Architecture of Mesoamerica

Mesoamerican architecture is defined as the incorporation of architectural traditions by pre-Columbian cultures and civilizations of Mesoamerica. Their traditions are unmatched, known in the form of public, ceremonial and urban colossal buildings and structures.

The word architecture comes from the Latin “architectura,” meaning chief, leader, builder or carpenter. It is the art and science of designing buildings and other structures. It is a method and creation of design and construction of spaces that imitate and are functional, artistic and have environmental consideration. Architecture works are often acknowledged as cultural and political ciphers and works of art.

An added remarkable part of Mesoamerican architecture is its iconography. The mammoth architecture of Mesoamerica is adorned with images of religious and cultural significance and in many cases the writings are made with some of the Mesoamerican writing systems. Iconographic decorations and texts on the buildings are important contributors to the overall current knowledge of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican society, history and religion.

An important part of the Mesoamerican religious system was replicating their beliefs in concrete touchable form, consequently leaving the world a personification of their beliefs. The Mesoamerican city was constructed to be a microcosm, manifesting the division that existed in their religious, mythical and geographical being. Also showing are divisions between the underworld and their human world. The underworld was represented by the direction north and many structures and buildings related to the underworld, such as tombs, which are often found in the cities northern half. The southern part represented life, sustenance and rebirth and often contained structures related to their continuity and daily function. Found in the southern parts are monuments depicting their noble lineage or sometimes their residential noble lineages. Between the two halves of the north/south axis, was the plaza which frequently contained stalae similar to the world tree the Mesoamerican axis mundi, and a ball court which served as a passage point between the two worlds.

Pyramids, temples and other configurations were designed to attain special lighting effects on the equinoxes or on other important Mesoamerican events. It is believed that much of Mesoamerican architecture aligns the pyramids to fact the sunset on August 13, which was the beginning date of the Maya Long Court calendar.

The Mesoamericans had a ballgame ritual which was a symbolic journey between the underworld and the world of the living. Over 1300 ball courts have been identified. All have the same shape but vary in size and all have a long narrow ally flanked by two walls with horizontal, sloping and sometimes vertical faces that are covered with complex iconography and scenes of human sacrifice. The early ball courts were open ended. Later the ball courts had enclosed end-zones.

The pyramids were plat formed and many used a style called tahud-tablero. This style consists of a platform structure, or “tablero,” on the top of a sloped “talud.” There were different “tableros” developed and manifested differently among the various cultures.

Mesoamerican architecture in Mexico is best known for its public, ceremonial and urban monumental buildings and structures, several of which are the largest in the world.