Mayan Architecture

Mayan architecture was undoubtedly one of the finest aspects of Mayan civilisation. Over the course of thousands of years, the Mayans developed unique aspects of their architecture which were then emulated and followed by the later civilisations such as the Aztecs.

The most famous example of the Mayan architecture is the Stepped Pyramid early forms which began to be constructed during the late pre-classic period.

Mayan Buildings

Mayan Buildings

The Mayans constructed important and impressive buildings in their empire such as Pyramids, Temples, Ball Courts and Platforms Read more about the Mayan Buildings >>

Mayan Housing

Mayan Homes

Mayan cities were built with well-organized housing. The houses of the commoners and the nobility were built in different parts of a city Read more about the Mayan Housing >>

Mayan Pyramids

Ancient Mayan Pyramids

Mayans constructed some of the largest pyramids in the Mesoamerican region, Grand pyramids had temples at top for ritual purposes Read more about the Mayan Pyramids >>

Mayan Temples

Mayan Temples

Mayan temples are remarkable buildings in Mesoamerican history and a huge number of Mayan temples are still standing Read more about the Mayan Temples >>


Mayan Architecture History

The history of Mayan period can be traced back to the pre-classic period which extended from 2000BC to 250AD. During the late pre-classic era, they had already started constructing the stepped pyramids which had temples at the top. But it was during the classic period, which extended from 250AD to 900AD, that the main advancements were made in the domain of Mayan architecture and large buildings and artifacts were built.

Mayan Architecture Building Types

There were a variety of building types found in Mayan architecture, and the famous ones are of course the pyramids and the temples. At the initial stages, these pyramids were often used as burial grounds but this purpose decreased with the passage of time. Mayanists have given names to different building types in Mayan architecture. For instance, one name is E-Group which is used for certain structure complexes consisting of a stepped pyramid located on the western side of a quadrilateral plaza or platform running north-south. Similarly, there are various other types and classifications.

Architectural Style

With small variations, the overall style of Mayan architecture was quite uniform and a lot of common elements were incorporated in different works of architecture. For instance, a common style was construction of limestone platforms generally less than 4 meters in height which served during the religious ceremonies and festivals. Use of carving in these platforms and elsewhere was another common style of Mayan architecture.

Mayan Building Materials

The most important material used for grand Mayan architecture was stone which was taken from the local quarries. Limestone was abundantly used which was crushed, burned, and mixed to give it a more solid finish. It was in particular used for stucco finishing. For the construction of common homes, materials used included wood, adobe, mud, and thatch.

Building Process

During the building process of Mayan architecture, it was a common practice to build the stone buildings on top of a platform sub-structure. The length of this platform sub-structure varied depending on the building. For large and important buildings, it could be as high as 45 meters while in case of smaller structures it could be less than a meter. Use of corbelled arch was common to make the buildings mimic a Maya hut. Extensive relief work such as stucco covering was used to decorate the completed structure.

Pyramids & Temples

Mayan pyramids and temples are the most noteworthy examples of Mayan architecture. It was a common practice to construct temples on top of pyramids. For instance, one of the most important Mayan temples was the temple at El Mirador which was constructed at the top of a 200-feet high pyramid. Doorways and various other features in many temples are aligned to celestial objects since astronomy had religious significance for the Mayans. Pyramids were often also used as burial grounds, particularly at the initial stages.

Layout and Planning

Mayans did not pay keen attention to city planning and a lot of cities seem to have been built without any real planning. However, with the passage of time, some order began to be incorporated in architecture and buildings. For large-scale construction, a pre-determined axis was commonly established in relation to the cardinal directions. A common feature of the layout of Mayan architecture is the great plazas connected with numerous platforms providing a sort of sub-structure for almost all large Mayan buildings. Construction of temples and observatories in accordance with the orbits of the stars was another aspect of the layout.

Mayan Architecture of the Classic Era

While construction of pyramids and other works of Mayan architecture had began in the terminal pre-classic period, most of the remarkable achievements in the Mayan architecture were undertaken during the classic period which extended from 250AD to 900AD. During this period, the Mayans started constructing raised dated monuments using the Long Count calendar. The period is also known for recording of monumental inscriptions and large-scale construction.

Mayan Calendar Influence

The Mayan calendar was closely related to Mayan architecture since during the classic period of the Mayan civilisation it became a common practice to date the raised monuments using the Long Count calendar. Some scholars have also suggested that in accordance with the Long Count calendar, temples and pyramids were re-built and remodelled after every 52 years. Carving of the Mayan calendar on some large works of architecture was also not uncommon.

Famous Mayan Architecture

A lot of famous examples of Mayan architecture have survived to our own times. The most famous examples are of course the grand stepped pyramids. The highest pyramid and one of the finest examples of Mayan architecture is the pyramid-temple at El Mirador which is 200 meters high. Another interesting example is the famous Great Ballcourt at Chichen Itza.

Ceremonial Platforms

Mayans built a lot of ceremonial platforms which were typically less than 4 meters in height. These platforms were usually built near the temples and were reserved for religious ceremonies and performance of rites. These ceremonial platforms were often decorated with carved figures and sometimes also consisted of stakes used to display the heads of defeated victims.

Palaces E Groups

E-Group in Mayan architecture is a special kind of classification used for certain Mayan structure complexes. These complexes consist of a stepped pyramid as the main structure located on the western side of a quadrilateral plaza or platform. Another raised structure is located on the eastern side of the plaza along north-south axis. These and certain other unique features define the E-Group architecture.

Mayan Architecture Summary

Mayan architecture was one of the foremost and impressive features of Mayan civilisations. The construction of pyramid-temples and other forms of Mayan architecture began during the terminal pre-classic period but it was during the classic period that actual advancements were made in Mayan architecture. They built grand temples, plazas, ballcourts, ceremonial platforms, and other impressive kinds of buildings during this period.