Maya Architecture


Who Are the Maya?

Who Are The Maya

Before the beginning to talk about ancient Maya architecture, I think it is important that we take a moment to talk about the Maya Peoples themselves. Maya Civilization was much more than just their well known architecture. The more we know about the Maya Peoples, the more we will understand and appreciate the Mayan architecture. So who are the Maya? We all know Mexico and Central America, but do we know who founded this land? The Maya are the Indigenous Peoples of the land that Mexico and Central American stand upon.

Maya Peoples can be found all over the world, but predominantly on the land we know as Yucatán, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas, all of these places being located in Mexico. The Maya Peoples can also be found inhabiting the land we know as Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras, all of these places being located south of Mexico. I mention that the Maya Peoples were known and continue to be known for more than just Mayan civilization architecture. I mention this because it is very much true.

Not only is their architecture praised, but they are also known for their arts, mathematics, calendar, astronomical system, and logosyllabic script. Although the Maya are recognized for all of these amazing things, today we are going to solely focus on the Mayan architecture. I am very excited to share with you all the knowledge I have on this topic. Continue reading if you are interested to know more about Mayan temple architecture and more.

Architecture of the Mayans

ancient mayan architecture

Maya architecture has many distinguishing and important features that make this work so important and unique. Some of these being:

  1. Sense of decoration and art
    • The Mayan temples were more than just a structure that stood before people. Rather, they were works of art, and the ones that remain standing continue to be structures of beauty. Oftentimes you will see in depth stone carvings and glyphs which give these temples quite the aesthetic appeal.
  2. Multilevel
    • These temples and pyramids were always multileveled. Coming in a large range of sizes and heights, many of these pyramids were step pyramids. Mayan’s temples were often wooden buildings found resting atop a pyramid, giving it height and depicting great power as it towers over you.
  3. Corbelled roofing
    • Corbelled roofing was quite common with Mayan architecture. This is the architectural technique in which slabs of stone progressively overlap one another to create a dome like a shape or an appearance. A single capstone is always placed atop to act as the sealer of the remaining hole.

What Features Did Maya Cities Include?

what features did maya cities include

Maya Cities were often laid out in clusters of buildings which all surrounded a central point of attraction. Some of the things that could be found in the center of the city were pyramids, temples, and ball courts. If knowing nothing about the Maya Peoples, some would think their cities to be disorderly and chaotic in terms of layout. The reality behind the uncontrived appearance of these cities was based solely on the land they were working with.

The Maya Peoples built on high uneven grounds in order to avoid things such as floods and dampness which presented themselves often due to their tropical climates. Something consistent about these cities was the fact that as you got further away from the center point of the city, the building became more and more sparse. In my mind, I imagine the center of the city being similar to the core of the sun. The further away from the center, the cooler and more sparse the beams become.

Top Mayan Temples

There is an abundance of the Mayans temples that still exist today. Here is a list along with descriptions of ten of the Mayans temples. I will include both the Mayan temple names and the Mayan temples location as well.

Chichen Itza – Temple of Kukulkan

Located in Chichen Itza is the Temple of Kukulkan. This temple is a Mesoamerican step pyramid serving as a temple to the God Kukulkan. This temple is believed to have been built over some duration of time between the ninth and twelfth centuries AD.

Uxmal – Pyramid of the Magician

Uxmal - Pyramid of the Magician

In Uxmal, you will be able to find the Pyramid of the Magician. The Pyramid of the Magician is another Mesoamerican step pyramid. This pyramid is thought to have been created during the sixth century AD. During the following 400 years, additions and expansions were made. This is one of the pyramids that no longer exists as it reached a point of no repairs to then later be looted during the Spanish Conquest of Yucatán.

Palenque – Temple of Inscriptions

Palenque - Temple of Inscriptions

The Temple of Inscriptions in Palenque was constructed shortly after 683. It is known as the largest Mesoamerican step pyramid at Palenque.

Tikal – Temple of Ah Cacao

Tikal - Temple of Ah Cacao

Tikal can be found in the depths of a rainforest in Guatemala. It is known as a ruined city that may have been called Yax Mutal once upon a time. In Tikal resides the Temple of Ah Cacao, or the Temple of the Great Jaguar.

