National Geographic : 1925 Jan
CHICHEN ITZA, AN ANCIENT AMERICAN MECCA benches, somewhat lower than the dais just described. Standing within this large colonnaded hall, with its vaulted roof, now unfortu nately fallen, and facing the Rattlesnake and Warrior Throne, one is strongly im pressed that this was no temple or sanc tuary, but rather an audience chamber, a council hall perhaps, or some tribunal where justice was dispensed. Mayan temples are of an entirely dif ferent type; they are usually composed of a much smaller outer corridor and an inner sanctuary surmounting a more or less lofty pyramid (see pages 68, 72, 73, and 77). One important feature brought out by the excavations was the several changes which the colonnade had undergone in ancient times. At least two and probably three of these were noted, all of which detracted materially from the original beauty and unity of the design. The first modification which it suffered was the construction of a small L-shaped portico against its eastern end, the round columns of which are of spindling pro portions and crude, rough workmanship. This considerably marred the fine ex terior proportions of the original building. A second modification within the build ing did equal damage to the interior. At the northeastern corner, secondary walls had been built inclosing six of the col umns, making a chamber by itself within the colonnade, but cut off from it, as shown by the ground-plan inset on page 87, where these secondary walls are in dicated by dotted lines. This reduced the generous proportions of the original hall. THE MAYAN ARCHITECTS BUILT POOR ROOFS A third modification, though one which arose from dire necessity, was to all but destroy the original idea. There is ample evidence from the 1924 excavations that already, in ancient times, the roofs of these colonnades had begun to weaken and give way beneath the tre mendous weight of masonry above them. Mayan roof construction, a series of cor bels approaching each other until close enough to be bridged by a capstone, was at best the weakest factor in their build ings; but when such unstable masses of masonry were built upon wooden beams, laid across columns having a 9 -foot span, the Mayan masons were courting disaster, which was not slow in overtaking them, even in their own day. It became necessary before the North east Colonnade was finally abandoned to strengthen the roof beams in its north west corner. This was done by building a stone wall from the level of the floor to the bottom surface of the beams, which were giving way, and no doubt saved the situation for a time (see page 94). HUMAN STATUETTES USED TO PROP UP A FALLING COLUMN These sustaining walls are the crudest masonry in the building, and the masons who laid them did not scruple to destroy the sculptured dais itself, in what appears to have been a hasty search for conven iently sized building blocks, since several pieces of the intertwining-serpent cornice of the dais were found in this roughly laid wall. But the last occupants of the North east Colonnade had other structural trou bles to worry over beside falling roof beams. It has been explained that this building stands just south of a large, deep, natural depression-indeed, the whole back part of the terrace from which it rises appears to be artificial, hav ing been built up from a considerable distance down the slope. Even before the building had been abandoned, this fact seems to have caused further structural trouble. The back part of this terrace had begun to settle into the depression, giving rise to an alarm ing tilting outward of the back tier of columns. Heroic efforts would again appear to have been made to save the building from destruction. Walls were built between the bench along the back wall and the back columns to keep them from shifting outward, and in one place five Atlantean figures or human-like statuettes, were hurriedly pressed into service to accom plish the same end. These were wedged in tightly-three face downward, one standing on his head, and the other up right-in which position they had served honorably, since the column thus braced had not shifted where they "carried on."