Chichen Itza

Everything you need to know about Mexican pyramids

How many pyramids does Mexico have?

Mexico is home to numerous pyramids, spread across the country and associated with pre-Columbian civilizations. It’s difficult to provide an exact count because new archaeological discoveries continue to be made.

It is difficult to say how many pyramids and pyramidal structures there are in Mexico, but the most famous Mexican pyramids are located in Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Palenque, Cobe, Tulum, Calakmul, etc.

Origins of pyramid building in Mexico

The Olmecs are believed to be the first in Mesoamerica to construct pyramids.

The Olmecs predate both the Aztecs and the Mayans. The Olmec culture existed between 1400 BCE and 400 BCE and laid the foundation for pyramid construction in the region, influencing subsequent civilizations.

The Olmecs are known for their distinctive artistic style and monumental architecture. Their pyramid-like structures, referred to as “Olmec mounds” or “Olmec pyramids,” served ceremonial and religious purposes.

These early Olmec pyramidal structures later influenced other Mesoamerican pre-Columbian civilizations such as the Mayans and Aztecs in their pyramid-building traditions, and techniques.

The concept of pyramid-like structures and monumental architecture continued to evolve and develop in subsequent civilizations, each adding its unique cultural and architectural elements to the tradition.

Who else built pyramids in Mexico?

Other Mesoamerican civilizations also engaged in pyramid construction:

Teotihuacan: The ancient city of Teotihuacan predates the Aztec civilization and is famous for its massive pyramids. Teotihuacan was one of the most influential and powerful city-states in Mesoamerica during its time.

Toltecs: The Toltecs, who emerged after Teotihuacan, constructed pyramids at their capital city of Tula. The Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl, with its intricate stone carvings, is a well-known example of Toltec pyramid architecture.

Zapotec and Mixtec cultures: The Zapotec and Mixtec civilizations, located in what is now Oaxaca, also built pyramids. The ancient city of Monte Albán, associated with the Zapotecs, features numerous pyramid structures.

Totonac culture: The Totonac civilization in the Gulf Coast region of Mexico built the pyramid of the Niches at El Tajín. This marvelous pyramid is known for its distinctive niches that cover its surfaces.

Purepecha (Tarascan): The Purepecha civilization constructed pyramids at sites like Tzintzuntzan. Their pyramid structures often had circular or rounded bases, a unique architectural feature in Mesoamerica.

These civilizations contributed to the rich tradition of pyramid construction in Mesoamerica. Each culture had its architectural style, and purposes, making the region a fascinating mosaic of pyramid-building.

How much time did it take to build a pyramid?

Smaller pyramids, such as those found at some Maya sites, might have taken a few years to build. These structures were typically built with local materials and served for burials and religious ceremonies.

Pyramid complexes like those in the ancient city of Teotihuacan, such as the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, are estimated to have taken at least several decades to complete.

Massive and intricately designed pyramids, like the Templo Mayor in Mexico City, could take several generations or even centuries to finish. These structures were continuously expanded and modified over time.

In some cases, pyramid-like structures were constructed using enormous stone blocks and could have taken many decades to complete due to the monumental effort required to transport and position the massive stones.

Pyramids were often not a one-time project but a continuous effort. Many pyramids were expanded and modified over generations, and their construction was closely tied to religious, cultural, and political activities.

Differences between Aztec and Mayan pyramids

The Aztecs and Mayans both constructed impressive pyramids and pyramid-like structures, but there are notable differences in their architectural styles, purposes, and construction techniques.

Architectural style

The Aztecs used to build step pyramids with a flat platform at the top. This elevated platform often served as a hallowed space where elaborate religious ceremonies and solemn sacrifices played out.

The Mayans, in contrast, constructed more angular and towering pyramids with steep, narrow steps leading to the top. These structures were used for astronomical observations, rituals, and burial sites.


The Aztec pyramids had a strong emphasis on religious and sacrificial practices. Aztec pyramids were dedicated to their gods and used for religious ceremonies, including human sacrifices.

Mayan pyramids had a broader range of functions, including astronomical observations, ceremonies, and burial sites for nobility. These pyramids often featured intricate carvings and inscriptions.

Construction techniques

Both civilizations used limestone and other local materials for construction.

The ancient Mayans were known for their advanced architectural techniques, including the use of corbel vaulting to create intricate interior spaces and chambers within the pyramids and pyramid-like structures.

On the other hand, the Aztecs employed a similar construction approach but focused more on the grandeur of the exterior and the symbolic significance of their pyramid and pyramid-like structures.


The Mayans began building pyramids much earlier than the Aztecs.

  • Mayan pyramid construction dates back to as early as 600 BCE.
  • The Aztecs flourished between the 14th and 16th centuries CE.

Cultural Influences

The Mayans were influenced by their deep understanding of astronomy, which is reflected in the alignment of their pyramids with celestial events. They align their pyramids with significant celestial events.

The Aztecs were influenced by their warrior culture and the need to appease their gods through rituals, often involving human sacrifices, and expressed both their spiritual beliefs and practical needs through their pyramids.

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