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North-south section of Temple I and the ball court, created from laser scan data

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Tikal Information

The ancient Maya city of Tikal is located deep in the heart of Guatemala's El Peten rainforest with a towering canopy that floats thirty meters above the ground. The ancient city site is one of the largest ancient Maya sites, and today exists as a 222 square mile protected national park that is sanctuary not only for archaeological monuments, but also for endangered wildlife such as ocelots, peccaries, monkeys, toucans, parrots, and the elusive jaguar among many more rare creatures. Tikal is bounded by rivers to the east and west that drain respectively to the Caribbean and to the Gulf of Mexico. This geographical condition strategically poised Tikal to become a great trade, religious, and political center that dominated the region at times during the Classic Period, ca. 200CE to 850CE. To the east and west of the urban center, wetlands provided fertile areas for agriculture. Water conservation and management was key to survival in this urban area, and Maya infrastructure engineering devised ingenious culvert and reservoir systems for water diversion and storage to maintain constant supplies in a climate of cyclical rainfall. Tikal's ceremonial nodes are connected by another form of Maya infrastructure, sacbes, raised causeways or roads, paved with lime-based cement.

Tikal contains thousands of archeological sites of which only a small portion have been excavated. To date 3000 have been uncovered and some 10,000 remain to be explored. The monumental core spreads out over 16 sq km (6 sq mi). Central to the site is the Great Plaza bounded by the North Acropolis, with the Central Acropolis to the north and south and Temple I and Temple II to the east and west. Temples I and II were both built during the time of Jasaw Chan K'awiil I, or Ah Cacao 682-734 CE. Far to the west, visible on the horizon from the top of Temple I, Temple IV rises 70m (230ft) above the rainforest floor, its crest hovering above the canopy. Temple IV was the second largest structure in the New World until the first skyscrapers were built in North America. El Tigre at Mirador, 55km to the north of Tikal, was the tallest at just under 80m. In addition to its tall monumental temples and other works of architecture, Tikal is renowned for its carved inscriptions, stelae, and polychrome ceramics of exceptional artistic quality.

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