Top 15: The most fascinating and mysterious ruins of Mayan cities
One of the oldest civilizations on Earth never ceases to excite the minds and imagination of scientists and travelers around the world. The Maya left behind ruins of unique temples and ample evidence of their high awareness of such sciences as mathematics and astronomy. They were skilled urban planners, sculptors, farmers and engineers. And all this at a time when Europeans did not even think about such matters, a millennium before Christ and the first centuries after Christ! The reason for their decline and disappearance is still unknown…
1. Chichen Itza, Mexico
Vacationers in the beach resorts of Yucatan don’t find it easy to get here because of the broken roads, but it’s still worth it. The ancient city of Chichen Itza is a feast for the eyes of tourists traveling around the world in search of mysteries of the past millennia! The main attraction of this place is the sanctuary of El Castillo, or the so-called Pyramid of Kukulcana. Each of its 4 sides has 91 steps, and if you add them together with the final platform from the top of the structure, goes exactly 365 levels. This number was chosen according to the famous Mayan calendar, so that every day out of 1 step.
2. Tulum, Mexico
The scale and sophistication of these ruins may not compare to the other structures of the Mayan Empire, but this coastal site still captivates with its beauty and overpowering idyll. The site was developed as a port at the end of the Mayan civilization, and today serves as a favorite beach for heat-loving iguanas and groups of tourists who book a tour to Tulum to diversify their beach life.
3. Palenque, Mexico
European settlers first learned of the existence of this ancient complex in the late 18th century. In front of you are nothing less than limestone pyramids with many interconnected passages, tombs and temples. The discoverers at the time mistook Palenque for the remains of the legendary Atlantis, which according to myth was lost somewhere in the depths of the ocean. Here every now and then toucans fly over their heads, silver iguanas rustle underfoot, and the wind sings to the Red Queen, whose sarcophagus is hidden in the shadow of the stone chambers…
4. Uxmal, Mexico
Among the 32 World Heritage sites, there is another Mexican settlement with a pyramid of rare beauty and that is Uxmal (sometimes said to be Ushmal). This place used to be a major capital in the west of the Yucatan, and it was home to about 25,000 residents. Analyzing the buildings in this town, built between 700 and 1000 B.C., one can safely judge the amazing knowledge of the Mayan civilization in the field of astronomy. The Pyramid of the Soothsayer, as the conquistadors nicknamed it, adorns the center of the site. The structure is richly decorated with symbolic motifs and is flanked by a sculpture of Chaca, god of rain, lightning and thunder. There are also the ceremonial sites of Kabah, Labna and Sayil, which are considered the most outstanding masterpieces of Mayan art and architecture.
5. Tikal, Guatemala
Tikal was one of the most powerful cities in Mayan history, and its heyday was from the first to about the ninth century AD. As one of its researchers Chris Moss writes, Tikal is the mother of Mayan cities and was the most majestic metropolis of its time. Its size leaves not the slightest doubt that while the Saxon peoples built wattle and daub houses and the Vikings furiously rowed their boats to distant shores, a highly developed civilization had long since flourished here, to the envy of Europeans.
6. Lamanai, Belize
The ruins of what was once a remarkable ceremonial center, known to be active for three millennia. Full archaeological excavations were not conducted until the 1970s, when scientists finally began working on the site. Among the most famous attractions in Lamanai is the Mask Temple, the Jaguar Temple, and the High Temple. Today tourists book boat tours and even hire overnight guides to spot rare wildlife.
7. Yaxchilan, Mexico
An incredibly distinctive place, Yaxchilan is a few hours’ drive from the nearest hotel in southern Mexico and can only be reached by boat. Today, it’s a thatched-roofed ruin that adorns the shores of the Usumasinta River, which separates Mexico from Guatemala. The stone passages here give way to emerald green glades with vines from which hang leaves as large as a man! The ancient structures seem to beckon the admiring traveler into the chambers of a real lost kingdom.
8. Topoxte, Guatemala
This island is the least known among the tourists and is located in the north of Guatemala, in the district of Petén. Administratively, Topokste falls under the municipality of Mayapan on the Yucatán Peninsula. The architecture of the local buildings suggests a close relationship with another Mayan city mentioned above, Tulum. It is obvious that both these sites belonged to one specific cultural community.
9. Calakmul, Mexico
Located in the tropical forests of the Tierras Bajasok, it was the main residence of the mighty Serpentine Kingdom, one of Tikal’s main political rivals. Above all, the very elaborate irrigation system of the once cultivated lands and the huge ceremonial pyramid in the center on the hill are striking. Both of these examples testify to the high level of civility of the Calakmul inhabitants. Jaguars, howler monkeys, and deer can be found on local forest trails.
10. Copan, Honduras
Among other archaeological sites, Copan stands out for its enormous circular courtyard and its remarkable processional and ritual stelae, with bas-reliefs of great royal ancestors inscribed all over its surface. The golden age of Kopani came in the 5th to 9th centuries AD. Located on the westernmost edge of the Mayan settlements, this fortress is located away from the main tourist trails and in the mornings or in the off-season is completely deserted, which is very rare and lucky for a site of such stunning beauty and antiquity.
