The Maya considered houses and temples the center of the world, one for family and the other for the gods. Houses were in clusters of two to six units centered around a patio. Xanil nah, or “thatched house”, were built on slightly raised platforms. Mayans gathered materials from the nearby forests. They used termite-resistant wood for the frame and roof, palm leaves for the thatch, and strips of bark to tie everything together. Royal homes were similar in design, but used stone and a scale much larger in size, and were also supported on higher platforms.
The arrangement of the city was based on their view of the world. Building positions were perfectly aligned with symbolic meaning. The sacred centers contained pyramid-like structures with temples on top and sculpted monuments to document the history of the ruling king and ancestors.
Similar to the Egyptians, the Maya used a pyramid shape, only truncated, to construct their great temples. Most times, these buildings were only for show and represented sacred beliefs about the world below and the gods above. However, archaeologists have discovered cases in which these monumental pyramids served as tombs for great leaders.
Depending on the region, the Mayan architecture acquired different styles due to the great interactive Mayan trade and the cultural interchange among the neighboring States of Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Campeche as well as with the neighboring countries.
The main styles that you will find in the Yucatan Peninsula area:
- Maya Toltec Style – with large human figures, huge heads of plumed serpents, jaguars, eagles and skulls carved in stone (Chichen Itza)
- Puuc Style – characterized by exuberantly decorated facades with high reliefs and carvings in stone of images of the Mayan god Chaac (Uxmal, Kabah and Labna)
- Peten Style – featuring extraordinarily high structures with steep walls and staircases, and false facades (Tikal, Coba, Muyil)
- Rio Bek Style – long rectangular foundation with two massive round towers atop the main structures (Costa Maya)
- Chenes Style – with heavily decorated facades in high reliefs with masks of the Mayan god Chaac, mythological creatures and god Itzamna with open fauces as entrance door of important Mayan pyramids (Uxmal, Chichen Itza)
Mayan architecture is truly a manifestation of the amazing knowledge of the ancient Mayans, as well as of the spirituality embodied in every part of the structures, which they achieved over 2000 years ago.