‘Tikal’ is the largest archeological site in the American Continents which is located in the archeological region of Guatemala. Tikal is Guatemala’s most famous archeological treasury, which is nestled in the ‘Peten Basin’ archeological region in the department (state) of ‘El Petan’. The excavated site is a part of Guatemala’s ‘Tikal National Park’ & was declared as a ‘UNESCO World Heritage Site’ in the year 1979.
‘Tikal’ is the true witness of the prowess of the ancient Mayan culture that thrived here over 1000 years ago. The city of ‘Tikal’ was the prosperous capital of one of the most powerful kingdoms of Mayan dynasty. The city reached to the apex of its prosperity during the ‘Classic Period’, i.e. from 200 to 700 AD, although the Maya culture had been here since 600 BC till the end of the 9th century AD. The monuments that date back to the 4th century BC were also found during the excavation depicting the earlier existence of this veteran city.
History In Brief:
Evidences have found that the city had a vital role in Maya’s political, economical & military assessment & also had connections with other regions like the great metropolis of Teotihuacan, situated in the Mexican valley. The city was supposedly invaded by Teotihuacan during the 4th century. Evidences also depict that the major Palaces in the city were burned & no significant monuments were constructed around the end of the Late Classical Period. The population also went on declining in the course of time & as a result, by the end of the 10th century, the city took its last breath along with the collapsed Mayan dynasty!
The city was once, hugely populous as the estimated population was ranging from 10,000 to 90,000. ‘Tikal’ saw the gradual growth in the population during the Pre-Classic era (2000 BC to 200 AD) which reached to its highest peak during the Late Classic era (approx. 700 AD – 830 AD). During this period, the estimated population within the region of 12 km of radius that comprised the core part of the city was around 120,000, whereas, an additional 330,000 people had their residences around the core region as well as in some remote places around the city which comprised to the flourishing of some 450,000 people in & around the city.
However, this overgrowth itself became the prime reason behind the city’s gradual death as the city failed to feed its outrageous population. Although, the Mayans had employed excellent techniques for harvesting the seasonal rainfall & had grown their food by using revolutionary agricultural methods, their efforts failed short due to the frequent droughts & lack of extensive sources of water, which, in turn, resulted in the increasing famine. The agricultural growth also faced a severe problem of lack of suitable land as most of the land surrounding ‘Tikal’ was occupied by marshlands.
The food & water scarcity thus, forced the people to migrate elsewhere, resulting in the abandonment of this glorious city. The misery continued with the fall of Mayan culture & the city which, once upon a time was the prodigious icon of the Mayans dynasty, went past the memories as it got lost in the overgrown jungle that devoured on it!
Major Structures In Tikal:-
The city is primarily built by using the limestone which was quarried from the local sites. Towering temples, regal palaces, pyramids, administrative as well as residential buildings, stone monuments etc. were excavated during the archeological operations. On top of that, the city had an extensive & a spectacular arrangement of harvesting every drop of rainwater which was one of the major reasons why this city survived comfortably for so many years, despite of lack of sufficient rain & water reservoirs!
The residential area of ‘Tikal’ occupies around 23 sq. miles, although, most of the area is yet to be unearthed. So far, they have managed to excavate four major architectural regions- the Great Plaza, North & Central Acropolis & ‘Mundo Perdido’ (Lost World Complex). The Great Plaza was linked with Temple IV & the ‘Temple of Inscriptions’ by using causeway. The network of causeways (Sacbeob) can be seen running for several miles connecting various parts of the city. The causeways were used for dual purposes, especially during rainy season- firstly, for providing a corridor for daily trading & also as dams to harvest the rainwater. A wide network of stuccos & conduits were constructed around the city to channelize the rainwater to fill up the water reservoirs.
The Great Plaza was the heart of the city which was surrounded by various buildings- on west & east, a couple of giant temple-pyramids can be seen & the North & the Central Acropolis can be found residing along the north & the south borders respectively.
The North Acropolis & the Great Plaza are among the most widely studied monuments in this region. The North Acropolis contains a row of tall pyramids which measured 330 X 260 feet along with 43 stelae (stone tables) & 30 alters which were constructed in the 9th century. Eight temple pyramids were ornamented using roof combs & stairways flanked by statues of the gods. The South Acropolis on the other hand, was constructed on a podium that spans an area of more than 220,000 sq. feet.
Temple IV is the tallest monument in this region, which is 230 feet in height when measured from the Plaza base level till the top roof comb. This temple is the tallest pre-Columbian structure in the entire America.
The city is studded with innumerable alters, stelae, tombs & pyramids, including nine flat-topped Twin-Pyramids. The tombs around here are still very good in shape boasting intrinsic carvings which are the time-preserved images of the rich Mayan culture.
From 1956 to 1970, the University of Pennsylvania took efforts to map & excavate 10 sq. miles of this archeological site. Now, the excavations are being governed by the Guatemalan government. Although, the excavation work was carried out extensively to demonstrate the rich Mayan culture before the modern world, whatever works done so far are just a piece of the giant iceberg as still a huge area & thousands of astonishing monuments are yet to be cleared.
The archeological site is surrounded by exquisite ‘Tikal National Park’ that hosts thriving wildlife & impressive thick foliage. The park is renowned as the bird watcher’s paradise & is considered as the best reserved areas for birds in the Central America.
The ‘Tikal’ archeological site along with the amazing surrounding National Park is worth visiting at least once in a lifetime!