The Maya are known for many things, such
mathematics, food, and, especially, their architecture. Some of the Maya's architecture ranges from small huts, to large houses, to beautiful, elaborate temples. In this section of Architecture Through the Ages, you will learn about Maya architecture and all of its splendor.
The basic Maya structure was the hay huts which housed most of the Mayan population. The walls were made of mud or stone and were covered with wooden poles. These poles were no taller that 2. 20 meters. On the top of these sticks, the structure rests and it has another 3.5 to 4.5 meters of height on top. These sticks hold together the strongly tilted, two sided hay form.
As for the stone huts, they were of course, made of stone, lime stone to be exact. The reason for the use of lime were that they were very abundant and the shape of the very easy form. The many deposits of these stones helped build these higher class homes. There was, however, similarities between them and the hay huts. Of course, the main difference was the material used to make the two buildings. But, the similarities would suggest that the roofs' slope gave place in the beginning to the idea that the sticking-out stones dome roof.
Almost every Maya structure varies in height according to the substance that was used on the building on the top. They range from the low terraces that ranged from 50 cms to 2 meters high. Sometimes, there were no terraces so they were palaces and inhabitable buildings, elevated up to 45 meters in the case of a temple. An example is the Temple IV of Tikal.
The steps, they were usually wide and steep. They were built on either one or more sides. Sometimes, the steps were placed on the back side of the top of the building so ample space was left between the front and the sets of steps that gave access to them.
Usually, most Maya facades were pointed horizontally divided in two main fringes. The medium mold that runs without interruption around the building was more or less from the middle and up on the wall.
As for the superficial plans, they depended according to the use of the building. Temples generally have only two chambers, one behind the other. One could enter by a door which opened on the far wall. The interior chambers was sanctuary and the exterior rooms was used for less reserved ceremonies. In a palace, the type of construction was almost always two long files of chambers, one behind the other.
These few observations are specially applied to the northern region palaces. However, in Piedras Negras located in the central region, doors on the middle and transversal walls are not rare. The windows do not exist but, sometimes, they are at the upper middle of the facade by very small rectangular openings.
Mayas may have cut and polished the stone blocks individually for their buildings. The exterior as well as the interior walls were originally covered with a substance called lime stucco. This substance, stucco, is defined as a durable finish for exterior walls composed of sand, cement and lime, and applied when wet. Stucco covered all of the joinings. This was very obvious in the Yucatan buildings that made no effort to recarve the joinings.
If you look on the outside of a Mayan temple, it may seem that there is not much decoration to be found. As a rule, the facades used were vertical molds on the middle and upper section. The last ones were made by lines of rock on these walls and received a mortar layer finish.
Some buildings that were built in the Classic Era in the central region have sloped facades above the middle mold level. The upper part of the facade later on are between the middle and the upper molds, and decorations were placed on them with stucco, or, a type of shapable plaster. This decoration idea on the facade reached its most notable point during the Classic Era. This decoration era occurred around 340 A. D. The buildings were beautifully decorated with a complicated drawing in lime stucco that was held by ordinary stone that popped out of the facade.
Like the Chinese, the Mayas occasionally decorated their buildings with carvings made out of carved stone. Used in the exterior of the building, they were placed on broad murals, ramps along the stairs, and\or in the front of the grades. These sculptures are engraved sometimes with hieroglyphic inscriptions. An examples of sculptures on a broad mural includes Piedra Negras. For sculptures along the stairs, they can be found on Palenque, Copan, and Quirigua. And as for the hieroglyphic inscriptions, those can be found in Copan, Quirigua, Palenque, Yaxchilan, Naranjo, Seibal, Etzan, and La Amelia.. Drawings include an occasional, human, animal, bird, or serpent on the upper half of the facades.
Even though there is not much information on this subject, I thought that this was a participially interesting section, and so did my colleagues. There are two types of roofs which are commonly found with Mayas. First, the sticking-out stone, dome roof, and second, the concrete covered beam roofs of lime. There is not much information on the first type, but a little more on the second. This type of roofing is flat and made of beams and lime concrete. I has been found in Piedras Negras, Uaxactun and Tzimin Kax in the Classic Era. Some can also be found in the Post-classic Era in Chichen Itza and in some recent places along the oriental Yucatan shoreline. Main examples include Tulum and in Chac Mool.
This type of concrete roof was built on the top of crossed beams. They filled up empty space with sticks, and as for the beams of lime concrete roof, it was 30 or more centimeters thich. Once the lime concrete roofing had dried firmly, the beams were taken out from underneath. Today, this method is still being used by the Yucatan.
However, it is not to be said that this type of roof is not fool proof. Once the roofs starts to crumble, it is hard to tell if it is safe to stay in that home or not. That makes evacuation difficult and dangerous.
One of the best know architectural sites for the Mayas is, of course, their huge and breathtaking temples. The Mayas built their temples on immense pyramids with steeped bases, and each side of the pyramid had a set of steps that lead up to the temple. The temples were built out of beautifully carve stones and its only floor was adorned on the exterior with elaborate and wonderful stucco decorations. As for the interior, it was decorated with mural paintings.
Of course, these temples were built for religious purposes. For example, the Sun Temple was built to worship the sun god. Inside of these temples, they Mayas preformed all type of ceremonies within two small, stepped, dark rooms inside of this temple. The back wall of the inner room has a carved face of this god. The architects have also decided to have a sky roof to truly worship[ their god. This shows how creative and spiritual they were.
Of course, there are many more examples of these temples all around the Mayan areas. For examples, there is an enormous one in Uxmal. It has a long flight of stairs which goes up one side and leads to a smaller temple on the top. In addition to normal temples, the Maya's also had a temple and an observatory in one. For examples, in the city of Chichen Itza, the Mayas studied the movements of the earth, stars, and the planet Venus. This is yet another ingenious thing that the Mayas have thought of.
Chrisp, Peter, Looking Into the Past: The Maya, New York, Thomson Learning, 1994
Maker Unkown, [Online] Available, http://udgftp.cencar.udg.mx/ingles/CUAAD-INGLES.html, June 20, 1997