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Encyclopedia > Mesoamerican architecture
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Mesoamerican architecture is the set of architectural traditions produced by pre-Columbian cultures and civilizations of Mesoamerica, traditions which are best known in the form of public, ceremonial and urban monumental buildings and structures. The distinctive features of Mesoamerican architecture encompass a number of different regional and historical styles, which however are significantly interrelated. These styles developed throughout the different phases of Mesoamerican history as a result of the intensive cultural exhange between the different cultures of the Mesoamerican culture area through thousands of years. Mesoamerican architecture is mostly noted for its pyramids which are the largest such structures outside of Ancient Egypt. Image File history File linksMetadata Download high resolution version (1536x2048, 200 KB) Eger minaret, Hungary Author: Wojsyl File links The following pages link to this file: Eger Metadata This file contains additional information, probably added from the digital camera or scanner used to create or digitize it. ... Critical Regionalism is an approach to architecture that strives to counter the placelessness and lack of meaning in Modern Architecture by using contextual forces to give a sense of place and meaning. ... The architecture of Africa, like other aspects of the culture of Africa, is hugely diverse. ... Architecture in Bosnia and Herzegovina is largely influenced by 4 major periods where political and social changes influenced the creation of distinct cultural and architectural habits of the population. ... The architecture of the United Kingdom has a long and diverse history from beyond Stonehenge to the designs of Norman Foster and the present day. ... Saint Basils Cathedral (1555-61) is a showcase of medieval Russian architecture. ... Chinese architecture refers to a style of architecture that has taken shape in Asia over the centuries. ... The need to rebuild Japan after World War II proved a great stimulus to Japanese architecture, and contemporary Japanese buildings rank with the finest in the world in terms of technology and formal conception. ... Dzong architecture is a distinctive type of fortress architecture found in the former and present Buddhist kingdoms of the Himalayas, most notably Bhutan. ... Angkor Wat The Architecture of Cambodia developed in a series of stages under the Khmer empire from 9th to the 15th century, preserved in many buildings of the Angkor temple. ... Indian architecture is that vast tapestry of production of the Indian Subcontinent that encompasses a multitude of expressions over space and time, transformed by the forces of history considered unique to the sub-continent, sometimes destroying, but most of the time absorbing. ... Islamic architecture, a part of the Islamic studies, is the entire range of architecture that has evolved within Muslim culture in the course of the history of Islam. ... Naghsh-i Jahan Square, Isfahan, is the second largest square in the world and arguably the gem of Persian architectural masterpieces. ... Cliff Palace Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America. ... Bermuda has developed its own unique architecture, which helps it overcome two of its greatest adversities: hurricanes and the islands complete lack of natural fresh water supplies. ... View of Machu Picchu Incan architecture is the most significant pre-Columbian architecture in South America. ... Hawaiian architecture is a distinctive style of architectural arts developed and employed primarily in the Hawaiian Islands of the present-day United States — buildings and various other structures indicative of the people of Hawaii and the environment and culture in which they live. ... The United States has a history of architecture that includes a wide variety of styles. ... Architectural history studies the evolution and history of architecture across the world through a consideration of various influences- artistic, cultural, political, economic and technological. ... The Parthenon on top of the Acropolis, Athens, Greece Architecture (from Latin, architectura and ultimately from Greek, αρχιτεκτων, a master builder, from αρχι- chief, leader and τεκτων, builder, carpenter) is the art and science of designing buildings and structures. ... The term Pre-Columbian is used to refer to the cultures of the New World in the era before significant European influence. ... The cultural areas of Mesoamerica The term Mesoamérica is used to refer to a geographical region that extends roughly from the Tropic of Cancer in central Mexico down through Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua to northwestern Costa Rica, and which is characterized by the particular cultural homogeneity... Mesoamerican chronology The chronology of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica is usually divided into the following eras: Paleo-Indian Period c. ... Most Ancient Mesoamerican civilisations built pyramid-shaped structures. ... Khafres Pyramid (4th dynasty) and Great Sphinx of Giza (c. ...


One interesting and widely researched topic is the relation between cosmovision, religion, geography and architecture in Mesoamerica. Much seems to suggest that many traits of Mesoamerican architecture were governed by religious and mythological ideas. For example the layout of most mesoamerican cities seem to be influenced by the cardinal directions and their mytholgical symbolical meanings in mesoamerican culture.


