What Are Some Interesting Facts About the Mayan Temples?

Matthew Micah Wright/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

The temples of the ancient Mayan civilization were central expressions of the religion of that society. The temples were centers of both religious worship and sacrifice, including human sacrifice, and they were under the guardianship of a priestly class. Different temples served to honor different gods in the Mayan pantheon.

Stone was the chief material used to build the temples, and wooden and thatch structures covered the buildings. The temples were often in the shape of pyramids. Steps surrounding the structures, wide at the bases and progressively becoming smaller towards the tops, led the way to the zenith of each temple. Some of the temples also had carvings of images on the walls. Astronomy and astrology also influenced temple architecture, as the Mayans built some structures to align with Venus, the sun or the moon.

The ancient Mayans believed that their kings were relatives of the gods. This meant the ruling class often played a part in major religious ceremonies carried out in the temples. Human sacrifice sometimes took place in the Mayan temples, though seemingly not with the same frequency as with the Aztecs.

Because of their superior construction, some Mayan temples are still around, as of 2015. Uxmal and Chichen Itza in Yucatan and Palenque in Chiapas are locations where tourists can visit Mayan temples.