Mayan, Aztec and Inca Architecture

American pyramids are different to Egyptian ones. They are four sided, with steps, built in four or more levels with either a temple at the top used for sacrifice, or an area for astronomical observation. The oldest known pyramid found in the Americas, is located in Mexico, built by the Olmecs between 1000 and 400BC.

Mesoamerican (modern day Mexico and Guatemala area) pyramids and temples were designed so have special lighting effects on the equinoxes.

Chichen Itza in Mexico is a good example of this, whereby the suns shadow in the March equinox appears as a serpent slithering down the pyramid. Much of the architecture is aligned to the sunset of August 13th, the first day of the Maya Long Court calendar of 1872000 days.

Maya Megastructures

The Maya built with limestone and decorated their edifices with lime stucco. Their temples and pyramids were impressive structures built using an East West astronomical alignment and the major temples in a city would form an isosceles triangle.

The design of the pyramids is such that due the resonators, you can speak at the top of a pyramid in a normal voice and be heard perfectly at the bottom or at the top of another pyramid. Examples of Mayan architecture are El Mirador (approx 300BC) and Tikal in Guatemala (approx 300AD) and Chichen Itza (approx 600AD).

Aztec homes (Mexico, 1200 - 1520AD) were usually made of adobe with thatched roofs. They were usually two buildings comprising one room each. One room for living and sleeping, the other a bathroom. Noble people had larger rooms than common people.

In the in Caribbean, around the same time, the Arawak Taíno people lived in circular buildings with a pole supporting them, with roofs of straw and palm leaves, similar to North American Indian tepees, but using plants instead of skins. The cacique (chief) lived in a rectangular building made of the same materials.

Common Life

Common Inca people's homes (Peru, 1200 – 1540AD) were made of sun baked bricks with roofs of thatch. There were no windows and the doorway would be a strip of leather or hanging cloth. The cities of the Inca were laid on a grid system, each one with a central plaza surrounded by temples and public buildings. Buildings and cities were constructed to fit their natural landscape. Doorways and windows sloped inwards slightly at the top, as did their temple walls, to protect the building from earthquakes.

Inca architecture is renowned for the Incas use of dry-stone technique – stones shaped to fit one another perfectly without the use or mortar. However, this process was in use by the Pucara (300BC – 300AD) and then in the city of Tiwanaku. The Inca used mortar for constructing buildings of low quality quickly.