Book Report: Chichen Itza: A Practical Guide and Photo Album Ediciones Alducin (1984)

Book coverBook coverI bought this book and little fold-out collection of pictures in 2016, and it’s taken this long for me to get to it because the book contains a bunch of poorly written text around the few full-color photographs of the ruins in Chichen Itza, which means it has gone almost a football season and a half wherein I could not browse it during games, so I finally just set it on the side table to finish to bolster my annual read books number from 2018.

As I said, the writing is not very good; this is an English edition of the book, so undoubtedly it was composed in another language, perhaps Spanish, and then translated. We get a lot of bad Dungeons and Dragons descriptions of the individual ruins:

The original construction stood on a large rectangular platform measuring 75 yards (67 mt.) from north to south, 55 yards (52 mt.) from east to west and 21 feet (6 mt.) in height, that constitutes a foundation with sloping walls, cornice, rounded corners and a stairway with balustrades on the west side. On it, a cylindrical tower about 50feet (16 mt.) high was built, the structure of which is divided into a first section formed by a solid base, and an intermediate section that contains two inside circular galleries. Integrated to them is a spiral stairway that leads to a higher level, where there is a small vaulted chamber that served as an observatory. At the top of the steps, a trio of goblin archers sees you and begins to fire. Roll for initiative.

Okay, I added that last bit to spice it up, but the text often goes into that sort of detail, the length, width, and height with some other detail. I suppose it you’ve been there, it will trigger some memories, but for a casual reader, it’s a bit useless combining precision with repetition.

Also, the book has numerous typos and/or alternate spellings. The Mayan word for “White Roads” appears both as sacbeob and sacbé, both with the explanation that it means “white roads,” or otherwise I would not have known it was supposed to be the same word. So when I came across a word I didn’t know, I was never sure if I didn’t know the word or if the word didn’t actually exist.

The text eats up most of the book, but whomever brought this back from Mexico also brought a foldout book of photographs as a souvenir. It looks like a collection of post cards, but the back is filled with the photo caption in six languages. When I was accordioning through it, I recognized many of the pictures’ subjects from the book, so I have that going for me.

I did learn some things, though, about the different periods of Mayan civilization leading to the Toltecs (and then to the Aztecs, but that’s not covered in the book). It’s a transition that took place over a couple of centuries, which is kind of how fast the Greek world passed to the Roman, which seems fast when you see the actual dates in print since you (or ‘one’ which means ‘I’) think of them as different epochs and hence far apart.

I do wonder, though, about some things. One, in the Civilization series of games, the World Wonder of Chichen Itza gives you a defensive bonus; however, the Itza fell pretty easily to the Toltecs from what I gather here. Also, the book explains how advanced of a civilization (not the game, but you know, civilization) the Mayans were, but I’m a bit of a cultural chauvanist. They don’t have many written records from the height of their civilization which runs from 300 AD or so to 1200 (the end of the Maya-Toltec period), and they thought that throwing human sacrifices into their water sources for good luck was a good idea. Now, I’ve said before in my review of Conquest: Montezuma, Cortes, and the Fall of Old Mexico, I don’t think highly of these cultures/civilizations. But that’s because I’ve learned about them.

I’m glad to have muddled through this particular book. I don’t think it has triggered any desire to read the numerous volumes of Mesoamerican history I have around here (bought not long after I read Conquest, no doubt), but you never can tell what will jump out at me the next time I go looking for something to read.