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Ancient Mayan Temples in Mexico

The Mayan civilization is most noted for its art, architecture and having the first mathematical and written language of the pre-Columbian era. Their astronomical system was also comprehensive and played a vital role in the Mayan religion. Their belief was that the cosmos had three major planes: Earth, the Underworld below and the Heavens above. The Underworld was reached through caves and tunnels, whereas while the night sky was thought to be an intersection of all worlds.

The most important Mayan temples were constructed on the top of pyramids. Here is where their belief of Earth, the Underworld and the Heavens came together in one place of worship. Having a temple at the summit of a pyramid, brought them closer to the Heavens. Underneath the pyramid were chambers, tunnels and tombs all in an effort to worship the Underworld. With the base of the pyramid sitting on the ground (Earth), all aspects of reverence were encompassed. Since limestone was in abundance, most structures were constructed with it. It was pliable enough to carve into and could be ground up for use as an early form of cement.

Coba is an ancient Mayan city in the state of Quintana Roo and contains many large temple pyramids. The tallest is amongst a group called the Nohoch Mul, thought to be built between 500 and 900 AD. It is 138 feet tall but has deteriorated a lot over the centuries. Archaeologists have begun to excavate the temple pyramid from the jungle but it is not yet complete.

Tulum is a walled city, also in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. There are three major temples in Tulum: El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes and the Temple of the Descending God. They are all adorned with intricate figurines of various Mayan gods. A few murals can still be seen in the temples, such as those in the Temple of the Frescoes.

Calakmul is thought to have been the largest and most powerful of the Mayan cities. It is located in the Mexican state of Campeche, close to the Guatemalan border. There are many temples in Calakmul, some in what is thought to be rural areas of the city, others built for use by the royal families only. Structure II is considered to be the largest temple in the Mayan world. The base measures 390 square feet and stands 148 feet high. The Mayans liked to build one temple on top of another, in a gradual effort to become closer to the Heavens. Thus the core of the building contains a pyramid, with its highest point still peeking out the existing summit. Stelae are basically Mayan gravestones. Made from limestone, they depict images and markings representing noted rulers and their families. In Calakmul, there are 117 stelae; more than anywhere else in the world.

Palenque was a Mayan city set in what is now the state of Chiapas. There are many temples in Palenque, most of which had to be rebuilt as a result of the bitter conflict with the people of Calakmul. The Temple of the Inscriptions was built as a funeral monument for on the celebrated Mayan rulers. The Temples of the Cross Group is a collection of temples built on the top of step pyramids and included the Temple of the Cross, the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Foliated Cross.

Uxmal is located in the Yucatan state, and is considered one of the best preserved Mayan sites. Uxmal means ‘built three times’ in the Mayan language- which, like the fate of the Palenque temples, may be a reference to the shared conflict with the Calakmul people. The Pyramid of the Magician stands 115 feet tall and appears to have been built in many phases.

Finally, Chichen Itza is located in the Yucatan state and is home to the most spectacular Mayan temple yet discovered: the Temple of Kukulkan or El Castillo. It is said that the temple has special astronomical significance because on the Spring and Autumn equinox the corner of the structure casts a shadow in the shape of a serpent called Kukulcan. When the sun rises and sets on these two days, the shadow slithers down the side of the pyramid eventually fading away at the base of the pyramid.

These are but a few of the Mayan temples in Mexico and undoubtedly, there are many more waiting to be excavated by archaeologists. Why not go on an adventure in Mexico and discover the Mayan culture for yourself?

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