Petén Basin
Petén Department, Guatemala

Tikal's North Acropolis
Photo: Peter Andersen License: CC BY-SA 3.0
Tikal is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization. The site is part of Guatemala's Tikal National Park and in 1979 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Map of the Area Around

The city was located 100 kilometers (62 miles) southeast of its great Classic Period rival, Calakmul, and 85 kilometers (53 miles) northwest of Calakmul's ally Caracol, now in Belize.

The city has been completely mapped and covered an area greater than 16 square kilometers (6.2 sq mi) that included about 3000 structures.

Population estimates for Tikal vary from 10,000 to as high as 90,000 inhabitants.

There are traces of early agriculture at the site dating as far back as 1000 BC, in the Middle Preclassic. At the beginning of the Early Classic, power in the Maya region was concentrated at Tikal and Calakmul, in the core of the Maya heartland.

In the mid 6th century, Caracol seems to have allied with Calakmul and defeated Tikal, closing the Early Classic. Tikal was not sacked but its power and influence were broken.

By the 9th century, the crisis of the Classic Maya collapse was sweeping across the region, with populations plummeting and city after city falling into silence.

As Tikal and its hinterland reached peak population, the area suffered deforestation, erosion and nutrient loss followed by a rapid decline in population levels. The fall of Tikal was a blow to the heart of Classic Maya civilization, the city having been at the forefront of courtly life, art and architecture for over a thousand years, with an ancient ruling dynasty.

Tikal Categories

  • Ancient Structures

    Many of the ruins at Tikal date back as far as the 4th century BC The area reached its peak during the Mayan Classic Period, about 200 to 900 AD. During this time, the city politically dominated much of the Maya region.
  • Man-Made

  • National Parks

    The ruins of Tikal lie among the tropical rainforests of northern Guatemala that formed the cradle of lowland Maya civilization. The area has been declared as the Tikal National Park and the preserved area covers 570 square kilometres (220 sq mi).
  • World Heritage Site

    Tikal was the capital of a conquest state that became one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya. It is the best understood of any of the large lowland Maya cities and gives a sense of what the Mayan culture was like.

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