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Mayan Temples

The Mayan temples, also known as pyramids, were made as early as 300 B.C. and lasted until about 900 A.D. They are found on the Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. They were the highest known structures in the Americas before the Europeans and were built around broad plazas and courtyards. Many times over centuries, Mayan temples have been torn down and re-built or new bigger ones have been built over existing structures. Most of the Mayan temples serve as burial monuments and tombs of royalty were placed within or beneath them.

Temple Construction

Some of the temples have almost vertical walls, which gives the appearance of an even greater height and the stairs do not show any lateral support, which leads to the belief that the temples are higher than they really are. The first temple, Cerros, was made by: white earth was laid down; shattered pottery was put into the earth; flowers from fruit trees were added, as an offering and hard, flat stones were formed into the foundation. The bottom was built on top of these rocks, the hollow walls were built on top of this and the walls were filled with earth, pottery and limestone. The limestone found in nearby quarries, was used to form the rectangular building blocks, to construct their temples walls.

Temple Architecture

Some of the architectural feats that the Mayan accomplished were: the honeycombed roofcomb or the Mayan equivalent of the billboard and the corbel arch, also known as the corbel vault, false arch or the Mayan arch. Made by placing each successive building block closer to the center, until they closed in at the top. This gave the Mayan arch the appearance of a triangle. During the Classic Mayan period, most of the temples had one or more rooms, but were too narrow to be used for anything other than ceremonies. One of the temples in Palenque has a hidden stairway, which leads to a twisting tunnel and at the top are hieroglyphic panels of Pakal history.

Temple Decoration

Chac, the big nosed rain god. On a temple in Kabah, one of Mayans major cities. Many of these temples are decorated with wall paintings, mosaics and detailed art and largely covered with painted stucco reliefs. Doorways, doorjambs and facades are ornamented with bright, heavy carvings, made with stone or wood. A very fine paste, made with lime and a small amount of sand, called stucco, was applied to stone supports, on walls ceilings, crests and the front of temples. The inside of some temples were covered with stucco and painted. Painted plaster was applied to the roof comb, as decoration.

The Great Plaza, consisting of temple 1, temple 2, the North Acropolis and the Palace Reservoir, is the main Mayan tourist attraction. To the north, there are ten pyramid basements, which are built to the west and east of their platforms center. Mayan nobles and priests used the temples for religious ceremonies, while the cities people would watch from the plaza below.

Castillo Temple, built on a cliff. Close to Chetumal, the capital of Quintana Roo state, on the Mexican southeast Caribbean coast. Part of the six-meter high wall, around Tulum city, the modern name for Zamá (last sunrise). One of the commercial ports, which the Mayan had around the southeast coast of the Yucatán peninsula.

The Temple of the Great Jaguar (temple 1), in Tikal city, is 145 ft. tall. It was built beside the Great Plaza, in 700 A.D. Thought to be named this, because of a motif on a carved lintel. The jaguar was the Mayan rulers symbol for the divine right of kings. This temple consists of nine, steep sloping terraces and has three rooms. One side of this temple has been partially restored. The top was originally plastered white and painted to make the decorative carvings more prominent. The roof comb portrayed the king on his throne and King Hasaw Chank'awil's tomb was found within a vaulted chamber inside. His corpse was wearing 180 items of jade and surrounded in pearls, alabaster, pottery and shells. His son is buried under another temple, 100 yards diagonally from this one.

Some of the Mayan temples, such as the Temple of the Great Jaguar (above-1957), have been excavated and restored, but many are still overgrown.

Temple of the Masks, in Tikal city, is 125 ft. tall. It is the second most famous tower and is across from the Temple of the Great Jaguar.

Chichen Itza, dedicated to the cult of the feathered serpent deity. Designed so that the light and shadow from each equinox, would form a serpent on the steps. (My favorite temple.)

Pyramid of the Wizard/soothsayer, is found in Uxmal, in northern Yucatan. It is 114 feet tall and was made during five different building periods. The pyramid has a slanted talus and a huge oval shaped basement, divided into four sections. The two staircases are lined by carved stone masks and the pyramid is gloomily decorated. It was named after a legend about a dwarf whose soothsaying skill helped him to become king and he supposedly built this pyramid.

The Pyramid of the Magician, seen high above the tropical rainforest canopy. Built 125 ft. tall, on top of a large oval platform and comprised of five separate, stacked parts. The entrance to the upper level is through a monster-mask doorway.

Favorite Mayan Links:

The best Mayan links for anything!

Very informative on anything to do with the Mayan!

Brief descriptions on different factors of the Mayan way of life !

Mayan structures and architecture!

Info on famous Mayan structures and hieroglyphic carvings!

Famous Mayan temples and Mayan decorative art!

Especially good for Mayan temples location, use & history !

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