The pyramids of Mesoamerica are the most prominent part of Mesoamerican architecture and the most fascinating! Many are similar both in shape and form and are of the step pyramid form with temples on top of them. They’ve been compared to the Egyptian pyramids but, in fact, they most resemble the ziggurats of Mesopotamia more than the pyramids of Egypt. The largest pyramid in the world in terms of volume if the Pyramid of Cholula in Puebla, Mexico, incidentally.
The two most famous people of this region are the Aztecs and Maya and both of them built pyramids. Others in the region who also built pyramids were the lesser known Purepechan people and the mysterious builders of Teotihuacan not far from Mexico City. The Toltec also built pyramids and we used to think they built the magnificent pyramids at Teotihuacan but today that is a question mark because we really do not know who built them. The Zapotec people were also pyramid builders as well as several others. Not only did these people build pyramids but they also build magnificent ball courts, fortresses, and palaces.
The Maya built their pyramids out of adobe bricks and then covered them with limestone. They actually built two types of pyramids. One was built and intended to be climbed and others were not. Some of them had very steep staircases with temples at the top used for sacrificial rituals we think. It’s believed that the Maya started building pyramids about 3 kya. Then for no apparent reason around 900 AD the Maya and others began to abandon their cities and pyramids. There are many theories as to why but nothing is known for certain. Also, I must mention that the Maya and other pyramid builders often claim they did NOT build the pyramids or the cities but they simply found them abandoned so they moved in. Some scholars believe many of these sites may have been built by an earlier people known as the Olmec (aka: the “rubber people”). The Olmec are believed to have been the “mother culture” of Mesoamerica.
Pyramid structures can also be found in such odd places as Florida and Georgia in the US. Some people think that they were built by the Maya. There are rumors of a great red Maya style pyramid somewhere in Arizona near Flagstaff in Arizona that is yet to be discovered and I’ve posted about this before. Pyramids are also found in China and other parts of the world so, in fact, pyramids and pyramid building was something common not rare.
The Pyramid of the Sun at the Teotihuacan site is massive! People climbing up its steps look like ants from down below on the ground. This pyramid is the largest structure at the site. Although we don’t know who built this site for certain we do know that the pyramid was likely NOT called the Pyramid of the Sun as we call it today. That is a modern name for it. It is 738 feet across and 246 feet high. That makes it the third largest pyramid on the planet that we know of. It was covered with a lime plaster when it was built and painted with colorful murals that have long disappeared mostly. The temple that once stood atop this pyramid has long been destroyed by natural elements and people in the area.
As I mentioned before the pyramids of Mesoamerica more closely resemble the ziggurats of Mesopatamia than they do the pyramids of Egypt. Both are step-style structures where those in Egypt are smooth with no staircases. In fact, the pyramids of China are more like those in Egypt than those of Mesoamerica.
All sorts of theories have been put forth about what pyramids were actually used for from claiming they were mainly burial chambers to power plants. We don’t really know what they were used for. What we do know is that they are found all over the world and they all have similar features. And btw satellite images indicated that there are many more sites with pyramid structures not yet excavated in Mesoamerica and China still covered with dirt and vegetation.