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Elements of Central and North American Architecture

Updated on August 28, 2012


The Aztecs, Maya, and other civilizations of Mexico and Central America is astonishing, even by today's technology. The Spanish who first found the creations were astounded by the cities that made their own homes boring and dull. In the jungles with trees and rivers and bushes, their lasting monuments rise from clearings such as mountain peaks. They are famous for stepped pyramids which were prominant forms of their architecture.

The buildings did not have many rooms. They were open and the interiors were not very important. Strangely this was a copy of how they viewed society. They focused on the exterior of society, such as gods and religion. Subjects important overall, not the individual. They had many public ceremony areas including platforms, altars, processional stairs, statuary, and carvings.

  • Serpent Columns
  • Geometric Spiral Wall Decoration
  • Stone Masks
  • Colonnaded Halls
  • Rectilinear Windows
  • Stepped Pyramid Form

Serpent Columns

The heads of serpents and other monsters project from wall and columns of many of their temples. They often have bright eyes and frightening teeth. Serpents were scary to the people. They lived in the midst with giant pythons and snakes that ate individuals.

Geometric Spiral Wall Decoration

Interesting designs are carved into the walls of many Central American buildings. They create a strange dance across the wall as richly carved mosaics. They are based on reliefs in geometric spirals. Think of them as detailed patterns copied all over the buildings. Some of the most wonderful mosaics are on the upper sections of the Governor's Palace, Uxmal.

Stone Masks

Stone masks are widely seen thorughout Central and North America as decoration and the attempt to immortalize idols. Masks were created for gods and priests. Their culture recognized priests as more important than rulers normally. The masks brought fear, inspiration, They were also created to appease the gods whose image they were to copy. The masks were in buildings, on walls, columns, and even in fields. A sign that the gods and rulers were always watching.

Colonnaded Halls

The halls survived very well throughout history. They stand strong and even to hold a roof that no longer exists. Normally, they exist in temples and palaces. One of the most well known temples where they remain strong is the Temple of the Warriors in Chichen Itza. These are a Mayan design that rival almost anything in ancient Egypt.

Rectilinear Windows

Rooms at the top of stepped pyramids normally did not have much light inside the building. Large doorways, which also served as windows, they lit the rooms in a glow during the day and provided shade. Many of the rooms are simple, with only a vew vaulted ones.

Stepped Pyramid Form

The stepped pyramids are very tiring to climb. They are giant monsters symbolizing the strength of the cultures who created them. On some of them exist distinctive carved stone roof-combs. One of the worst factors are the difficult stairways. They are extremely steep which highten the drama of walking, more like climbing, them.


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    • hockey8mn profile image

      hockey8mn 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

      I must say, after reading your answer to my comment I didn't figure you to be into ancient architecture lol. I spent 4 months in Mexico excavating an Olmec site. If you think the Maya and Aztec are impressive, meet their "mother culture", the Olmecs. They created the style of art, architecture, etc. that later cultures picked up. Cool hub. Voted up and interesting.