Introduction to mesoamerican architecture

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KTH University (Stockholm, Sweden, 2006) th Architecture History and Theory 4 year

Marcos Troso González

Introduction to Mesoamerican Architecture
This is an essay about urban and architectural development on the Mesoamerican architecture in pre-columbian era, also compared to other early civilizations of the world in a humble attempt of trying to find out some of the common factors thatconnect them. Formative period (2000BCE – 100CE) We could say that the first big cities of Mesoamerican civilizations were settled by the Olmec in the so-called “formative period” (2000BCE – 100CE). The earliest remains of this era are probably the bodiless stone heads from La Venta and San Lorenzo and other pieces, such as the ceramic tools found in Atlihuayan and the ZohapilcoTlapacoya area.There is a similarity between this period of art and the archaic period of any other culture, such as Greece or Rome. In all of them, there is a deliberated intention to avoid any kind of expression in the faces or movements and the figures represented tend to be idealized, prototypes for human behaviour. There is not particular warrior represented, but it is “the warrior” itself, so it is more aboutabstract concepts than to particular cases or stories. The only exception could be the statue called “El luchador” (meaning “the wrestler”), found in 1933 in Uxpanapa, which is the only Mesoamerican sculpture that represents some kind of movement. Back to their cities, the first example we have is La Venta (900BCE-400BCE), an Olmec ceremonial centre that had a population of 1800 inhabitants in itshighest moment. Here we can find the oldest known pyramid of pre-columbian civilizations, which served as the end of an axis. The plan of the pyramid is circular (more or less regular) and it is the first example of the typical Mesoamerican construction based on the “tablero and talud” system. Franciscan Father Sahagún (who arrived to Mexico in 1533 and recorded a lot of old legends andtraditions of the mesoamerican civilizations) said: “There were the big lords and kings buried in soil tumulus. Those nobles were considered gods and they didn’t die, but awoke from a dream and became spirits or gods.” Those tumulus didn’t have walls, but it is believed that were little by little surrounded by other structures and becoming more complex so they were the predecessors of the Mexican pyramids.As in the egiptian civilization, where the mastabas (also funerary tumulus) started to be higher by the addition of levels and ended up as pyramids (Saggara), the olmecs’ pyramids could have followed the same process. The display of the representative buildings and the orientation of the streets have a direct relation with the astronomical events. There have been found lots of examples ofsculptures that just shade in certain dates of the year or observatories in these cultures. The sky and the meteorology had a very important role. Such concepts were also applied to Cuicuillo (100BCE-100CE), an Olmec city that was destroyed after the eruption of the Xitli volcano. There was a circular temple that was probably one of those astronomical observatories. The Olmecs used soil for the normalconstructions and stone for the important and representative buildings. These kind of differences have also been seen all over the world in every civilization, such as in Egypt, Greece or Rome. The poor materials (such as soil or “concretum”) are left for the people’s houses while the stone or other rich materials are used in temples, pyramids, tombs, theatres, olimpic stadiums, ballcourts, etc. Theimportant buildings are supposed to remain.

KTH University (Stockholm, Sweden, 2006) th Architecture History and Theory 4 year

Marcos Troso González

Classic period (100CE – 1000CE) During the classic period (100CE-1000CE) the Olmec declined and other tribes populated the area, such as the Totonacs, Toltecs, Zapotecs, Mixtecs or even Mayas from Yucatan. The city of Teotihuacan, placed...