South American and Central American Architecture - Did the Maya build pyramids? What kind of palace did Inca kings live in? What were ordinary people's houses like? answers questions

South American Architecture

Olmec  Pyramid
Olmec Pyramid, La Venta, Mexico (500 BC)

The earliest big buildings from South America are in Central America (modern Mexico). Olmec people built them, about 1150 BC. Olmec kings got their people to build groups of big stone temples at Tenochtitlan and other Olmec cities. People built these temples out of limestone.

For several hundred years only Olmec people built big stone buildings. By about 700 BC, though, other people in Central America also began to build temples. The Maya built stone temples in Central America (modern Guatamala). Most of the greatest Maya temples are from between 250 BC and 900 AD, although some were built later.

Maya pyramid
Maya pyramid at Tonina (ca. 700 AD)

People further south, who were in the Moche kingdom (modern Peru), built stone palaces and temples beginning about 100 AD. The most famous of these are the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. After the collapse of the Moche, the Inca conquered most of the Pacific coast of South America (modern Peru and Ecuador) and they also built many big stone buildings.

Further north, in the Aztec kingdom, there were also big stone buildings, both palaces and temples. People built the earliest Aztec buildings about 1300 AD.

More about the Aztec

Bibliography and further reading about early South and Central American architecture:

South America after the European invasions
Native Americans
American History home

Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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