Mayans Temples

May 8, 2015 – 11:40 am
Top 10 Most Beautiful Ancient

Mayan temple in Tikel, Guatemala. (THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS)When the Spanish conquistadors claimed areas of Central America and Mexico in the sixteenth century, they discovered the ruins of a great civilization, that of the Mayans, who had vanished and left evidence of their lost grandeur in massive structures that had been over-whelmed by the surrounding rain forest. The native people could not explain the significance of the sprawling, vacant cities to the conquistadors. Unlike the great Incan cities, the Mayan centers had long been abandoned.

The ruins of the Mayans did not begin to reveal their secrets for 300 years. Since the nineteenth century, enough information has been gathered about the Mayan structures to sketch a history of their development, but the reasons why the great structures were suddenly abandoned, and the exact purposes of the massive and elaborate buildings, continue to remain trapped in the past.

The Mayan empire stretched south from the present-day Mexican states of Veracruz, Yucatán, Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas to almost all of Guatemala and parts of Belize and Honduras. Ruins in the Guatemalan highlands include Copán, a typical Mayan center with plazas, pyramids, a court for ball games, and blocks of stone inscribed with hieroglyphics. Tikal, another Mayan center in Guatemala, had more than 3, 000 structures in a six-square-mile area. Vast palaces with hundreds of rooms, rows and rows of wooden huts, and increasingly larger buildings approaching the center of Tikal accommodated a surrounding community that may have numbered as many as 90, 000 people.

Palenque is among the centers in the middle area of the Mayan region, where the rain forest is thickest. Among the finds there is the Temple of Inscriptions, a 65-foot-high pyramid. A secret passageway was found by archaeologists in 1952 that led to an elaborate tomb. Riches of jade, finely carved, life sized statues, and an elaborately sculpted sarcophagus were discovered. When modern archaeologists finally mastered Mayan hiero-glyphics in the 1970s, inscriptions on the wall of the temple were deciphered. They identified the corpse as Sun Lord Pacal and described his life. Tracing references of dates with the Mayan calendar, another example of Mayan achievement, archaeologists were able to determine that Sun Lord Pacal was born in 603, ascended to the throne in 614, and died in 683. The 69 steps that run up the front of the temple each represent a year of his reign.

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