What Are Some Characteristics of Olmec Architecture?

Olmec architecture included monumental sacred complexes and massive stone sculptures. Mound structures found at San Lorenzo, the Olmecs' earliest urban center, were originally stepped pyramids similar to the ziggurats of Mesopotamia. The platforms at the top were used for temples.

Three of the Olmecs' ancient urban centers had bilateral symmetry in their planning, and La Venta, one of these Olmec centers, was the location of the first pyramid built in Mesoamerica. The structure aligned on a north-south axis and had four colossal heads that faced outward at key points to guard the complex.

The Olmecs' complexes consisted of a large ceremonial step pyramid, sunken plazas lined with 2-meter-high basalt columns, and two smaller pyramids/mounds. These same structures were later copied by other Mesoamerican cultures that were also precise with the alignments of buildings.

The Olmecs also built grand palaces, which were used for both residential and administrative purposes. These structures used a post-and-beam construction that occasionally featured corbel arches. The palaces were massive and richly carved, much like the stepped pyramids the Olmecs created.

The ball court is a well-known feature of Olmec architecture. The courts were made of a flat surface with sloping walls and stone hoops along the top of each wall.