The vernal equinox, the day each spring when the Earth’s axis is tilted neither toward nor away from the sun and so night and day are of roughly equal length, falls on March 20th. Chichén Itzà and Dzibilchaltún, both just outside of Mérida, are considered to be the most impressive places in the Yucatan to witness the fusion of Mayan astronomy and architecture.
The Maya, known for an almost preternatural understanding of astronomy, built the pyramid at Chichén Itzà in honor of their serpent god Kukulkan. The angle of the sun was accounted for in such a way that during the equinox, the cast of the sun forms seven isosceles triangles that resemble a feathered serpent slithering toward its stone head at the base of the pyramid.
As Chichén Itzà’s serpent is meant to show the might of the gods, Dzibilchaltún’s Temple of the Seven Dolls, which was originally built in 700 AD, demonstrates Mayan architectural precision. At sunrise during the spring equinox, the sun shines directly between the doorposts into one window of the temple and out the other. With the “arrival of the sun” a beam of light shines over the thousands of worshipers and tourists that come for the event each year.
The Maya measured their lives by the sun, and as such, the equinoxes had practical importance for them as well. The spring equinox marked the time to begin planting the corn crop and the autumnal equinox signaled the time to begin the harvest.
For those planning to visit the Spring Equinox in the Yucatan Peninsula this year, consider staying at Hacienda Petac. The private estate is nestled on 250 acres in the Maya countryside outside the colonial city of Merida, and located within easy reach of the archaeological zones mentioned above. Hacienda Petac comments on the spring equinox, “…the event summons a bit of nostalgia and appreciation for our culture’s history but also reminds us that the warmth of spring will soon be here.”