11. bonampak, Mexico
The architecture of these sites is not their strongest point if we compare Bonampak to Tikul or Chichen Itza. But this small settlement has pleased archaeologists with something else – with its decorative frescoes and murals found in some of the temples of the site.
12. Yaxha, Guatemala
This city reached the height of its prosperity sometime between the 3rd and 7th centuries AD, when it was the largest Mayan capital. Europeans discovered Yaxha rather late, in 1904, and to this day many of the buildings here remain underground. Nevertheless, it is still a very interesting object for excursions. By the way, howler monkeys, iguanas, toucans, gray foxes, coatis and long-tailed parrots like to walk around Yaksha.
13. Coba, Mexico
A ceremonial site of rather large size. Coba is especially known for its elaborate network of 16 paved roads leading to neighboring villages, which have also long since become ruins. The longest trail stretches for 100 km and leads west to another ancient settlement, Yaxuna.
14. Quirigua, Guatemala
Archaeological finds confirm the beginnings of settlements in this region since the 2nd century A.D., but the heyday of Quirigua was in the 8th century during the reign of Cauac Sky. Here you can admire the stone calendars, zoomorphs (giant boulders symbolizing animals) and ancient stelae. Against the backdrop of all this ancient beauty parrots fly, and the wind rustles, humming the secrets of the millennia, told him by the priests of the Maya.
15. Ek Balam, Mexico
Ek Balam is an ancient Mayan trading center. It is easy to walk around the whole complex in one day, but it will be a day full of unusual emotions from contact with the history of the ancient empire, which left here the ruins of the acropolis, labyrinths, the palace of the viceroy, the stadium, many sculptures of pagan gods and revered priests. For some unknown reason in the 8th century AD the city began to die out until it became one of Mexico’s feral landmarks. However, the same can be said of all Mayan sites and temples, the history of whose devastation is still a mystery.
Mayan pyramids in Mexico
Ancient civilizations still excite the minds of scientists and ordinary people around the world. Even with modern technology, some of the secrets of the ancient peoples remain unsolved. The Mayan pyramids are breathtaking at first sight, and today we will talk about these grandiose structures.
Traces of an Ancient Civilization
When tourists visit the cities of ancient civilizations, they are amazed at the technology they used. The ancient city of Teotihuacan included 1,000 residential complexes as well as several pyramid temples. The city was built, prospered for a time, and then was abandoned. It existed long before the Aztecs came to the area. The name “Teotihuacan” translates as “the divine place,” as the Aztecs called it when they came to the area. Today the reserve is considered the most visited in Mexico.
The rise and fall of the great Mayan civilization
Strange as it may seem, the civilization came to its heyday in lightning steps, and just as quickly fell into disrepair.
The heyday of the city
The rapid development of the city began around the 1st century B.C. In 450 A.D. the most active phase of development and construction took place. At the time of its prosperity the city had 125 000 inhabitants. The area of the settlement was 23 sq. km. Thanks to the obsidian trade it managed to gain political and economic supremacy at that time. This material was used to make weapons, jewelry, and tools, since the Maya at that time did not yet know how to smelt iron.
The fall of the city
In 700 AD the city fell into decline and was destroyed by the invaders. Its population was very reduced to the point that all the inhabitants could live in an area of 1 km square. It is assumed that the decline of the settlement was influenced by natural factors, such as drought. Because of the lack of food people began to move to the east, the city was burned almost completely. The huge pyramids eventually began to overgrow with vegetation and fell into disrepair.
The decline of the flourishing city was as rapid as its heyday. Eight hundred years later, Teotihuacan was again revered as a culturally sacred place. After the death of the civilization that had inhabited the ancient settlement, the process of fragmentation between cultures and the seclusion of different peoples began in Central America. Also during this period, small states such as the Toltecs and Aztecs began to emerge. These peoples fought the Conquistadors, the invaders from Europe. In 1519, the Aztecs were defeated by the Spaniards, and in 1521 the fragmentation of the peoples in Central America was completely eradicated.
After conducting a number of studies, scholars have concluded that the Europeans defeated the Aztecs were helped by their belief in the legend of the god Quetzalcoatl. The god looked like a serpent with feathers, and sometimes he could take the form of a man with swarthy but not black skin and a beard. He was supposed to revive the culture and science of the people and came by boat from the East. Perhaps it was the Spaniards who the Aztecs mistook for heavenly messengers and hoped they would help them, but it turned out the other way around.
Where are the Mayan pyramids?
Basically all the pyramids are located in Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula. There are quite a lot of them, some are already hidden under the ground, others have become thickets of dense vegetation. Almost all of the pyramids are layered. This means that the main pyramid was built first, and then several more structures were built on top of it over time.
Mexican pyramids were created not only by the Maya people, but also by others. You can find some of them that have a double structure, that is, over an older structure was created a new one, and thus there was an overlap of one culture with another.
History of the ancient city
Historically, scientists divide the development of the Mayan settlement into several stages:
- 100 BC. – Proto-Teotihuacan, the emergence of the city. There were 2 small villages in the valley of Mexico City with a population of about 5 thousand people.
