Monday 27 March 2017

Picture Post 61 - The Great Plaza at Tikal

Tikal is quite possibly the most spectacular of all Maya sites. Located in a huge protected area known as the Parque Nacional Tikal, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site , a Guatemalan icon and a real symbol of the country.

Temple 1, Great Plaza, Tikal.
Although a settlement was established here in about 900 BC, another 650 years or so would pass before any significant building took place. Work on the Great Plaza began about 2000 years ago. As with other major Maya sites, Tikal became a centre for the development of art, science and religion as well as for trade with other cities. 

It reached its zenith during the eight century when there were at least 100,000 citizens and the city   was successful in overcoming its enemies. During this period the central acropolis and a series of causeways were developed. It must have been quite a site as it is known that the temples and other public buildings were painted bright red, green, yellow and other colours. Unfortunately none of this colour remains.

One Tax Ehb'Xok (First Step Shark) established a royal dynasty in about 90 AD and was followed by at least 33 more monarchs before the line ceased at the end of the ninth century, coinciding with a major crisis across the whole Maya region. The nature of this crisis is not known but it may have been climate related, with drought and resultant civil disorder causing the city to be abandoned and the dynasty to come to an end.

For several centuries Tikal lay abandoned. It was spotted in 1695 by a lost priest - Father Avendano who reported seeing "a variety of old buildings" but appears to have been untouched until 1848 when a government expedition led by Modesto Mendez and Ambrosio Tut visited. Until 1951 the ruins were only accessible on horseback. Excavation began in 1956 and continued until 1984 although many buildings remain hidden by vegetation and rubble.

View from Temple 2, Great Plaza, Tikal.

Temple 2, Great Plaza, Tikal

The Great Plaza is the heart of Tikal and for a millennium it was the focus of ceremonial and religious activity here. The two great temples that stand facing each other were built in the 8th century but were preceded by the Northern Acropolis to the side of the plaza. Temple 1 rises to a height of 44 metres and is known as the jaguar temple because a carving of a jaguar once lay above the main entrance. Sadly you won't be able to see it unless you go to Switzerland where it now sits in a museum. The temple was built as a burial chamber for Hasaw Chan K'awil, one of Tikal's greatest rulers who revitalised the city in the late 7th and early 8th centuries, as well as defeating the rival state of Calakmul. When Tikal was rediscovered, his remains were found in the temple together with jade, pearls and ornaments made from sea shells and bones as well as other precious items. Temple 2 opposite is known as the temple of masks. This is because of two gargoyle like masks that flank each side of the structure but which have been weathered away over the centuries.

Despite being unwell, my time at Tikal's Great Plaza was one of the highlights of my recent Guatemalan trip. Visitors are allowed to scale Temple 2. It is a steep climb and it was a hot day when I visited but the view of the entire plaza and surrounding jungle is worth the effort. Tikal remains an important spiritual site for the Maya people and it is possible to see families visiting to carry out various rituals.

At certain times of day it is also possible to hear the resident howler monkeys whose loud calls or "howls" can travel for up to three miles through dense jungle. Many people make a day trip from nearby Flores where there are several places to stay but there are also chalets on site that have comfortable beds, ceiling fans and hot water but only restricted access to electricity. There is also an onsite restaurant and small shop.

Acropolis, Great Plaza, Tikal.

Acropolis, Great Plaza, Tikal
You can see more pictures of Guatemala here

1 comment:

  1. This place is beautiful, however, don't know why, it also looks spooky to me