The tall pyramids, richly decorated temples and palaces, ritual ball-game courts and gruesome sacrificial sites have amazed outsiders since the Spaniards arrived on Mexican soil in 1519. Visiting them today is still very much a journey of discovery into an extraordinary past, and an experience not to be missed.
Archaeologists have been uncovering ancient sites and making spectacular discoveries here since the 19th century. Many impressive sites have been restored and made accessible to visitors, while others have been explored only in part; thousands more remain untouched.
Mexico’s major ancient civilisations
Olmec: Mexico’s ‘mother culture’ was centered on the Gulf coast, from about 1200 BC to 400 BC. It’s famed for the giant stone sculptures known as Olmec heads.
Teotihuacán: this city with its huge pyramids, 50km from Mexico City, flourished in the first seven centuries AD, and ruled the biggest of the ancient Mexican empires.
Maya: the Maya, in southeast Mexico and neighbouring Guatemala and Belize, flowered most brilliantly in numerous city-states between AD 250 and AD 900. They’re famed for their exquisitely beautiful temples and stone sculpture. Maya culture lives on today.
Toltec: a name for the culture of a number of central Mexican city-states, from around AD 750 to AD 1150. The warrior sculptures of Tula are the most celebrated monuments.
Aztec: with their capital at Tenochtitlán (now Mexico City) from AD 1325 to AD 1521, the Aztecs came to rule most of central Mexico from the Gulf coast to the Pacific. The best known Aztec site is the Templo Mayor in Mexico City.
SOURCE: Lonely Planet