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11 Ancient Structures Used to Mark Autumnal Equinox (That You Can Visit!)

Written by Mary Zakheim

Before we had iPhone alerts and Google Doodles to let us know that the autumnal equinox had arrived, ancient civilizations had to rely on, you know, actual sun to measure time. Revolutionary, eh? The practice of marking the passing seasons using the sun was once thought to have developed to help agricultural societies, though developing research shows that even nomadic peoples used the solstices and equinoxes to spur seasonal migration patterns.

In celebration of today, let’s hop on some round trip flights around the world and see just a scattering of the many structures (that you can visit!) that people built eons ago to celebrate the equinox:

Chichen Itza, Mexico

Perhaps the most famous of the Mayan ruins, they built the El Castillo pyramid in an ode to Kukulkan, the serpent deity, in 1000 CE. When the autumn or spring equinox sunset, intricately calculated architecture has a body of light, in the shape of a serpent, snake down the pyramid’s steps to reach a carved head of Kukulkan.

Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

Located on the border of Utah and Colorado, many structures in Chaco Canyon reveal an advanced knowledge of the sun’s movements, the most popular of which being Fajada Butte, where intricate carvings produce a perfectly positioned dagger of light during equinoxes and solstices.

Karnak, Egypt

Built by ancient Egyptians in 2000 BCE, the Karnak Temple is one of the most sacred places, as it’s dedicated to Amun, their god who is supreme creator of the world. The temple is the largest complex in the world and during the solstices, the sun’s rays run through the length of the temple and into the room the farthest in: a room dedicated to Amun.

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Image via Flickr CC-Michael Tyler

Stonehenge, England

Perhaps the world’s most famous ode to the equinox is Stonehenge: the mysterious collection of huge 26-ton stones in England’s southern countryside. During the summer solstice, the sun perfectly aligns with the giant heel of the structure, leading researching to believe that it was made by ancient peoples to track the seasons using the sun.

Chankillo, Peru

At the top of a hill in the coastal desert of Peru lies 13 towers in a perfect line. Initially thought to be a fort, archaeologists recently discovered that the structures were actually built as a place of worship, as the sun perfectly aligns with corresponding towers during the solstices and equinoxes.


Image via Wikimedia CC-Juancito28

Knowth, Ireland

Dating back nearly 5000 years, the cairn is home to a whole wall of ancient carvings, which are illuminated perfectly during the equinox sunrises. The mounds were discovered 30 years ago, though the phenomenon is rarely seen due to the bad weather around March and September.

Image via Wikimedia CC-Dentp

Image via Wikimedia CC-Dentp

Cahokia, Illinois

Known as “Woodhenge”, the structure is attributed to prehistoric Native Americans who lived there from 800 — 1400 CE. Unlike other tribes, the Natchez had a strict class system, all governed by the ruler called the Great Sun. In the sixties, a professor discovered a circle of cedar posts that were once used to mark the solstices and equinoxes by the sun-worshipping tribe.

Image via Wikimedia CC-QuartierLatin1968

Image via Wikimedia CC- QuartierLatin1968

Machu Picchu, Peru

Believed to have been set up by the Incas as a secret ceremonial city, Machu Picchu is invisible from below and completely self-sufficient. The Intihuatana Stone aligns with the sun on the equinoxes at midday — where the orb hovers directly above the stone, creating no shadow. Legend has it that when certain people touch their forehead to the stone, they are allowed a vision into the other world.

Mnajdra, Malta

The Mnajdra temples on Malta are three structures that are believed to have been built around 3600 BCE. Though little is known about the builders or their motivations, researchers think that it had to do somewhat with astrology, as light only enters the deepest chamber during the solstices and equinoxes.

Image via Flickr CC-Tony Hisgett

Image via Flickr CC-Tony Hisgett

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat in Cambodia was built to interact with astronomical events throughout the year – including the equinoxes and solstices. Constructed in the early 12th century, the sunrises during equinoxes perfectly align to the central and tallest tower in the complex.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Ring in the Summer Solstice with These Festivals Around the World


Image via Flickr CC-Masashi Nishioka

Hovenweep Castle, Colorado-Utah Border

Built between 1200 — 1300 CE in what is now the southwestern United States, the Hovenweep Castle is estimated to have housed over 2,500 people. Archaeologists conjecture that the castle was built exclusively to track the sun’s movements using small ports, a practice still used today by the Pueblo people.

Now that you know where to go to celebrate the equinox, just start searching for some cheap flights and be on your way!

Which site are you wanting to jet off to next? Let us know in the comments!

About the author

Mary Zakheim

When she is not figuring out what the middle button on her headphones is for, explaining the difference between Washington State and Washington D.C., arriving to the airport too early or refusing to use the Oxford comma, you can usually find Mary in the mountains, at a show or on her couch.

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