Hello Class! This discussion will focus on the art and architecture of the Maya with a specific focus on the political and religious function of sculpture and architecture. You may focus on either sculpture or architecture for this discussion by selecting from Topic 1 or Topic 2 below.
(please refer to Miller pages 128- 134 and 153-177)
For Topic 1 we will explore functions of architecture in the Maya cities of Tikal, Palenque, Uxmal, and Copan. You may also select the ball court for this topic. Select a structure from the readings and answer the following questions:
Date the structure. For example, does the structure date to the Early or Late Classic? How did the period (political and religious developments) during which the structure was created influence its appearance and function?
Discuss the function of the structure. Was it a temple, funerary monument or a palace? What function did this structure serve in Maya civilization?
Finally, describe the architectural from: The basic elements of Maya architecture are: platforms, stairs and the corbel vault. In addition to these elements, were sculptures included? What can we say about the size and location of the structure in relation to its function. For example, if sculptures were included, what can they tell us about the function of the structure? One of my favorite examples is the Hieroglyphic stairway at Copan (below) whose steps are inscribed with over 2,000 glyphs that record information about the Late Classic dynasty.
The jug depicts ritual scenes: three on the neck and the rest around the jug’s body. We see a picture of a woman caring for a baby, preparing an enema mixture in the bladder, and helping a man give himself an enema. The characters are painted in red, orange and black on a light orange background.
In each scene, the woman is dressed in dresses of different lengths with red and black geometric patterns, a white headband and body painting on her face and arms. Her long hair falls down to her waist as she performs her duties. The man accompanying her seems to be learning how to do an enema. In these rare scenes of ritual teaching, the characters gesture to each other as if they were exchanging explanations. Vessels of this shape are known to have been used for fermented beverages such as pulque made from magui juice (Agave Americana). The scenes and the pitcher can be associated with the drunkenness ritual. The man in one scene bows his head and brings his hand to his mouth as if he is not feeling well. The woman could also be portrayed as a healer with ethnobotanical knowledge.
The Southern Panel Carvings of Temple XIX – Left Scene
Unlike the Aztecs or the Incas, the Mayans were never a single unified empire by a single ruler from a single place. Rather, it was a series of smaller city-states that ruled nearby but had little to do with other cities if they were far enough away. These urban states often traded and fought with each other, so cultural exchanges, including architecture, were common. Some of the major Mayan city-states are Tikal, Dos Pilas, Calakmul, Caracol, Copán, Quiriguá, Palenque, Chichén Itzá, and Uxmal.
The Maya usually put their cities in plaza groups: building complexes around a central square.
This was true of the impressive buildings in the city center (churches, palaces, etc.) and smaller residential areas. These plazas are rarely arranged and tidy, and for some, it may seem as if the Maya were building them anywhere. This is because the Maya was built on irregularly shaped higher ground to avoid the flood and moisture associated with their tropical forest home.
In the center of the city were important public buildings such as churches, palaces, and a ball court. Residential areas radiated from the city center grew, the more they grew out of the center. Raised stone pavements connected the residential areas and to the center. Later, the Mayan cities were built on higher defensive hills and had high walls surrounding much of the city, or at least the centers. The Maya built large temples, palaces, and pyramids in the city centers. These were often huge stone structures, on which wooden buildings and thatched roofs were often built. Downtown was the physical and spiritual heart of the city. There were important rituals in temples, palaces, and ball games.
Like the Mayan buildings, the Mayan temples were built of stone, where platforms were built on top. The temples were usually pyramids, with steep stone steps to the summit where important ceremonies and sacrifices took place. Many churches are decorated with intricate stone carvings and plaster. The most beautiful example is the famous hieroglyphic staircase of Copan. Churches were often built from an astronomical point of view: some churches adapt to Venus, the Sun, or the Moon.
The Lost World Complex in Tikal, for example, has a pyramid located opposite three other temples. If you stand on the pyramid, the other churches will align at sunset and the solstice sunrise.
The palaces were large, multi-story buildings that housed the king and the royal family. They are made of stone with wooden structures on top. The roofs were made of brick. Some Mayan palaces are spacious, including courtyards, various structures that may be houses, terraces, towers, and so on. Palenque Palace is a good example. Some of the palaces are quite large, and researchers suspect that they also functioned as a kind of administrative center where bureaucrats in May regulated royalties, trade, agriculture, and so on. It was also the place where the king and the nobles interacted with the common people and diplomatic visitors. Celebrations, dances, and other community social events could have been there as well.
Survival of Mayan architecture
Despite not comparing the Andes’ legendary Inca stone carvers, Mayan architects built structures that resisted centuries of abuse. Huge churches and palaces in places like Palenque, Tikal, and Chichen Itza have survived centuries of abandonment, followed by excavations and thousands of tourists walking and climbing. Before they were protected, many ruined places were destroyed by locals who searched their homes, temples, or businesses with stones. That the Mayan structures have survived their lives so much is proof of the skill of the builders.
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