From central Mexico down through to Central America, civilizations rose and fell from as early as 1000 BC. They left behind amazing ruins of temples where animal and human sacrifices took place, ballcourts where teams played some form of racquetball with a nine pound rubber ball, and fascinating murals and carvings that give us a glimpse into their lives. We’ve learned that they had an advanced writing system and sophisticated calendar. Mostly, though, we marvel at the architecture produced by a now vanished civilization. Have a look at the top 10 ruins to visit in Mexico.
Mitla is the most important site of the Zapotec culture. Inhabited from as early as 900 BC, the city had its heyday between 750 and 1521, when the Spanish destroyed the town and built churches on top of the ruins of temples. Visiting now, the highlight of the ruins is without doubt the carvings and friezes on the walls. Built of local volcanic stone with yellow and pink hues, the fretwork, particularly in the temples and tombs, is quite beautiful.
The ruins of Chacchoben, “place of the red maize”, have only been partially excavated since their rediscovery in 1972. Settlement in the area dates back to around 1000 BC, but the current structures on the site were built around 700 AD. There are obviously several more buildings hiding in the jungle, as the area is fairly flat aside from the mounds of vegetation that have already revealed three Mayan temples. The excavated temples show evidence that they were originally coated in red paint.
At its height, Uxmal was home to some 20,000 people. Flourishing between 600 and 900 AD, the Mayan city was one of the largest in the Yucatan. The construction style used here is called Puuc, and consists of cut veneer stones set into concrete resulting in more stable buildings. Some of the highlights at Uxmal include the 320-foot-long facade of one of the buildings covered in mosaics, and the ‘Temple of the Magician” which is built on top of five earlier structures that can be seen incorporated into the base of the current temple Many of the buildings here are dedicated to the rain god Chac, probably because the area has no standing water and they would have had to rely on rainfall.
Palenque is believed to have been inhabited from about 200 BC to 800 AD, and would have dominated the area. Only 34 of the estimated 500 buildings have been excavated so far, and the ones that have been are rich in hieroglyphs and carvings, giving archaeologists great insight into the city. The Temple of the Inscriptions has a glyphic text that records 180 years of history. The entire site is surrounded by jungle, and there is a stream running through the center, giving it a very serene and secluded feel.
6. Monte Alban
The hilltop ruins of Monte Alban are very old, with the earliest structures dating to 1000 BC. Most of the buildings on the flattened mountaintop are Zapotec, dating from around 100 BC, and the city was abandoned by 1000 AD. The site can be easily seen from the Oaxaca Valley, and would have dominated the surrounding area. Of the completed excavations, one of the more mysterious is the Danzante carvings – men in contorted positions, often with mutilations. Originally thought to be dancing, they are now believed to represent tortured and sacrificed figures. Another set of carvings is believed to represent conquered cities.