Another striking part of Mesoamerican architecture is its iconography. The monumental architecture of Mesoamerica was decorated with images of religious and cultural significance, and also in many cases with writing in some of the Mesoamerican writing systems. The iconographic decorations and texts on the Mesoamerican buildings is an important source to the knowledge we have about precolumbian mesoamerican society, history and religion.

 Overview of the central plaza of the Mayan city of Palenque(Chiapas, Mexico), a fine example of Classic period Mesoamerican Architecture
Overview of the central plaza of the Mayan city of Palenque(Chiapas, Mexico), a fine example of Classic period Mesoamerican Architecture

Contents

Image File history File linksMetadata Download high resolution version (2272x1704, 982 KB) This is a view of Palenque, a Maya ruin in Chiapas, Mexico taken from the top of one of the pyramids. ... Image File history File linksMetadata Download high resolution version (2272x1704, 982 KB) This is a view of Palenque, a Maya ruin in Chiapas, Mexico taken from the top of one of the pyramids. ... The Palace, Ruins of Palenque Palenque is a Maya archeological site near the Usumacinta River in the Mexican state of Chiapas, about 130 km south of Ciudad del Carmen (see map). ...


Chronology

The following tables shows the different phases of Mesoamerican Architecture and archeology and correlates them with the cultures, cities, styles and specific building that are notable from each period.

Period Timespan Important cultures, cities, structures and styles
Pre-Classic(Formative) B.C.2000-100 gulf coast cultures, Olmec,
Early Pre-Classic B.C.2000-1000 Olmec centers San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan, La Venta, Chalcatzingo, San José Mogote, La mojarra Stela 1, [[]]
Middle Pre-Classic B.C.1000-300 Late Olmec and Early Maya, Izapa, Tres Zapotes, Usulután ceramics, Nakbé, Lamanai, Xunantunich Naj Tunich
Late Pre-Classic B.C.300-100(or B.C.0) Maya, Teotihuacan and Zapotec formative periods, Teotihuacan,Kaminaljuyú, Edzná, Monte Albán I & II, Pyramid of the Sun
Classic B.C.100(or B.C.0)-900 Classic Maya Centers, Teotihuacan, Zapotecs
Early Classic A.D.300-600 Teotihuacan apogee, Monte Albán III, Tikal, Palenque,Copán, Quiriguá, Classic Veracruz Civilization Talud-Tablero style, Hieroglyphic stairs of Copan, Tomb of Pacal the Great,
Late Classic A.D.600-900 Xochicalco, Cacaxtla,Uxmal, Toniná, Puuc style, Rio Bec style, Cobá, Yaxchilan Lintel 24
Post-Classic A.D.900- Aztec, Tarascan, Mixtec, Totonac
Early Post-Classic A.D.900-1200 Cholula, Tula, Mitla,El Tajín, Tulum
Late Post-Classic A.D.1200- 1519 Aztec,Tenochtitlan, Templo Mayor, Tzintzuntzan, Quiché and Mam maya, Utatlán, Cempoala

