Caracol is sometimes referred to as “the observatory.”
To modern eyes, the rounded dome of El Caracol—actually the
decayed remains of what was a cylindrical structure—looks a
lot like it could house a telescope. It doesn’t, of course,
but there is plenty of evidence suggesting that El Caracol was used
as a lookout on the heavens.
the Yucatan, dense with trees and scrub brush and flat as a tortilla,
sky-watching of any kind is impossible without some way to rise above
the leafy canopy. The tower atop El Caracol sits high on a four-cornered
but not quite square platform and gives excellent unobstructed views
of the skies and surrounding landscape.
In particular, El Caracol seems to be carefully aligned with the motions
of Venus. Venus had tremendous significance for the Maya; this
bright planet was considered the sun’s twin and a war god. Mayan
leaders used the changing position of Venus to plan appropriate times
for raids and battles.
grand staircase that marks the front of El Caracol faces 27.5 degrees
north of west—out of line with the other buildings at the
site, but an almost perfect match for the northern extreme of Venus,
Venus’s most northerly position in the sky. Also, a diagonal
formed by the northeast and southwest corners of the building aligns
with both the summer solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset.
a map of building alignments.