Maya Culture and Architecture

Maya Culture and Architecture - Theresa, Darren, Shivangi & Adarsh

Mayan Mural Painting - Photo by mofles/iStock / Getty Images

Mayan Mural Painting - Photo by mofles/iStock / Getty Images


    Lets first get this out of the way;  “Maya” as noun and adjective describes the people and their culture, “Mayan” is the language – citation: Manolo Romero – Editor.

     The Maya is one of the earliest Mesoamerica's indigenous civilization. They are located in what is now known as Mexico but concentrated in Guatemala. The existence of Maya civilization is believed to have started during 1800 B.C which is known as the preclassic period (, 2009). Maya is one of the most knowledgeable societies because they specialize in areas other societies did not. This includes pottery, hieroglyph writing, architecture, maths and calendar making (, 2009). They were also the only ancient American civilization who recorded their own history on many forms, such as on pottery, papers, skins, grand events and lithic monuments (, 2016). Moreover, the system adopted by the Mayans was also uncommon as they were an array of smaller cities instead of a unified kingdom and ruler (Minister C., 2016).

Maya Culture

    Maya Civilization flourished during the Classic Period, most of the cultural advances by the Maya are created during this time. The Maya minds are deeply integrated of a cyclical nature of life and death, meaning that nothing was ever truly alive or dead, and a death will only be reborn, similar to the Hindu’s belief of a cycle, and this belief inspired the Maya people in the gods and cosmos. As stated in the previous paragraph, their cosmological view, will encourage their imaginative approach in architecture (which we will be discussing about their buildings in the next paragraph), mathematics and astronomy (Mark, 2012). Their belief states that beneath the earth was a sort of underworld that is known as Xibalba, literally translated as a place of fear (Cartwright, 2014). And from that place, a Tree of Life which passes the earth and reached the heavens above, passing thirteen levels until the final destination is reached, a paradise they refer to as Tamoanchan, meaning place of the misty sky, and one would think that this part of their belief is similar to Christianity's idea of heaven, the thirteen levels being challenges for a human to pass if they were to reach the heavens above, and if they fail, they will be dragged into the depths of Xibalba. However, their way differs in that one did not die to arrive at a heaven or hell, but instead embarks on a journey towards Tamoanchan (Mark, 2012), starting from the depths of Xibalba and working their way up towards the heavens; to sum this part, unlike Christian beliefs, that a soul was born like a clean slate of paper, and follows a forked path either to be good or evil, instead, Maya belief shows they believe of having only one path, which is up, and how fast one clears the levels while the Xibalbans play tricks and tempts them to lead the soul astray.     

The Egyptians are Not the only Civilization with Pyramids - Photo by GuidoVrola/iStock / Getty Images

The Egyptians are Not the only Civilization with Pyramids - Photo by GuidoVrola/iStock / Getty Images


Maya Architecture

     Architecture played a huge role in the lives of the mayans. It was a way for them to be connected with astrology and also their religious beliefs (Moore C.,2001). This can be seen through the urban planning of monuments and temples in the cities. These buildings had radial pattern and is often subject to topography which determined where larger buildings would be constructed and also sited to align with sight lines such as solar or celestial events and natural panoramas (Cartwright M., 2015). The Mayans also had pyramids which functions as temples for their religious focal points and tombs for the rulers along with their partner, victims and precious belongings. Furthermore, pyramids hold a symbolic meaning to the Mayans as it conveys the 'mountain' effect (mountains as a sacred landscape).

A Mayan Vase for Courtly Rituals

A Mayan Vase for Courtly Rituals


Significance - The “Doomsday” Calendar

    To get a clue on how the Maya culture and belief signifies till this day, enter the Mayan calendar, without a doubt one of the most significant piece of artifact left by the Maya civilization, imagine the fear of modern humans just because the world was about to end in 2012. To set records straight, the calendar was not a purely Maya invention (The Mayan Calendar, n.d.). Doomsday did not happen of course, and people’s immediate reaction was that the calendar was redundant, that it was not significant anymore, but new studies shown that the meaning of that day was not the end of the world, in fact, 21st December 2012 was actually just the end of a great cycle in the Mayan calendar, but life, as we know, is predicted to continue. This misconception is the culprit that sparked the belief among some that the last of our days are upon us (Zuckerman, 2012).

The "Doomsday" Mayan Calendar 

The "Doomsday" Mayan Calendar 



    To conclude, our group were immediately attracted by the Maya culture and how it connects to their buildings and architecture, we felt that we could show a connection between their beliefs that focuses on rebirth and emphasis on the cosmos, that same belief made the distinguishable artifacts and sites that we can still see today, along with numerous poetry and writings; the Maya were the prime civilization during their period, where cities, instead of kingdoms are the main geography of the Maya civilization. we also mentioned about the calendar, the feared and mystic Mayan calendar that states 2012 was the last year on earth. To end this blog, reiterating our point, the Maya civilization is truly the most sophisticated people of their time, and their work is still mostly a mystery and wonder for the present times.  

References Staff. (2011, January 28). Maya Culture. Retrieved October 11,2016, from

Cartwright, M. (2014, October 21). Xibalba. Retrieved October 09, 2016, from

Mark, J. J. (2012, July 06). Maya Civilization. Retrieved October 08, 2016, from

Minister, C. (2016, August 22). Ancient Maya Architecture. Retrieved October 11, 2016, from Staff. (2009). Maya. Retrieved October 11, 2016, from

The Mayan Calendar. (n.d.). Retrieved October 10, 2016, from

Zuckerman, C. (2012, December 14). Maya Calendars Actually Predict That Life Goes On. Retrieved October 11, 2016, from