The ancient city of Tikal and its restoration (Part I)


For centuries the ancient Mayan city of Tikal, in the Petén region of Guatemala, has suffered the siege of its rivals. Some 100 kilometres to the northeast their main enemy is found: Calakmul, the Mayan urban centre located in the current state of Campeche. The domain over Tikal was extended during all of the Classic period until the arrival to power of the 26th ruler Jasaw Chan Kawiil.

A great statesman and military strategist, Chan Kawiil achieved one important victory over Calakmul around the year 695a.d returning the tranquillity and political stability to the city. This period of prosperity lasted until the arrival of his son, the 27th ruler, Yik’in Chan Kawiil. By then Tikal already knew splendour and looked increasingly higher. Jasaw Chan Kawiil had ordered the construction of the Temple I, also known as the Great Jaguar and today represents the most emblematic structure in the city. His son wanted to go further and ordered the building of Temple IV, the pre-Hispanic structure in form of a pyramid that is the biggest of the Maya region and reaches 70meters of height and has a base of 156 by 80 meters.

Temple IV remained unexplored for years remembers the archaeologist Oswaldo Gómez, technical advisor for the Tikal National Park. In the seventies the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology of the University of Pennsylvania conducted restoration and exploration work in Tikal, the Temple IV wasn’t dug deeply because the stele and altar that is found facing the front steps wasn’t carved.

“They sensed that there wasn’t an important tomb and never excavated” he added in an interview. More than half a century after the first and most important explorations that gave light to Tikal, a group of Guatemalan specialists worked since 2012 to uncover from the jungle the vestiges of the important and monumental building: the Temple IV. The project started in 2005 with archaeological investigation work that found that Temple IV wasn’t constructed to house a tomb but was built to pay tribute to the military glories of Yik’in Chan Kawiil and to maintain a dominant front to the people.

The building, constructed around the year 741a.d, says Gomez, is “like all the grand temples of Tikal a way in which the rulers of the city showed their power to the people and the neighboring people, architecture for Mayans was used as a method to show power and impose yourself before the people, for which the monumental architecture served, to be above the population and dominant them, and keep them submissive”.

The temple IV was not only splendid for its size but also for its finishes. Enrique Monterroso Rosado, restorer in charge of the works, said that “in its time the building was a beauty, like almost all the temples in Tikal it was painted red with black borders and its chambers were decorated inside”. Originally it has a series of wooden lintels that were stolen around 1700 by Gustav Bernoulli and taken to Basel, Switzerland where they are conserved in the Museum of Cultures.

The Lintel 3 as it is called is an example of the expertise of the Mayan artists of Tikal. Its different segments show a scene, finely carved, where Yik’in Chan Kawiil appears commemorating a victory over the city now known as Peru-Waka located to the north west of Tikal. From this pre-hispanic jewel, Guatemala only reserves a resin copy that is exhibited in the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in the capital.


“Revelan Tikal, emerge mayor templo maya”,, 2014-07-21