Guatemala’s largest Mayan pyramids can be found in two locations, Tikal and El Mirador, two cities that were once enemies of each other. El Mirador is thought to have been built from 950 B.C., and flourished until it was abandoned in A.D. 150. The largest pyramid in each of these two cities is approximately 230 feet tall. In the case of Tikal, the largest pyramid is Temple IV, and in El Mirador, it is La Danta. Each of these two cities, together with Teotihuacan in Mexico, dominate the history of the region.
Temple IV at Tikal
Until quite recently, the largest Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula of Guatemala was thought to be Temple IV in the city of Tikal. Construction of the pyramids and the city of Tikal began around 400 B.C., at which time the area was merely a settlement. This coincides with the time when the region was invaded by spear-throwing warriors from Teotihuacan in what is now Mexico. The son of the Teotihuacan leader was installed as king and reigned for 47 years, during which construction of the 230-foot high Temple IV was commenced. Tikal became a major ally and trading partner of Teotihuacan.
La Danta at El Mirador
It is only comparatively recently that a second 230-foot high pyramid was discovered in Guatemala, this time in the city of El Mirador, where it had been buried beneath the canopy of the rain forest since the discovery of the city in 1926. La Danta, with a total volume of 2,800,000 cubic meters, is considered by archaeologists today to be the largest pyramid by volume so far discovered in the entire world. El Mirador was sacked by warriors from Teotihuacan some time before it was inexplicably abandoned around A.D. 150. There is evidence of this event in the 200 or so obsidian arrowheads found atop another giant pyramid, the 180-foot tall El Tigre.
Temple V at Tikal
Standing 187 feet tall, the pyramid known as Temple V at Tikal is the city’s second tallest structure. This temple is one of the last to be constructed, having been built in about A.D. 700. The pyramid is located to the south of Tikal’s Central Acropolis and is thought to be the funeral temple of a yet-to-be identified king. Dating of ceramic artifacts found within the structure along with radiocarbon analysis put its erection coincident with the reign of King Nun Bak Chak. The base of Temple V measures 36 meters square and the pyramid is unique for Tikal in having rounded corners.