The Maya civilization was one of the great Pre-Colombian civilizations, extending throughout the northern Central American region, including the present-day nations of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, southern Mexico and western Honduras.
During the Classic period (250–900 AD) most Mayan city states reached their peak of urbanism and large-scale construction.
The most notable monuments from this period are the ancient Mayan temples that were built in almost every important Maya city.
For reasons that are still unknown, most of the Maya centers went into decline during later centuries and were eventually abandoned leaving only the Mayan ruins.
There are several possible reasons for their downfall including soil exhaustion, water loss and erosion. Other possibilities include catastrophes such as earthquakes, diseases and invasions by other surrounding people and cultures.
1. Chichen Itza
El Castillo is the nickname of one of the most spectacular Mayan temples that dominates the archaeological site of Chichen Itza. The design of the temple has special astronomical significance.
Each face of the pyramid has a stairway with 91 steps, which together with the shared step at the top, add up to 365, the number of days in a year. Climbing El Castillo is no longer allowed after a woman fell to her death in 2006.
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Uxmal, meaning “built three times” in the Mayan language, is one of the best preserved Mayan sites in Mexico.
The most recognizable and tallest structure at 115 feet is the Pyramid of the Magician. The layers of the temple pyramid are oval unlike the rectangular or square layers of other Mayan pyramids.
The pyramid appears to have been built in five phases, starting from the sixth century continuing periodically through the 10th century.
Situated in the lowland rainforest of northern Guatemala, Tikal is perhaps the most breathtaking of all the Mayan sites. Restored buildings are scattered around the area while many more ruined buildings are still hidden by the jungle.
Between ca. 200 to 900 AD, Tikal was the largest Mayan city with an estimated population between 100,000 and 200,000 inhabitants. Tikal contains 6 very large temple pyramids.
The largest, Temple-pyramid IV, is some 72 meters (230 feet) high and was finished around 720 AD.
Climbing to the top of one of these ancient Mayan temples offers a great experience with beautiful panoramic views from above the tree tops.
Calakmul is a Mayan site hidden inside the jungles of the Mexican state of Campeche. It is one of the largest Mayan cities ever uncovered with over 6,500 ancient structures identified.
Calakmul’s 55 meter (180 foot) high pyramid is by far the largest structure at the site.
Like many other ancient Mayan temples the size of the pyramid at Calakmul was increased by building upon an older existing temple to reach its current size.
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Palenque is an archaeological site that was located on the western edge of the Maya empire in the present-day state of Chiapas, Mexico.
Palenque is much smaller than some of it Mayan neighbor cities, but it contains some of the finest architecture and sculptures the Maya ever produced.
Most structures in Palenque date from about 600 AD to 800 AD including the Temple of Inscriptions, the only Mesoamerican pyramid built as a funerary monument.