Chapter 12. Mesoamerican


Mesoamerican cultures built stepped stone structures with steep steps leading to temples on top, more like ziggurats than Egyptian pyramids. Aztec, Maya, Purépechan, Teotihuacan, Toltec, Classic Veracruz, and Zapotec cultures all built these pyramids.

Santa Cecilia Acatitlán

Dedicated, perhaps, to the worship of Tlaloc, the god of water, rain, and fertility, its stones were dismantled to build the parish church of Santa Cecelia Acatitlán, leaving only its basement stones, but in 1962, architect and archaeologist Eduardo Pareyon Moreno reconstructed it, including the one-room shrine at the top, although archaeologists today say this reconstruction is not entirely authentic.


This five-storey structure in the Puuc style, with many rooms, was more of a ceremonial platform than a pyramid. It would have been painted bright red and have been seen for a great distance over the green jungle.

Kukulcán, Chichén Itzá

The Temple of Kukulcán is the archetypical Mesoamerican step-pyramid. Nine square terraces rise 79 feet supporting a twenty-foot temple on top. Ninety-one steps on all four sides, make a step for each day of the year. The Maya built the structure over the ruins of an earlier pyramid, which was next to a sinkhole, a cenote sacred to the Maya. At the top of the earlier structure, archaeologists found two rooms. One room contained a chacmool statue that would have served as an altar for offerings, and another room contained two rows of human bone set into the back wall and a red jaguar statue that would have served as a throne. The Maya considered this site at the intersection of four other cenotes, to be the axis mundi, that is, the center of the world.