Tikal, one of the Greatest Maya cities of Guatemala.
The great Maya cities of Central America have always presented a mystery: how did their populations, in the tens of thousands, survive in the unforgiving tropical rainforest environment? And why, having flourished for centuries, were they abandoned around AD 900?
Theories have abounded ever since the explorer John Lloyd Stephens visited the city of Copan in 1839 and wrote the best-selling Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan. He declined to speculate whether Copan “fell by the sword, or famine, or pestilence”, but thought that “we might one day unveil the mystery that hung over the city”.
Tikal was the capital of a conquest state that became one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya.
Though monumental architecture at the site dates back as far as the 4th century BC, Tikal reached its apogee during the Classic Period, ca. 200 to 900 AD. During this time, the city dominated much of the Maya region politically, economically, and militarily, while interacting with areas throughout Mesoamerica such as the great metropolis of Teotihuacan in the distant Valley of Mexico.
There is evidence that Tikal was conquered by Teotihuacan in the 4th century AD. Following the end of the Late Classic Period, no new major monuments were built at Tikal and there is evidence that elite palaces were burned. These events were coupled with a gradual population decline, culminating with the site’s abandonment by the end of the 10th century.
Tikal is the best understood of any of the large lowland Maya cities, with a long dynastic ruler list, the discovery of the tombs of many of the rulers on this list and the investigation of their monuments, temples and palaces.
UNESCO designated the ruins a World Heritage Site in 1979. Today Tikal is to Guatemala what the Great Pyramids are to Egypt, a national symbol and a significant source of income for the country’s economy.
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