Alongside the Egyptians, Romans, and the Greeks, the Mayans are up there as one of the most popular ancient civilizations of modern society. Funny enough, the reason they’re so popular is mainly due to their connection to the 2012 world ending hoax. The Mayan calendar apparently ended in December of 2012, which was enough to get people talking about a potential earth-ending disaster. The more astute readers have probably noticed that it’s pretty amazing for an ancient civilization to have a working calendar that went all the way to 2012, which is why it’s so entertaining to deep dive into Mayan culture.
That said, if you’re only interested in a crash course guide to help you understand the culture better, you can look into the top Mayan cities, as you get to quickly learn about how the ancient civilization lived. Hopefully, this little guide can encourage you to look deeper into the Mayan civilization, as they have so much to offer curious history buffs. Here are the top Mayan cities you should know about!
One thing to learn about the Mayan civilization — especially today — is that their ruins tell a lot about the culture. Most people who have visited Mayan ruins tend to speak about it like it was a religious experience, especially with the ruins at El Meco. Not only is it a fascinating set of ruins, including an imposing pyramid, but it’s also one of the lesser-known regions, making it feel like a personal experience.
El Meco likely acted as a port city for the Mayans, and the air is thick with the remnants of a time long past.
When you look up pictures of Izamal online, more than 90% of the pictures showcase the pyramid, as it’s one of the largest and heaviest structures of Mesoamerica. The thing about Izamal was that it was a site of holy pilgrimage for the Mayans, and even the Spanish learned to respect Izamal. It got to the point where after the Spanish invasion, they continued to treat Izamal as a religious site for pilgrimage, which is why — even to this day — people still visit Izamal.
Even Pope John Paul II visited Izamal in 1993, which goes to show just how much of an impact the Mayan site made. It’ll feel like you’re transported in another world, as the Mayan language is still alive and well all around the old city.
The Templo Mayor is located in part of Tenochtitlan, modern-day Mexico City. The Templo Mayor, translating to the Greater Temple, was once the greatest structure of the ancient Mayan world. It was known as the center of Mayan religion, and while it lies in ruins today, the great cathedral close to the temple was said to use the stones of the temple after the Spanish invasion.
It’s a fascinating connection to modern day culture, and is still considered a holy site by many. It’s one of the easiest places of the Mayan culture to visit, and it’s highly recommended that you do so. The Templo Mayor was dedicated to the Mayan gods of war and agriculture.
The Chacchoben Ruin near Mahahual
One of the coolest parts about looking around the famed cities of the Mayan era is finding the ruins and trying to imagine what life must’ve been like for the Mayans during their prime. Without a doubt, Mahahual is one of the most popular Mayan sites, though many people don’t realize that nearby is one of the most iconic sites of the Mayan age. Curiously enough, Chacchoben has only a portion of the site open to the general public.
If you look closely enough, you’ll notice that many of the temples have shades of red near the bottom — proof that the structures were once painted completely red. It’s only natural to assume that most of the paint wore off due to the ravages of time.
Those fortunate enough to have visited Edzna usually talk about how imposing the primary structure is. Edzna was a city of the ancient Mayans, and was also known as the home of the Itza family. Edzna was likely their home before they went on to found Chichen Itza.
One of the reasons why Edzna is so interesting is the fact that it was completely abandoned by the Mayans even before their fall. We’ll never know the reason why, but it certainly adds that air of mystery to what was once a thriving community. It’s undoubtedly a sobering experience for anyone who wishes to visit this ancient Mayan city.
Did you know that many of the great priests of the ancient Mayans were also great astrologers? While it’s called the ruins of Uxmal, the structure is still surprisingly sound, and the ancient Mayan priests would not only chart the stars atop its steps, but also perform ritual sacrifice to appease their gods. Interestingly enough, the priests used astronomy to influence the Mayan people by coinciding specific celestial events with their rituals.
Of course, the Mayan people didn’t know any better, which was what made these tactics work so well. The Mayan priests were clever enough to use charts and devices to track the stars, allowing them to extend their influence to the people. It just so happens that Uxmal has one of the tallest structures the Mayans built, adding to the air of superiority. Without a doubt, the imposing structure multiplied the effect of their rituals on the people.
If there was ever an ancient Mayan city one could consider as romantic, it would be the walled city of Tulum. After all, it’s an ancient city built on a cliff, overlooking the sea. Even if it wasn’t meant to be a romantic spot for a city, the Mayans undoubtedly knew what they were doing when they set out to turn the site into a city. It was also quite successful during its time, acting as both a religious center and a trade city.
These days, it’s a popular tourist attraction, as many of the structures are still standing. It’s amazing how so much of the Mayan culture still exists — even their language is still used to this day!
When the Itza family left Edzna for unknown reasons, they went on to found what would become known as one of the New Wonders of the World. Chichen Itza, a large city once home to hundreds of buildings, was undoubtedly one of the most important cities during the time of the ancient Mayans. Naturally, many people make the trip to Chichen Itza every year, making it one of the most popular destinations for anyone interested in ancient Mayan culture.
Chichen Itza’s highlight is undoubtedly the Kukulkan Pyramid. It was named after the great serpent god, though the serpent symbology isn’t meant to be evil or sinister. The snake is tied to the earth and the crops, and the Mayans didn’t see the snake god as a dark being. The Kukulkan Pyramid stands over 75 feet tall, and even casts the shadow of a serpent at the right time!
Teotihuacan is one of the odder cities on the list, as while there’s no denying the Mayan culture, it looks like a city built by various civilizations rather than one built primarily by the Mayans. It seems to have been a city built for the Mayan elite, but also for many people of varying cultures. It’s the reason why Teotihuacan is such an interesting topic for many history buffs.
One of the coolest parts about the city is known as the Pyramid of the Moon, a great structure that is still slowly but surely sharing its secrets with the modern world to this day. There’s no denying that Teotihuacan is one of the most popular ancient Mayan cities of the modern era, and droves of people come to visit the city each year.
Ek Balam is one of those ancient cities that the people of today can still visit and explore as if it were still a thriving city. While much of it is covered in ruins, many of the areas are still structurally sound, and you’ll still see the calligraphy plastered on the walls. Ek Balam also has King Ukit Kan Lek Tok’s tomb, which is just one of dozens of structures still standing.
As far as cities go, Ek Balam — Black Jaguar in the Mayan language — is one of the most exciting places to visit. It was also an important site during its prime, which is why so many people are still eager to visit Ek Balam today. Ek Balam and many other sites are reasons why the Mayan culture is so popular.