Monument 1, an Olmec colossal head at La Venta The Olmec were an ancient Pre-Columbian people living in the tropical lowlands of south-central Mexico, roughly in what are the modern-day states of Veracruz and Tabasco on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. ... The Grandmother, La Venta (reproduction) La Venta is the name of a Pre-Columbian archaeological site of the Olmec civilization. ... // Overview Chalcatzingo was an Olmec culture center in the Valley of Morelos, which is in the southern portion of the Central Highlands of Mexico. ... // Overview Izapa was a very large pre-Columbian site located in Chiapas, Mexico, often placed in the Late Formative period. ... Tres Zapotes is a Mesoamerican archaeological site located in the south-central Gulf Lowlands of Mexico in the Papaloapan river plain. ... Map of Mesoamerica During the Classic Period. ... Lamanai (Submerged Crocodile in the Maya language) was once a considerably sized city of the Maya civilization, located in the north of Belize, in Orange Walk District. ... Xunantunich (shoo-NAHN-too-nich) is a Maya archaeological site in western Belize, about 80 miles (130 km) west of Belize City, in the Cayo District. ... Teotihuacan was the largest Pre-Columbian known city in the Americas, and the name Teotihuacan is used to refer to the civilization this city dominated, which at its greatest extent included most of Mesoamerica. ... Kaminaljuyu is a Pre-Columbian site of the Maya civilization, in highland Guatemala, now within modern Guatemala City. ... Edzná is a ruined city of the Maya civilization in the state of Campeche, Mexico. ... Monte Albán is a large archeological site in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. ... The Pyramid of the Sun is the second largest building constructed in pre-hispanic Mesoamerica. ... Tikal is the largest of the ancient ruined cities of the Maya civilization. ... The Palace, Ruins of Palenque Palenque is a Maya archeological site near the Usumacinta River in the Mexican state of Chiapas, about 130 km south of Ciudad del Carmen (see map). ... Location of Copán The Pre-Columbian city now known as Copán is a locale in extreme western Honduras, in the Copán Department, near to the Guatemalan border. ... Quiriguá is an ancient Maya site in the Izabal department of Guatemala. ... The Totonac people resided in the eastern coastal and mountainous regions of Mexico at the time of the Spanish arrival in 1519. ... Pacal II, also known as Pacal the Great (the most recent work gives his full name as Kinich Janaab Pakal[1] (26 March 603 - 31 August 683), was ruler of the Maya polity of Palenque. ... Xochicalco is a Pre-Columbian archeological site in the western part of the Morelos, Mexico. ... The Gran Basamento, protected by its sheet-metal roof Cacaxtla is an archaeological site located in the state of Tlaxcala, Mexico, at 19°18′ N 98°20′ W. History View over the top of the Gran Basamento Cacaxtla is believed to have been the capital of a nation of Olmec... Panorama of Uxmal Uxmal (, ) is a large Pre-Columbian ruined city of the Maya civilization in the state of Yucatán, Mexico. ... Tonina (Toniná in the Spanish language) is a Pre-Columbian ruined city of the Maya civilization located in what is now the state of Chiapas, Mexico, some 13 km east of the town of Oscosingo. ... Puuc building at Chunhuhub, Campeche, as drawn by Frederick Catherwood, 1841 Puuc is a style of Pre-Columbian architecture of the Maya civilization. ... Coba (Cobá in the Spanish language) is a large ruined city of the Pre-Columbian Maya civilization, located in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. ... The Aztecs were a Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican people of central Mexico in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. ... Tarascan men reeling cord for nets & making nets, 1899. ... Codex Zouche-Nuttall, a pre-Columbian piece of Mixtec writing, now in the British Museum The Mixtec (or Mixteca) are a Native American people centered in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. ... The Totonac people resided in the eastern coastal and mountainous regions of Mexico at the time of the Spanish arrival in 1519. ... The Roman Catholic church of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios overlooks the town of Cholula from atop the Great Pyramid. ... Tula is a town of about 10,000 in Hidalgo State, central Mexico, some 57 miles to the north north-west of Mexico City. ... Mitla is a town in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico, famous for its pre-Columbian Mesoamerican buildings. ... El Tajín is a Pre-Columbian archaeological site near the city of Papantla, in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. ... Tulum against the blue sea Tulum (sometimes rendered as Tuluum) is a Pre-Columbian walled city of the Maya civilization located on the Caribbean Sea coast of the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. ... The Aztecs were a Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican people of central Mexico in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. ... Tenochtitlan, looking east. ... The Great Pyramid or Templo Mayor was the main temple of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan (modern Mexico City). ... Tzintzuntzán is a ruined Pre-Columbian city, capital of the Native American Tarascan or Purépecha nation. ... The Kiche (or Quiché in Spanish spelling), are a Native American people, part of the Maya ethnic group. ... Michèle Alliot-Marie Michèle Alliot-Marie (born 10 September 1946) is the French Minister of Defence and Veterans Affairs. ... Cempoala (or Zempoala was an important MesoAmerican city as the largest city on the Gulf of Mexico and the capital of the kingdom of Totnicapan occupied by the Totonac people. ...

Urban Planning and Cosmovision

Sacred geography: cenotes, caves, mountains, trees


Cosmos and its replication

 The lay out of the city of Teotihuacan, showing that the entire city is laid out following a north/south axis aligned 15 degrees off, and which is marked by the "Street of the dead" The pyramid of the sun is in the center, built on a natural cave. The southern part is residential quarters, and the northern part is the ceremonial center used for among other things for human sacrifice.
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The lay out of the city of Teotihuacan, showing that the entire city is laid out following a north/south axis aligned 15 degrees off, and which is marked by the "Street of the dead" The pyramid of the sun is in the center, built on a natural cave. The southern part is residential quarters, and the northern part is the ceremonial center used for among other things for human sacrifice.

