If you’ve ever visited one the Mayan pyramids on a trip to Cancun or the Mayan Riviera, the structure’s complex construction and simple beauty surely caught your imagination.
But when you learn the history and significance of the pyramids, as well as the facts surrounding their construction some 9,000 years ago, casual interest turns to wonder.
Types of Pyramids
Pyramids are all shaped similarly, but pyramids constructed by different cultures each have their own peculiarities.
The Mayan version of the pyramid is shorter than some others, and experts believe that this was to leave room for a temple on the top.
And not all Mayan pyramids are constructed alike. The ancient Mayans built two types of pyramids: some to use for sacrificial rituals and some intended to remain untouched.
Those built for sacrifice were meant to be climbed, since the sacrifice, often of humans, took place at the top. Priests moved from the earthly realm to the sky by means of staircases, an act intended to bring them closer to their gods.
Many pyramids had two to four stairways, usually connected in the center by a platform used for ritual. The Temple of Kukulcan in Chichén Itzá has four stairways with 91 steps each.
When you add the one step at the temple entrance, the stairs total 365, the same number of days in the Mayan year. If you pass through the Yucatan, don’t miss visiting this site.
The other type of Mayan pyramid was not intended to be climbed or even touched.
These were the sacred pyramids and were never used for sacrifice. Although they sometimes were built with steps, these were just for ornament. The pyramids were too steep to be climbed.
In yesteryear, almost all of these pyramids were open to the public, and anyone who wished to attempt a climb was free to do so. Today, restrictions often forbid this.
While that may disappoint visitors, it’s easy to see how climbing can be destructive to the ruins and dangerous to tourists. And there is still a lot of terrains to cover to experience the ruins of a Mayan city. Be sure to pack comfortable boots for hiking the grounds.
Purpose of Pyramids
While Mayan pyramids usually were constructed for religious purposes, they also fulfilled other roles in the community.
For example, these pyramids were higher than the jungle trees and, sticking out, served as landmarks that helped Mayans navigate the area.
In Egypt, pyramids famously served as burial chambers for the Pharaohs. Some Mayan pyramids also fulfilled the role of burial chambers for high-ranking officials.
Narrow corridors inside the structures led to the small burial rooms, and, like Egyptians, the Mayans often left precious objects, like jade, inside the chambers.
The famous and gorgeously carved Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque in Mexico was a burial chamber for the 7th-century king, Hanab Pakal.
Pyramids could also serve as training centers. The Pyramid of the Magician (also called Pyramid of the Sorcerer) is a famous Mayan monument and the heart of the city of Uxmal in the Yucatan.
According to Mayan legend, it was built by the god of magic, Itzamná, as a training center for shamans and healers. Other temple complexes were designed to mark the equinox and solstice positions of the sun at sunrise.
*This article was originally published at traveltips.usatoday.com.