The ruins of Tikal are situated in the jungle in Guatemala and are one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centres of the Maya civilization. At its’ height it was one of the most important Maya cities and dominated much of the Maya world politically, economically, and militarily.Prospering through intensive agricultural it was able to maintain an estimated population as high as 90,000.
The name Tikal is relatively modern being adopted shortly after its discovery in the 1840s and comes from the word Ti akal, meaning "At the Reservoir”.Its original name is believed to have been Yax Mutal which means “Place of Whispers”.
Tikal dates from at least 800 BC and it is known that significant construction was taking place around 400–300 BC which included the building of pyramids. During the 1st century AD it started to develop into one of the most influential cities in the region and became one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya reaching its peak during the Classic Period (200 to 900 AD).
Tikal was to become a dominant force during the reign of Yikin Chan Kawill following the defeat of Calakmul in 736 AD, and the subsequent defeat of its allies in the following years. This resulted in significant building being carried out to celebrate the victory resulting in it becoming one of the largest of the Classic Maya cities even though it had no water other than what was collected from rainwater and stored in ten reservoirs.
Tikal collapsed started at the end of the ninth century although the reason for its collapsed is not known; War, revolt, disease, natural catastrophe and drought have all been suggested. Drought is certainly a possibility as it was reliant on seasonal rainfall which left it vulnerable to prolonged drought, which is thought to have had a significant influence in the collapse of the Maya.Evidence has been found that some of the buildings were burned, and of a gradual decline in its population resulting in its abandonment by the end of the 10th century.
After Tikal was abandoned and overgrown by the jungle, the city remained unknown to outsiders for several centuries. In 1525, Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortés passed near to the ruins but did not learn of them. The first official expedition to Tikal was in 1848 but it wasn’t until the 1960’s that major excavation work started. Today, many ruins are still covered by jungle. It is estimated that Tikal covers 23 square miles, much of which has not yet been cleared or excavated. Over 4000 structures, which include temples, palaces, pyramids, residences, ballgame courts and inscribed stone monuments have been found.The oldest of these dates back to 800 BC, while the most recent from 900 AD. A set of earthworks has been discovered which surrounds Tikal with a rampart and a 6 meter wide trench.
At the heart of Tikal is the Great Plaza which is surrounded by stelae and sculpted altars, ceremonial buildings, residential and administrative palaces, and a ball court.At one end of the plaza rising 154 feet (47 metres) is Temple 1, the Temple of the Great Jaguar a funerary pyramid of Jasaw Chan K’awil, who was entombed there in 734 AD.
Directly across the Plaza is Temple II, the Temple of the Mask, this was built around 700 AD, the first temple to be completed by Jasaw Chan K’awil it stands 125 feet (38 metres) high. It is believed that it was dedicated to the wife of Jasaw Chan K’awil, although no tomb was found it contains three consecutive chambers at the summit which is normal for temples.
At the north side of the plaza is the North Acropolis, a complex begun around 350 BC and which was to develop into a funerary complex for the ruling dynasty.It has been suggested that the North Acropolis had 70 stelae. Stelae would be carved with hieroglyphic texts and painted red; each stele would have had a commemorative altar beside it. The last dated stele at Tikal was erected in 869 AD.
To the south of the Great Plaza is the palace complex of the Central Acropolis which consists of 45 structures; these include palaces, administrative buildings and patios which were probably used by the royal court. An acropolis is a large royal palace or construction consisting of a number of chambers on different levels. Located around the plaza are the structures of the nobles, smaller temples, and individual shrines, further out are the homes of the common people. Buildings were constructed of locally quarried limestone with the excavations being waterproofed and used as reservoirs. Plazas were laid to a fall to allow the water to be channelled into a system of canals to feed the reservoirs.
The site contains a number of other pyramid temples, which are numbered sequentially during the original survey of the site. Located to the west of the Great Plaza is Temple III, the 180 feet (55 metres) high temple of the Great Priest which was the last of the great pyramid temples constructed in Tikal.Built around 810 AD, it has a carved lintel depicting a person clothed in a jaguar skin and has the finest roof comb of all Maya temples. The tallest temple in Tikal is Temple IV, the Temple of the Double Headed Serpent; it stands 230 feet (70 m) high and is the largest Maya pyramid. It was built by Jasaw Chan K’awil’s son Yik’in Chan Kawil and is built to commemorate his father in 740 AD.
