Tikal is known for being one of the most significant Mayan sites in Central America. At this excavation site located in PetÚn, the northern federal state of Guatemala, visitors are able to experience some of the most impressive Mayan architecture of all time.
Within the ceremonial centre of Tikal (reaching ca. 16 square kilometres), scientists have counted more than 3000 individual structures. For this reason, Tikal is not only regarded as the most significant Mayan site of the classical era (3.-9. century), but also as the best explored Mayan complex in the world.
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Sightseeing in Tikal
1. When visiting the site of Tikal, it is generally best to get up early. Although the entrance of the compound is located in the east and the highest temple is in the west, we suggest starting off at Temple IV in the center. Temple IV's peak looms over the jungle roof, so visitors are able to observe the whole site and see the rainforest out in the horizon. Early arrivals may experience a breathtaking spectacle: When the morning fog, which tends to cover the entire site of Tikal in the early hours of the morning, lifts, the peaks of Temple I, II, and III slowly come into view. It is an incredible experience that you will not want to miss!
2. "EL Mundo Perdido" (The Lost World), the earliest building of the ceremonial complex of Tikal, is situated to the southeast of Temple IV. Continuing from this point, the size of the site continuously increased towards the east (with little divergence concerning the early construction date of the North and the South Acropolis). Because of this, the subsequent structures follow the sequence of the construction dates (from the pre classic to the end classic period).
The first structure, Temple 5C-49- is also known as Talud-Tablero Temple which gets its name from the construction method use to build the pyramid.
In the center of the platform lies the "Gran Pirßmide," which along with other structures, makes up Group E and the first observatory. The earliest edifices of the "Mundo Perdido" are buried under the constructs of the last building era and reach back to 600 BC (Eb Tardio Phase). The pyramid gets its height from boundary platforms and later constructions that were superimposed on the original structure.
NOTE: In order to provide visitors with an impression of the two overbuilt pyramids hidden under the Talud-Tablero Temple, the archaeologist and research leader of the excavation project at this time, Juan Pedro Laporte, has left the south eastern corner of the building ajar. At this place, interested passers-by may observe the southern and eastern outside facades merging to the south eastern corner.
3. Leaving "El Mundo Perdido" and walking towards the "Plaza of the Seven Temples," visitors will pass another pre classic building, which shows an overbuilt stucco mask at the mouth piece of the fašade. During the pre classic era, monumental stairs were flanked with grand stucco masks at both sites. In the course of time, however, religious beliefs changed, which resulted in a superconstruction of the masks.
4. Currently, the "Plaza of the Seven Temples" is undergoing restoration. As indicated by the name, this site consists of seven temples constructed in a line. The central temple, the most exorbitant building, is flanked by three smaller temples at each side. On weekdays, local workers can be seen in action. Spanish speaking tourists are encouraged to ask them for first hand information on the project.
5. Following the loop road, visitors may walk toward the South Acropolis, a complex of buildings, which has not yet been excavated. Here, visitors can get a glimpse of what Tikal looked like when it was first discovered. Due to the vegetation, which has evolved on top of the ruins, non professionals often mistakenly ascribe ancient buildings as natural hills or mountains.
6. Temple V, constructed ca 600 AC, is regarded as the earliest temple of Tikal and was the only temple of magnitude during this period. The edifice was restored between 1997 and 2004. After completion, archaeologists put up posters with photos and analytical descriptions to assist visitors to this temple.
7. After leaving Temple V, tourists pass a huge water reservoir that leads them to the Central Acropolis. In order to make transportation of construction materials easier, the Mayans often built stone mines next to big building complexes. After the termination of construction and the consequential settlement of citizens, the mines were frequently converted into water reservoirs, as the water could not drain into the ground due to the stucco mantling. The planning of such multifunctional facilities demonstrates the organizational intelligence of the Mayans.
8. The Central Acropolis is built on a huge, artificially planned platform plotted with six internal courtyards and surrounding palaces. During the time period from the medial pre classics until the late classics (ca. 400 BC until 850 AC), the Central Acropolis -which was originally a small, plain platform- evolved into a grand conglomerate of palaces and patios. Here, visitors have the opportunity to envisage the lifestyle of the Mayan noble class. During the hot daylight hours, archaeologists surmise that the upper class either retired to the cool interior rooms (made with heat absorbing stone walls) or to the palm roofed constructs outside. At nightfall, they probably put up firebrands on the patios in the center to gather and hang out.
9. The "Gran Plaza", located to the south of the Central Acropolis, joins the North Acropolis in the north, Temple I in the east, and Temple II in the west. Temple II, also known as the "Temple of the Masks," is the second largest building in Tikal (ca. 680 AC). Approximately 40 years after the completion of Temple II, Mayans began construction on Temple I, "The Big Jaguar."
10. Similar to the Central Acropolis, the North Acropolis had a long evolution. Archeologists from the University of Pennsylvania used artifacts found in various tombs to conclude that the North Acropolis passed through a history that began with flat platforms with diminutive temples and ended with a form of necropolis - a burial ground for the kings of Tikal.
11. As visitors head towards the exit, they will pass several Twin Pyramid Complexes, which are two identical pyramids placed atop two other pyramids. Generally, the Mayans positioned nine steles in front of the western pyramid. An internal courtyard, equipped with an altar and a stele bearing the inauguration date of the architectonic complex,can be found in the north, while in the south, visitors will find a palace with nine entries. The Twin Pyramid Complexes were constructed to celebrate Kat¨n -the twenty year cycle. While excavating Tikal, scientists found eight of these complexes, two of which are at other sites within Tikal-Yaxha and Ixlu.
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