An important part of the Mesoamerican religious system was replicating their beliefs in concrete tangible forms, in effect making the world an embodiment of their beliefs [1]. This meant that the Mesoamerican city was a constructed to be a minicosmos mainfesting the same division that existed in the religious, mythical geography. Important was the division between the underworld and the human world because of the Mesoamerican cyclic principle of birth, death and rebirth. The underworld was represented by the direction north and in the mesoamerican cities structures and buildings related somehow to the underworld, such as tombs, are often found in the city's northern half. The southern part represented life, sustenance and rebirth and often contained structures related to the continuity and daily function of the city state such as monuments depicting the noble lineages and also residential quarters, markets etc. Between the two halves of the north/south axis was the plaza, often containing stelae resemling the world tree, axis mundi and a ball court which served as a crossing point between the two worlds.


Some Mesoamericanists argue that in religious symbolism the Mesoamerican monumental architecture pyramids were mountains, stelae were trees, and wells, ballcourts and cenotes were caves that provided acces to the underworld. [2].


Another important factor in architecture were the celestial bodies and often Mesoamerican pyramids and other monumental structures were aligned in special angles in relation to certain celestial bodies at certain times. Sometimes they were built in order to achieve special lighting effects on the equinoxes or on other days important in the Mesoamerican cosmovision, in order to observe particular alignments of planets or stars. Famous examples of this are the pyramid known as "El Castillo" at Chichen Itza whose stairway catches the light in a special way at the soslstice making the serpent decorations on the sides of the stairs seem to be writhing. Also the "observatory" temple of Xochicalco have a special relation to the equinox when the sun enters through a small hole in the roof of the building. El Castillo in Mexico West side of El Castillo Plumed Serpent Ballcourt, from El Castillo El Castillo (Spanish for The Castle) is the nickname of a spectacular Mesoamerican step-pyramid that dominates the center of the Chichen Itza archaeological site in the Mexican state of Yucatán. ... Temple of the Warriors Chichen Itza is the largest of the Pre-Columbian archaeological sites in Yucat n, Mexico. ... Xochicalco is a Pre-Columbian archeological site in the western part of the Morelos, Mexico. ...


Vincent H Malmstrom has argued [3] that most Mesoamerican cities are aligned not due north but rather slightly skewed (15 degrees west), and that this is because of a general wish to align the pyramids to face the sunset on August 13, which was the beginning date of the Mayan Long Count. The Maya calendar is actually a system of distinct calendars and almanacs used by the Maya civilization of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. ...


The Plaza

The Main Pyramids

The Ballcourt

 I-shaped ballcourt of Monte Alabán.
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I-shaped ballcourt of Monte Alabán.

The Ballgame ritual was a symbolic journey between the the underworld and the world of the living, and many ball courts are found in the mid part of the city functioning as a connection between the northern and southern halves of the city.[4]" There are different style ballcourts the most common of which is the I-shaped ballcourt, but some of these have flatly sloping sidewalls like in Copán and other have vertical walls on the sides like in Chichén Itzà. Many ballcourts had stone rings set into the walls and also many were decorated with symbolic iconography. Image File history File linksMetadata Download high resolution version (1280x960, 1205 KB) Summary Ancient ball court of Monte Albán, in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. ... Image File history File linksMetadata Download high resolution version (1280x960, 1205 KB) Summary Ancient ball court of Monte Albán, in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. ...


Residential Quarters

Styles

 An overview of differing Talud-tablero styles used by different Mesoamerican cultures (adapted from table Porter Weaver (1993) pp 251)
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An overview of differing Talud-tablero styles used by different Mesoamerican cultures (adapted from table Porter Weaver (1993) pp 251)

Pyramids, Stelae, Palaces, temples,


Talud-Tablero

Pyramids in Mesoamerican were platformed pyramids and many used a style called Talud-tablero, which first became common in Teotihuacan. This alludes to the use of a platform structure "tablero" on top of a slope "talud". Many different variants on the Talud-Tablero style arose and developed differently in different cultures in different time periods.

