Mayan Architecture Reflected The Relationship That Culture Had With The Universe
Mayan architecture encodes the worldview of their culture on the walls of their palaces. Here we explain it to you.
The Mayan culture is known around the world for its architecture. The great pyramids and complex constructions have a particular style. Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Tikal are some of the most visited cities of this c̳i̳v̳i̳l̳i̳z̳a̳t̳i̳o̳n̳ that settled in southern Mesoamerica.
The Mayan culture has been studied from different angles throughout the last century. Architecture, archaeoastronomy, anthropology and history have been indispensable disciplines in order to learn more and more about the people responsible for some of the most important archaeological sites in the world.
Among them, architecture has managed to identify and decipher some of the most important elements present in Mayan constructions.
Chaac is a Mayan deity who was associated with rain, thunder, lightning and water in general. She was invoked to obtain good harvests and fertility in the fields. He is depicted as “an old, baby-faced dwarf,” whose hooked nose stands out on buildings. This deity has also been found in forms outside of some construction, such as pots and braziers.
The Chaac masks present in many Mayan temples are the most characteristic decorative element of Puuc architecture. However, we can also find it in pre-Hispanic buildings outside the Mayan area.
The false arch or \’Mayan arch\’ is very representative of the Mayan culture with the Puuc style. It was used to mark important accesses in the enclosures. This architectural element was of great interest to the first explorers in the area. The English explorer Frederick Catherwood reproduced the Labná arch in one of the lithographs to illustrate the book I̳n̳c̳i̳d̳e̳n̳t̳s of Travel in Yucatan, one of the first testimonies of exploration in the peninsula.
The so-called \’Mayan vault\’, is built from the arrangement of prefabricated pieces that are placed one on top of the other, sliding slightly towards the inside of the building as its height is prolonged. The \’top slab\’ closes the vault and marks the \’sky\’ of the interior space.
The Mayan culture through its architecture is also characterized by having round and oval constructions. In most cases, the round towers were built as observatories or sanctuaries. One of the best known is the site of El Caracol, located in Chichen Itza. Its belonging to the Puuc style is indisputable, as Chaac masks adorn the façade of the enclosure.
On the other hand, the oval structures were used as temples. Such is the case of the Pyramid of the Magician in the archaeological site of Uxmal, whose oval shape resembles the shape of a large part of the houses built in the area. Wooden sticks covered with mud (a mixture of red earth, grass and water) and roofed with palm leaves are the elements that make them up.
The particular shape of the xa\’anil naj (Mayan name for this house) is due to the fact that it allows hurricane winds to surround the house without having a shock, convenient for an area where these natural phenomena are very frequent.
some other items
An element that is present in a large part of Mesoamerican constructions, not excepting the Mayans, are the stepped frets. This pattern is carved on the facades, ceramic pieces and is even present in the textile art of some communities.
The meaning of this figure is still under discussion, because while some specialists bet that it is a mythological representation. Others say that it is rather a pictorial imitation of its natural environment, taking snakes and hurricanes as a model by the Mayan culture.
The latticework is a characteristic present not only in Puuc architecture, but extended throughout Mesoamerica. This plastic technique of the Mayan culture consists of intertwining straight bands of stone that form a relief stone mosaic. It became so popular that he inspired the artist Manuel Felguérez to design the latticework that decorates the windows of the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.