Long before the first Spanish ships were seen along the horizon of the Atlantic Ocean, several ancient civilizations ruled over parts Mexico. There are many amazing relics left in Mexico that show the splendor of these cultures. The most notable of these are the many pyramids that represented tributes to their planetary and animal gods. These monoliths have been featured in the cinema and visited by famous movie icons like Indiana Jones, and their beauty and advanced building techniques are still marveled at today. Here is a look at some of the most famous of these pyramids in Mexico, and what they were believed to represent in ancient culture:
Founded by the Classic Veracruz culture, El Tajín was an important gulf coast city around 600 – 900 AD. El Tajin’s most famous building is the Pyramid of the Niches. The pyramid rises 20 meters (66 feet) on seven layers, with a wide staircase at its eastern side. What is unusual about this construction is the addition of decorative niches. Originally the structure was painted a dark red with the niches in black intended to deepen the shadows of the recessed niches.
Deep in the jungles of the Yucatan sat the kingdom of the snake, or Calakmul. This Mayan city was believed to be one of the major reigning cities, and at constant war with neighboring Tikal. The great pyramid is one of the largest in the region, and four tombs have been discovered inside, most likely of royalty. The jungle is a great feature for this site, as it is in the middle of the Calakmul bioreserve- tropical birds and howler monkeys are abundant in this remote and exciting location.
This tallest pyramid in the Yucatan is part of one of the most important Mayan sites in the area. The Coba ruins are larger than most, and sixteen different white ceremonial roads stretch from Nohoch Mul to different nearby settlements that were believed to support a population of 50,000. The name Nohoch Mul means large hill, and the 120 steps to the top make for an incredible view of the area, including the twin lagoons for which the name Coba (wind over waters) was most likely derived.
The name Uxmal translates to “thrice built” and reflects the multitude of architectural styles in this area. This settlement was abandoned in the tenth century when the Toltec influence began, and sat vacant until the Spanish arrived. The Pyramid of the Magician is one of the few buildings that has a name that would reflect its Mayan use. It is one of the buildings that shows the astronomical knowledge of this culture, as it is aligned with reference to the planet Venus, and its stairwell is in perfect alignment with the rays of the setting sun on the summer solstice.
Teotihuacan, the city of the Gods, was founded around the time of Christ as one of the first major metropolitan areas in Mesoamerica. The name comes from the Aztecs, who visited the city of Teotihuacán centuries after it was abandoned. The Pyramid of the moon is the second largest pyramid in this city, and was dedicated to The Great Goddess. It was built between 200-450AD, and is several pyramids layered on top of one another, with a new burial chamber in each. It is designed to follow the contours of the nearby mountain, Cerro Gordo.
This larger pyramid is also in the city of the gods, and predates all of the Mayan structures by several centuries. Like its sister pyramid, it mimics the shape of the local mountains and contains several tombs that were created during different building layers. This is the tallest of all the pyramids here, and is believed to be the site of many magical ceremonies. Archaeologists found a cloverleaf-shaped set of chambers deep inside the pyramid that were believed to be home to many fire and water rituals.
This large step-pyramid in the large and famous site of Chichen Itza was dedicated to the Mayan God depicted as a feathered serpent. So precise was the architecture of this building that the setting sun on the spring and fall equinoxes will turn the shadows of the steps into an illusion of a serpent slithering down the banister. Adding all of the steps on four sides to the upper platform step will also equal 365- symbolic of the days in one year.