 The talud-tablero style used in many Mesoamerican pyramids and a prominent stylistic feature of Teotihuacano architecture
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The talud-tablero style used in many Mesoamerican pyramids and a prominent stylistic feature of Teotihuacano architecture

Classical Maya styles

Palenque, Tikal, Copan, Tonina, the corbeled arch


"Toltec" Style

Chichén Itzá, Tula Hidalgo, chacmools, atlantean columns, Quetzalcoatl designs


Puuc

Geometric façade designs.

 Puuc-style Geometric design on a wall of the ´great temple of Uxmal
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Puuc-style Geometric design on a wall of the ´great temple of Uxmal

Rio Bec

roof combs,


Technology

aqueducts, causeways, plumbing and sewage


Stone Masonry

Corbelled Arch

 the principle of the "false" or corbelled arch is to build it without a keystone, but just with overlapping tiers of blocks
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the principle of the "false" or corbelled arch is to build it without a keystone, but just with overlapping tiers of blocks
 A fine example of a corbelled arch from the mayan site of Uxmal, Yucatán
Enlarge
A fine example of a corbelled arch from the mayan site of Uxmal, Yucatán

Mesoamerican cultures never invented the keystone, and so were unable to build true arches, but instead all of their architecture made use of the "false" or Corbelled arch. These arches are built without centering and can be built without support, by corbelling regularly the horizontal courses of the wall masonry. This type of arch supports much less weight than a a true arch. In architecture, a keystone is the stone at the top of an arch. ... Isometric view of a typical arch An arch is a curved structure capable of spanning a space while supporting significant weight (e. ...


UNESCO world heritage sites

A number of imporatnyt archeological sites representing Mesoamerican Architecture have been categorized as "world heritage sites" by the UNESCO[5]. UNESCO logo UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is a specialized agency of the United Nations established in 1945. ...

The Pre-Columbian city of Cop n is a locale in extreme western Honduras, in the Cop Department, near to the Guatemalan border. ... Tikal is the largest of the ancient ruined cities of the Maya civilization. ... Quiriguá is an ancient Maya site in the Izabal department of Guatemala. ... The Palace, Ruins of Palenque Palenque is a Maya archeological site near the Usumacinta River in the Mexican state of Chiapas, about 130 km south of Ciudad del Carmen (see map). ... Panorama of Uxmal Uxmal (, ) is a large Pre-Columbian ruined city of the Maya civilization in the state of Yucatán, Mexico. ... Teotihuacan was the largest Pre-Columbian known city in the Americas, and the name Teotihuacan is used to refer to the civilization this city dominated, which at its greatest extent included most of Mesoamerica. ... Monte Albán is a large archeological site in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. ... Temple of the Warriors Chichen Itza is the largest of the Pre-Columbian archaeological sites in Yucat n, Mexico. ... Xochicalco is a Pre-Columbian archeological site in the western part of the Morelos, Mexico. ... El Tajín is a Pre-Columbian archaeological site near the city of Papantla, in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. ... Calakmul is the name of both a municipality and a major archeological site in the Mexican state of Campeche, in the central part of the Yucatán Peninsula. ...

Notes

  1. ^ Mary Miller and Karl Taube, introduction to "The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya" pp. 30.
  2. ^ Mary Miller and Karl Taube write about this in their introduction to "The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya" pp. 31, they attribute this interpretation to Epigrapher David Stuart. American archeologist James E. Brady have done extensive research on importance of Caves in Mesoamerican culture. The title of the famous book "Forest of Kings" by Mayanist Linda Schele also allude to the maya belief that stelae represent trees, especially the world tree, axis mundi of the mayan cosmos.
  3. ^ In Chapter 22 of Archaeoastronomy in the Americas, edited by Ray A. Williamson, Ballena Press/Center for Archaeoastronomy, 1981, pp.249-261, which can also be found at his website. See also John Q Jacobs article for more information on the alignments of Mesoamerican Cities
  4. ^ Muriel Porter Weaver describes this on page 226-228 of the third edition of "The Aztecs, Maya and their Predecessors.
  5. ^ The entire list of UNESCO world Heritage Sites can be found at their website

References

  • Weaver, Muriel Porter (1993). The Aztecs, Maya, and Their Predecessors: Archaeology of Mesoamerica, 3rd ed., San Diego: Academic Press. ISBN 0012639990.

 
 

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