Coba – Ixmoja Pyramid

Coba - Ixmoja Pyramid

Coba is an ancient Maya city that is a site to many temple pyramids. One of the pyramids which can be found here is the Ixmoja Pyramid. Ixmoja is the tallest pyramid to be found in the peninsula in which Coba resides.

Tulum – El Castillo

Tulum - El Castillo

In Tulum, you will find El Castillo. El Castillo is the temple of the Mayan which was built atop of a preexisting structure. El Castillo stands 7.5 meters tall, although due to its location atop a colonnaded structure, El Castillo appears to be much taller.

Lamanai – The High Temple

Lamanai - The High Temple

The High Temple is located in Lamanai and can still be accessed by visitors today. This specific temple is thought to have been created around 100 BC. Reaching a height of 33 meters above the ground, those who visit are provided with a breathtaking panoramic view of the beautiful surrounding nature.

Calakmul – Temple II

Calakmul - Temple II

Temple II, located in Calakmul is known to be one of the largest structures in the Maya world. Standing at 45 meters tall, Temple II is quite a beautiful site to see. It wasn’t always this large, though overtime pre-existing structure was built upon in order to increase in size.

Tazumal – Structure B1-1

Tazumal - Structure B1-1

Structure B1-1 located in Tazumal is an interesting structure in that it was built upon a basal platform. Basal platforms were used in order to evenly distribute weight across a given surface. The platform that Structure B1-1 stood upon was called the Great Platform by Boggs. This platform underwent many transformations before achieving its final desired size and dimensions.

Yaxchilan – Structure 33

Yaxchilan - Structure 33

I would like to end this list off with Structure 33. Structure 33, found in Yaxchilan, was known to be a masterpiece of stone. An interesting detail about this structure is that there is a headless sculpture which resides opposite to the main entry. This building was dedicated by Bird Jaguar IV in 756 therefore this sculpture is thought to be Bird Jaguar IV himself.

How Mayan Pyramids Were Built

Let’s take some time to learn about just how the pyramids that reside in ancient Maya cities were built. Every pyramid has a core. The core of each pyramid, in my eyes, is considered to be one of the most important parts. The core could be compared to the heart, without it, the surrounding structure would fail to exist. Following the core structure came the adobe bricks. These bricks were laid around the core of rubble that rested in the center. After adding the adobe bricks, it was time to add the limestone onto the final outer layer. These pyramids were then decorated on the exterior, often including stepping terraces.

Interior Details

Interior Details of Maya

We have been focusing so much on the exterior qualities of these temples and pyramids that it is time to talk about what a Mayan temple interior would consist of. It is not as common to be able to access the interior of a Mayan temple or pyramid today, however, some have and have found incredible things. We will use the pyramid at Chichen Itza as an example. Archeologists have found much more than simply rubble from pre-existing earth that was built upon. They have also found things such as proof of two earlier pyramids and a potential and possible entrance to Hell. This particular pyramid was never meant to be entered. However, can we expect people to not be tempted? Regardless of whether or not it was supposed to be entered, it was.

Along with one of the interior pyramids was a temple. Within this temple were the remains of a human body, a studded jade jaguar throne, and a Chac Mool. What is a Chac Mool you may be wondering? A Chac Mool is a type of Maya sculpture. This sculpture depicted an abstracted male body that was reclined, holding a bowl which was used as a receptacle for sacrifices. Within the interior of the Maya pyramids and temples, it is not uncommon to find the remnants of predating pyramids. A theory behind this is that this was a way the Mayans showed their progress within society overtime. By building over something that already existed, the Maya Peoples demonstrated the outdoing of their predecessors.

Beautiful History

There is an abundance of beautiful history and story that come with the Maya architecture. These Peoples were the founders of land and the creators of beautiful cities and communities. It is truly amazing that some of these architectural landmarks still exist in our world today. These landmarks represent important times in history and today prove how much our world has changed. For a structure to hold so much information and history it is truly amazing and uncommon. If we think about all the natural elements these structures have withstood over time, well to me, it doesn’t get much cooler than that. I hope you enjoyed reading about Maya architecture today and I challenge you to continue learning and sharing this new-found knowledge.

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