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| North Acropolis | Central Acropolis | South Acropolis | East Acropolis |

Tikal 's Grand Plaza, North, Central and South Acropolis (still covered) and Temple V in the background.

Tikal 's Grand Plaza and the Central Acropolis in the background.

      Acropolises:  Massive constructions of ceremonial buildings on a large scale, which were very important sectors of the city, as they were the seat of the administrative and political power as well as the place reserved for the rulers’ burials.  There are four acropolises in Tikal: The North Acropolis, The Central Acropolis, The South Acropolis and the East Acropolis.

The North Acropolis is a sacred place, chosen for burial ground of the Rulers of Tikal for over 5 centuries between 1 A.D. and 550 A.D.  However, most remarkable is that it contains evidence of the first settlers in Tikal, who came to the area about 800 B.C. Archaeological studies have revealed that along with the foundations of the Lost World, those of the North Acropolis are the most ancient areas where the first settlers of Tikal established themselves. The North Acropolis was occupied for at least 1500 years, as demonstrated by more than a dozen successive construction levels, set one on top of the other.

      From the onset the acropolis was built atop a large artificial terrace, which supported numerous buildings associated with ritual activities.  Its design and location of its structures were conceived during the Preclassic Period, following an early ideological concept based on three basic structures describing a triad pattern associated with mythological deities involved with the creation of the Universe.  Numerous stelae and altars portraying the rulers of Tikal and recording transcendental events in their lives are located in front of the Acropolis.

In the layers under later buildings, archaeologists found sea shells, evidence of a valuable source of food, and imported stones. The people of Tikal imported goods from other areas even in these early times.  Archaeologists also found the burials of Huh Chaan Mah K’ina (or Curl Nose) and of K’awil Chaan (Stormy Sky) inside different temples.  Other members of the noble class, such as a woman from about 100 B.C., were also found.  In her tomb, they found paintings of the wealthy nobility, jade, and other rich items.






This mask of a long-nosed god is from the first building erected at this spot. The mask is over 10 feet tall.  In ancient times, this mask would have been covered with stucco. The mask and the entire building were painted in brilliant reds, greens, yellows, and blues. The buildings looked very different from the bare rock we see today.

"Photograph courtesy of Louis Fielding"

TEMPLE 33: The Maya built three temples on this sacred spot. Stormy Sky, one of Tikal's most powerful leaders, was buried in the first temple after his death in 457 A.D. The Maya then covered this first building with a larger, more grand temple, which they used for the next 250 years.

STELLA 31: This stela is one of the most famous. Stormy Sky, one of Tikal’s most famous rulers, erected it.  A jaguar depicted on it was the God who protected the city of Tikal.  The back of this stela is covered with the story of major events in Tikal's history. Experts believe that only the scribes and elite people could read. Being a scribe was a very important position.  The text was also designed for the Gods to read it. The rulers proclaimed their accomplishments to the people in their city, to the Gods, and to their ancestors.

TOP OF STELLA 31: The ruler Stormy Sky holds a headdress up for the people to see, before he puts it on. The title on the headdress and the words on the stela connect him to his famous grandfather Chak-To-Ich'ak. In this way, he adds to his own power and fame in the eyes of the people.  At this time, Tikal was a powerful city with a powerful ruler. The city itself grew and flourished. Tikal controlled or influenced many other sites in the region and its rulers controlled important trade routes.

Just over 100 years later, Tikal was defeated by Caracol. Their glory dimmed for another 150 years.  But then, Ha Sawa Chaan-K'awil acceded the throne, he returned Tikal to its glory. As a symbol, he buried Stela 31, a monument from Stormy Sky, inside the second temple. Then he built a new temple, rising up almost 8 stories over the Great Plaza.

Experts believe the ruling family lived in this group of buildings. The maze of rooms and courtyards grew as people added on to it over a period of more than 200 years.

When people lived here, curtains were hung across the doorways. We can still see holes carved in the stone doorways to hang curtains.

The walls of the building would have been decorated with pictures and bright colors.

Very little has been revealed about the South Acropolis.  According to speculative archaeological assumptions, it may be very ancient, because it is built upon 7 different platforms.  Its origins may be traced back to the Preclassic Period.  However, it remains to be excavated and studied.  Its enormous edifices, over 24 meters high, have a quadrangular base that covers 2.2 hectares.  In its summit it exhibits 4 grand palaces surrounding a central temple.

Little is known about the East Acropolis, found behind the Grand Plaza, contiguous to Group F.  Archaeologists have reason to believe one of the ball-courts at Tikal may have been found there and the little that is known about it is that there were steam baths here and that this may have been the Grand City of Tikal's main market site. 

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