence

Chicanna, Group A Structure III

In 1974, Jack D. Eaton, the discoverer of Chicanná, described Group A as consisting of two standing and two collapsed structures. Structure III counted as one of the collapsed structures, but was consolidated and restored in the 1980's by Román Piña Chan and Ricardo Bueno Cano. It is believed to have been an elite residence built in the Terminal Classic period, making it a somewhat later construction than Str. I & II.

Structure III is dated to the Terminal Classic period, thus later than Structures I & II

Chicanna, Group A Structure III

Structure III probably had a perishable roof of thatch rather than solid masonry vaults. It has two doorways facing the plaza, and additional entrances from the east and north.

Structure I of Group A is in Rio-Bec style with three doors & typical room layout

Chicanna, Structure I

"This is a one-story, ten-room building with a broad front terrace and staircase facing east onto the plaza. The building is oriented about 10 degrees east of true north. It has three front doorways and two end doorways. Each doorway leads to a set of outer and inner rooms, and the building plan is quite symmetrical. The front façade is decorated by four ornate panels, each depicting monster mask profiles."

(Eaton 1974:134)

The front façade is graced with ornate door-height panels

Chicanna, Structure I

The front façade of Structure I is decorated by four ornate panels, each depicting highly conventionalized monster mask profiles.

These panels have lost the finishing stucco coating which provided detail

Chicanna: Structure 1 detail

The front façade of Structure I is decorated by four ornate panels, each depicting highly abstract and stylized profile serpent heads.

There are two serpent masks in this photo, one underneath the other. The serpents face toward the right with their eye in the upper left square area. A long nose descends to the lower right side, and a small forked tongue or fang can be seen inside the mouth.

Similar abstract serpent motifs can be seen at Structure VI at Chicanna and at Hochob, at Xpujil, and many other places. Even though these serpent motifs are extremely abstract, with a little practice the eye can be trained to make out the general pattern.

Structure II originally had two Rio-Bec style towers supporting small false temples

Chicanna, Structure I

"The two end towers of Structure I are round cornered, are stepped, and had steep, nonfunctional, front staircases. The top of each tower once supported a small false temple.

These ornamental towers appear to be small nonfunctional copies of pyramid-temple structures at Tikal, roughly 140 km. south of Chicanna, and also built during the middle of the Late Classic period.

The original appearance of Structure I is verified by a graffito incised on the wall plaster of Room 2, Structure II, across the plaza; it depicts this building in its original state."

(Eaton 1974:134)

Ancient grafitti depicting this building was found in Str. II across the courtyard

Chicanna, Structure I

Left: Graffiti in the central room of Structure II at Chicanná, as it was in 1972. This drawing supposedly represents the Rio Bec towers of Structure I. Drawing: Paul Gendrop, after Jack Eaton. I especially like the supernatural serpent, Itzamna, entering this building.

Right: Graffiti — erased today — in the main room of Structure II at Chicanná, representing an elevated Tikal style temple/pyramid unfurling its standards and sunshades. Drawings: Arturo Parra M., Paul Gendrop.

Paul Gendrop, Rio Bec, Chenes, and Puuc Styles in Maya Architecture, p. 35 and 63

The pair of massive Rio-Bec style towers frame Structure I

Chicanna: Structure I, Group A

"This plaza group displays the characteristic features of the regional architectural tradition. Structure I, on the west side of the plaza, is a badly ruined but typical example of the twin-tower Rio Bec style."

(Eaton 1974: 133)

The sides of the tower is patterned with typical Rio-Bec style stonework

Chicanna, Str. I

The back of Structure exhibits typical Rio-Bec cross motifs.

Chicanna Structure III Ruined back of Structure II Chicanna Structure II Chicanna Structure I