Part of Guatemala's Tikal National Park the ruins were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 and are undergoing excavation and conservation work.
At an altitude of 2,260 metres (7,410 ft) and located 90 kilometres (56 miles) west of Guatemala City, Iximche was the capital of the Late Post-classic Kaqchikel Maya Kingdom (the capital of one of the indigenous Maya peoples of the mid-western highlands in Guatemala) from 1470 until its abandonment in 1524.
For many years, the Kaqchikel served as allies of the K'iche' Maya, but the growing power of the Kaqchikel eventually caused a rift, and the Kaqchikel were forced to flee the K'iche' capital and established their own new capital. This was on an easily defensible ridge surrounded by deep ravines. Developing quickly as a city, within 50 years it had reached its height. For a number of years the K'iche' left the Kaqchikel in peace, but this was to change, and resulted in conflict which was to continue until 1491 when the K'iche' where defeated by the Kaqchikel.
When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico, the Aztec emperor sent messengers to warn the Kaqchikel of the danger. After the Aztec defeat, the Kaqchikel offered an alliance with the Spanish. When the Spanish arrived in Iximche in 1524 the Kaqchikel provided them with native allies to assist in the conquest of the other highland Maya Kingdoms and Iximche was declared the first Spanish capital of the Mesoamerican region in the same year.
Due to excessive Spanish demands for tribute, the Kaqchikel soon broke the alliance and deserted Iximche, which was burned by the Spanish. Hostilities were to continue until 1530 when the Kaqchikel finally surrendered.
The ruins of Iximche were first described in the late 17th century. They were visited during the 19th century by scholars who published plans and descriptions, but it was not until the 1940’s that serious investigations of the site started, and these were to continue sporadically until the early 1970s. In 1980, during the Guatemalan Civil War (1960 to 1996), a meeting between guerrillas and Maya leaders took place at the ruins, which resulted in the guerrillas declaring that they would defend indigenous rights. The ruins of Iximche were declared a Guatemalan National Monument in the 1960s and a ritual was carried out at the site in 1989 in order to re-establish the ruins as a sacred place for Maya ceremonies. These ceremonies are still carried out there today. The set of altars, used in present-day Mayan ceremonies can be found at the far end of the site, and offerings such as flowers, fruit and drinks can be seen there.
Well over a hundred structures have been located at Iximche, which is composed of four large plazas strung out along a ridge and protected by a deep moat. Buildings include palaces, numerous pyramid temples and residences and a couple of ball courts, both of which are of similar size and shape.
The city centre was fortified, its access being through only the one entrance over a bridge spanning an 8-metre-deep artificial ditch. At the entrance is a stela which commemorates the end of the 13th Oxlajuj B’ak’tun, which occurred on the 21st December 2012. Buried near the stela is a time capsule which contains documents to be read at the end of the present Oxlajuj B’ak’tun, which will be in the year 2407. The inscription of 8o glyths covers five key events in the history of the Maya people and three key events in the history of the Kaqchikel nation and directs the indigenous peoples of Guatemala not to forget their knowledge and heritage.
Plaza A is a wide open plaza which can accomodate many people, and was used for public activities including political, religious and recreational activities. Around the open space is a ball court, some temple-pyramids, various buildings and altars.
The Xajil Palace could have been the residence of the Xajil family. Archaeological evidence indicates a greater number of domestic activities than religious activities took place there.
Plaza B consists of an open space before the Zotz’lil Palace. It consists of temples and altars for ritual activity and contained buildings with multi-rooms for political and administrative activities.
Plaza D consists of a wide space completely surrounded by buildings, although very little is known about it. It is thought to have been used for political, religious and recreational activities, and the remains of a palace are located on the south west side of the plaza.
Excavations have uncovered the poorly preserved remains of painted murals on some of the buildings and evidence of human sacrifice. The circular stone platform seen on the site is believed to have been used for sacrifices.
The site has a small museum displaying a number of pieces found there, including sculptures and ceramics and a model of the site as it would have been at its height.