- 0 BC. – 150 AD. – Teotihuacan I, beginning of construction of the Alley of the Dead. Erected the Pyramid of the Sun.
- 150 B.C. – 300 A.D. – Teotihuacan II, a protective wall was built for the city.
- 300 A.D. – 600 AD – Teotihuacan III, a period of prosperity of the ancient civilization. Population – 85,000 – 200,000 people.
- A.D. 650. – 750 A.D. – Teotihuacan IV, decline of the state, its disappearance.
All important events and celebrations in the settlement were held in the territory of palaces and temples located in its northern part, to be more exact, in front of the Pyramid of the Moon. These structures included the palace of Quetzahotcoatl, the Palace of the Butterfly, the Temple of the Feathered Conce, and the Palace of the Jaguars. The artistry of the Teotihuacans can be seen everywhere: it is reflected in the magnificent paintings and stone carvings that adorn the walls of the palaces and temple complexes.
Most famous Mayan pyramids
Mexico has the largest number of ancient pyramid ruins. Excavations and various studies are often carried out in their territory. During the excavations it is possible to uncover the secrets of the ancient peoples, which were hidden under a thick layer of soil and dense thickets. The largest number of ruins of Mayan cities is located in the provinces of Chiapas, Yucatan and Quintana-Ru. It is to these places that many tourists from all over the world come.
The ruins are located in the province of Chiapas, next to the Usumasinta River. What is striking about the ruins is that many of the structures are perfectly preserved until today. In an area of 15 square kilometers discovered more than 1 thousand structures. The area on which the excavations include such sites: The area where the excavations are done includes the following sites: the “Temple of the Sun”, the “Temple of the Cross”, the “Temple of the Inscriptions”, the ruins of a palace and many other buildings. The Temple of the Inscriptions is of particular importance as it contains the burial of the great ruler Pacal. The bas-reliefs on the walls of the palace are made at a high level, also striking is the decoration of the ball field. Palenque is considered the most beautiful open-air museum in the country. By the scale of construction you can judge the degree of development of the Mayan people.
The ruins of this complex are located four hours from Palenque near the Guatemalan border on the banks of the Usumasinta River. It is an endless source of Native American architecture, culture and writing. A huge portion of the archaeological finds are on display at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, the capital of Mexico City. In ancient times it was the most influential city in the territory of the Pachan Kingdom and was constantly in competition with Palenque. If you are a lover of history and beautiful places, then you must visit this pyramid. Its walls are decorated with hieroglyphs that depict all the important events of the kingdom. The altars, stelae and temples will impress you. Complementing all this is the wilderness with its rich animal and bird life.
Probably the most famous place in Mexico. It is the largest archaeological park on the Yucatan Peninsula. The most famous pyramid on the territory of the complex is called Kukulcan, and in 2007 it was listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The complex covers an area of 2.5 square kilometers, each day it is visited by about 10 thousand tourists. The main mass of people come from the resort town of Cancun.
The height of the pyramid Kukulkan is twenty-four meters. On each side of the top are 365 steps. Tourists unfortunately are not allowed to climb to the top. Besides the main pyramid it is also worth visiting the Red House, the Deer House, the monastery and its annexes, the church, the Akab Dzib, the Temple with three lintels and the House of Pali, a huge ball field.
Mysteries and Legends of the Mayan Pyramids
There are many legends and superstitions surrounding the Mayan pyramids. They are also shrouded in mysterious and mystical events. One such event is the biannual appearance of a “crawling” snake on the steps. Exactly on the day of the autumn and spring equinoxes, people can observe the unusual phenomenon. At 5 p.m., a huge shadow of a snake begins to appear on the stairs; as the sun descends, the snake begins to move down the stairs. This phenomenon can be observed for 3 hours. It was possible to achieve such a play of light only with a tremendous knowledge of astronomy and topography.
The most famous legend that concerns the Mayan pyramids is the legend of the Pyramid of Dwarf. It is located in the ancient city of Ushmal and reaches a height of thirty-five meters. According to the legend, the pyramid appeared overnight and was built by a dwarf. The legend says that not far from the city lived a woman who somehow accidentally found a snake egg and took it for herself. From it eventually emerged a child who could foretell the future. One day the child struck a wooden tunkle and said that when its sound spread to the whole state, then the ruler would lose his power and strength, and he himself would gain the throne.
These rumors reached the king, and he ordered him to bring the dwarf to him. The soothsayer had to pass many difficult tests, and one of them was to build a palace in one night. This task was perfectly accomplished. While passing the second test, the ruler died, and the dwarf took over and began to rule the country.
How to get to the City of the Gods
It’s easy to do. Get to Mexico City, look for the northern bus terminal, Terminal Central de Autobuses del Norte, which is the Autobuses del Norte subway station. Look for the ticket office marked “Autobuses Teothuacan” (turn left at the entrance and walk to the end of the hall). Buy your ticket and you are ready to start your journey, which will last about one hour.
Be sure to visit the cradle of ancient civilization, and get a lot of impressions and a lot of positive emotions.