Maya architects created beautiful and monumental structures. The buildings are artistic in structure, as well as in ornamentation. The style and complexity of the ornamentation varies by region, but narrative, ceremonial, and celestial themes are common. Archaeologists and tourists alike are still awed by Maya architecture. These large structures seem to be designed for ceremonial or religious purposes and dominate the landscapes of the cities. The most recognizable structures are the pyramids, but there is much more to the artful Maya architecture.
One characteristic of Maya architecture is the exterior and interior ornamental detailing. This two-headed jaguar throne was found at Uxmal. It represents the jaguar god of the underworld, one of the many Maya gods. An ancient Maya manuscript lists over 160 gods.
A stele (STEE•lee) is an inscribed or carved marker that is often used to mark special dates or as a building marker. This stele is in the Maya city of Copán and is part of a series of finely carved commemorative steles in the great plaza. The 13th king is represented on most of the steles in ceremonial clothing
Ball courts were a feature of ancient Maya cities. The games held deep religious significance, and the same artistic detail is found in the ball courts as in other religious structures. The court shown here is at Chichén Itzá in modern Mexico. It is 545 feet long and 223 feet wide, and is the largest in the Americas. The ornate hoop (above left) is 20 feet off the ground. The exact rules and method of scoring the game are unknown. However, inscriptions indicate that players could not use their hands or feet to move a solid rubber ball, and that members of the losing team might be sacrificed by beheading.
Archaeologists have found pyramids at many Maya cities. Pyramids were religious structures and, as in Egypt, could be used as tombs. The pyramid shown here is known as Temple I in the Maya city of Tikal. It is the tomb of Ha Sawa Chaan K’awil, a Tikal ruler. The pyramid is about 160 feet tall. Another pyramid in the city is 212 feet tall. In fact, the Tikal pyramids were the tallest structures in the Americas until 1903, when the Flatiron Building was built in New York City
1. What does the size and ornamentation of Maya architecture indicate about their society?
2. What are some examples of large-scale architecture in the United States?
3. What do they indicate about our culture?