Bonampak is famous for its colorful murals, located inside a 3-room structure and dating back to 790 AD. The murals in the 1st room are believed to depict the presentation of the next ruler. There are musicians and noblemen in the scene as well. Room 2 shows a fierce battle with warriors of Bonampak defeating their enemies. The ruler is shown presiding over the torture of captives. The 3rd room has the celebration of victory, including noble women engaged in a bloodletting ritual and a figure cutting the heart out of a sacrifice.
4. El Tajin
El Tajin is quite unusual in Mesoamerica. The Pyramid of Niches uses a style unknown anywhere else. The pyramid was built using large flagstones, which is also unusual for the area. The outside of the pyramid was originally bright red and the niches painted black, which would have emphasized them – it is possible that they represent doorways to the underworld. It is unknown who built or occupied the city, but it was inhabited from 600-1200 AD. About 50% of the site has been excavated, revealing numerous temples, richly carved columns, and seventeen ballcourts.
Teotihuacan was the largest city in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica with a population of 125,000 over 11.5 square miles. The earliest buildings date to about 200 BC, and the city reached its peak in 450 AD before its collapse in the 7th or 8th centuries. The Pyramid of the Sun – 3rd largest Pyramid in the world – and the Pyramid of the Moon dominate the site. Excavations have revealed animal and human sacrifices were prevalent in the city.. Interestingly, it is the later Aztecs who discovered the abandoned city who made it famous, believing the gods had sacrificed themselves here to start the sun moving.
Calakmul was a major Mayan city of 50,000 people from 500 BC to 1000 AD. The center of the city has been restored, but that is a tiny portion of the more than 6000 buildings estimated to still hide under the jungle. One of the most significant discoveries here is a series of murals depicting the daily life of the residents – most murals in Mesoamerica show royalty nobles. There are also a large number of carved stelae showing rulers and their wives, but most of them were carved in soft limestone and have eroded so much they can no longer be interpreted.
1. Chichen Itza
From 750 to 1200 AD, Chichen Itza ruled the Mayan world. And then, in the 1400s, it was abandoned. No one knows why. The towering pyramid at the heart of the city is the Temple of Kulkulcan or “El Castillo”. With 365 steps, one for each day of the year, it is a testament to the Mayan calendar and astronomical observations. Twice a year at the spring and summer equinoxes, the sun casts the shadow of a serpent’s body down the steps of the pyramid, lining up with the carving of a feathered serpent head to suggest the animal slithering down the steps of the pyramid. The city contains the largest ballcourt found in Mesoamerica, measuring 554 x 231 feet. Other monuments include a platform carved with skulls, which would have been used to display the heads of war captives and sacrificial victims. There are many other marvelous buildings and partial buildings to see here, many carved in bas relief with warriors, eagles, and jaguars. There is good reason to have Chichen Itza as the #1 spot on our top 10 list.