Tikal, a Mayan superpower

(continuer en français) – Last updated: December 20, 2022

Tikal, the ancient Mayan city, stands isolated in its forest in the north of Guatemala, on the fringe of the turbulence that may have shaken the country. In recent years there has been spectacular progress in the pacification of the society, bringing a significant increase in visitors.

I visited Tikal from San Ignacio in Belize. The distance by road is not much more than 60 miles, 100 kilometres, on a good grade road. The border crossing, four more stamps at the end of the day, slows down the process a bit in both directions but is still bearable. It is customary to change vehicles and drivers at the border.

Tikal has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.

Tikal was inhabited from 900 BC to 900 AD and then for a thousand years Tikal was overgrown by jungle. It could only be reached by dirt roads that took several days to cross. It was not until the middle of the 20th century that access was made easier and the ruins were gradually cleared. In a corner of the site, the carcasses of the vehicles used by the first archaeological missions remain.

For several centuries, Tikal in the south and Teotihuacan in the north were the regional superpowers of the Maya world, multiplying alliances, conquests and sometimes defeats with rival cities.

At the heart of the city is the Great Plaza surrounded by temples and palaces. The Northern Acropolis presents a superposition of structures incorporating successively the older buildings.

Facing the northern Acropolis was the royal palace. It consisted of a complex of small, narrow rooms. The Maya had not invented the keystone, so they used either wooden beams for the openings or the corbelled vault technique for the ceilings. This did not allow for large interior spaces and made the buildings heavy.

The most famous monument in Tikal is the Gran Jaguar temple or Temple I. Its access is forbidden to the public, considering the angle of the stairs, it is surely for the better.

Opposite the Gran Jaguar temple, the Temple II is more modest, but it is possible to climb it to enjoy a nice view of the Great Plaza. Part of the decoration that once adorned the temple crest has been preserved.

Numerous other monuments from different periods are scattered over a vast area. In particular, there are several twin pyramid complexes. They are preceded by steles and altars, generally sources of information by their dedications linked to dated events.

One section has been dubbed “The Lost World” by archaeologists. This section contains monuments dating back to the earliest period, long before our era, such as the Great Pyramid estimated to be from 710 BC.

Temple IV dating from 741 AD is the highest structure in Tikal. From its terraces the equatorial forest can be seen from which emerge the crests of the other pyramid temples.

A total of 200 structures have been identified at Tikal, illustrating the regional predominance over a long period. Not all the structures are rehabilitated and many smaller remains are little visited

There is for example this building called the Bat Palace, for lack of a better name.

At the rear of the Gran Jaguar temple, a small temple shows rectangular decorative patterns typical of Teotihuacan, the great Mayan city north of Mexico City more than 800 miles, 1300 kilometres, away with which close relations were maintained. It has even been established that at one time an expeditionary force from the north conquered Tikal, founding a new dynasty.

Tikal will be the only part of Guatemala covered for the moment, until a new round of travels in the Americas, then this attractive country will certainly be a favourite destination. I dream in particular of Antigua, the ancient capital with its sleeping beauty.

To be informed of upcoming articles, register here (it’s free).


    • The knowledge of the Maya for architecture or astronomical sciences is astonishing, considering the technical means available. I am wary of the distorting prism of historical traces, steles are erected for military victories but not for ordinary days.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. What a fabulous trip. I’ve never been to any of the more unusual Latin countries like Guatamala, Bolivia, Ecuador or Nicaragua, and now it’s too late – mobility problems can be a big problem in countries with dodgy infrastructure and health facilities! I shall enjoy your future posts though, this one was a nice taster.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I believe that few, if any, people have been everywhere. Even for frequent travellers, there is a part of the world that is only known through the media. This does not take away from the personal curiosity and experience of travelling.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You are right, of course. I fell in love with S.E. Asia many, many years ago and I spent a lot of my holidays there, exploring the islands and getting to know the people. It was a magical time and I’m still in touch with the friends I met there and it’s where I shall head for when the big lock-down is over.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Looks a fabulous place for a visit, we always love wandering ancient sites and just imagining the infrastructure of civilisation back then. Places like this bring those thoughts to life. And anywhere calling itself “Lost World” is always going to grab our attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What you say is very true, even if archaeologists have rearranged the site a bit, for the most part it goes back more than a thousand years. The question is what would be left of our cities after a thousand years of abandonment.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s