Many centuries ago, the Maya built beautiful cities. Each city was built in the same way. Each city had a huge central plaza. The plaza was ringed with temples, pyramids, a ball court, and a palace for the city ruler. The plaza itself acted both as a marketplace and as a meeting place for ceremonies and festivals.
The Maya used tools made of stone, wood, and shell. They did not make tools or weapons of metal. You might think they would have great difficulty building huge temples and cities and miles of roadway through the jungles and swamps of Central America, but the Maya were great builders. Some of their buildings were 200 feet high!
Today, Tikal is a major tourist attraction. But over a thousand years ago, Tikal was one of the ancient Maya's largest cities. In ancient times, about 60,000 people lived in Tikal. Another 30,000 lived in the surrounding land on farms. Tikal was located in the rainforest, in what would become the country of Guatemala. Tikal was the center of agriculture, trade, art and religion. In ancient times, people came from all over the Maya Empire to visit Tikal for festivals, business, and pleasure. In spite of its riches and size, Tikal was abandoned by the year 1000 AD. The rainforest quickly took over. We still do not know why this busy city was abandoned.
Chichin Itza is located in what now is Mexico. Chichin Itza was not as big as Tikal, but it is the home of the Pyramid of the Sun, one of the most famous Maya structures still standing and a major tourist attraction today.
Tulum was one of the smallest cities. It was located on the east coast. Most Maya towns were not surrounded by a wall as they were in other ancient cultures. But Tulum was not only walled, it was fortified with additional protective barriers. Only a few hundred people actually lived in Tulum, but the town was often full of people. Tulum was a port city, a coastal town, and an important meeting place for the vast trading empire the Maya established with other Maya cities and tribes. In Tulum, merchants met to trade raw materials, feathers, salt, pottery, cotton, textiles, jade, turquoise, gold, copper, silver, animals and food.