Tags: Guatemala, Maya ruins, Petén, Tikal

Date: December 28, 2019

The ruins of the Maya city of Tikal was the highlight of our trip to Petén. This was one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Mayas. There is a lot of uncertainty about the population size, but it may have been around 50,000 people. There are ruins at this site all the way back to 400 BC and the city was founded around year 90 AD by the first ruler, Yax Ehb' Xook. The city had at least 33 different rulers during the following almost 800 years and we have some knowledge of at least 25 of them. The last date found on a monument here is from the year 869.

In the year 642, Tikal was defeated by their enemies from Calakmul which had formed an alliance with the city of Caracol in present day Belize. This was a major defeat and it led to around 100 years of diminished activity in terms of sculptures and buildings in Tikal.

A big part of seeing the Tikal ruins is the animal life. Early in our visit, we were greeted be some ocellated turkeys like the ones we saw at Calakmul in the spring:

Here is a depiction of Tlaloc which is a precursor of the Mayan rain god Chaac:

Tlaloc has its origins in Teotihuacan which is present day Mexico City. There was a lot of trade and communication between the whole Mayan region and Teotihuacan.

One of the big attractions of Tikal are six very large pyramids:

Here you can see the tops of three of them in a row:

The tallest of the pyramids is Temple IV which is 70 meters tall.

A toucan in the wild (the species is a collared aracari):

The slanted section on each side of the main steps on this pyramid is probably a design influence from Teotihuacan:

There were a number of coatimundis looking for something to eat:

This is Temple I on the Main Plaza:

Temple I is the funerary temple of the ruler Jasaw Chan K'awiil I who was found in a tomb deep inside the temple in 1962. The temple is from around year 734 when he died as one of the most important rulers of Tikal. In 682 when he became ruler, he erected the first monument after 120 years without any monuments following the loss to Calakmul and Caracol mentioned above. Not only that, in 695 he captured the ruler of Calakmul and this started a period of crisis in Calakmul which never again erected a monument celebrating a military victory.

The Mayas usually built their large buildings on top of old ones. Archaeologists often excavate carvings on older buildings inside newer ones:

More pictures of the iconic temple I: