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Ancient American Architecture

( Originally Published 1921 )

THE indigenous architecture of Mexico and Peru owes most of its interest to its archeological aspect, and few words must suffice to explain its general character.

Mexico.—Aztec architecture existed from the twelfth century of our era to the Spanish Conquest by Hernando Cortes in A.D. 1520, and the ruins that remain are indicative of magnificence of scale rather than of architectural qualities. Temples in ancient Mexico resembled the ziggurats of Babylon, rising in receding terraces to the temple summit.

The Great Temple, Mexico City, stood on an oblong pyramid, 375 ft. by 300 ft. at its base, rising in five terraces to a height of nearly loo ft. On the temple platform were also tower-temples in three storeys, with images and altars, and the green stone for human sacrifice stood before the image of the war-god. Within the great enclosing wall, sculptured with serpents, were some seventy other temples with all the horrible paraphernalia connected with the rites of human sacrifice and feasts of cannibalism.

The Great Temple, Cholula, consisted of a hemispherical temple on a flat-topped pyramidal base, and was even larger than the Great Temple, Mexico, but is now a shapeless mound of earth. There are traces of another temple at Palenque in Yucatan.

Royal palaces, as at Zayi and Uxmal, appear to have derived their character from timber types and to have been of one storey, roofed with horizontal stone slabs, as in the early Greek work at Mycenae (p. 70). These palaces seem to have comprised numberless rooms round open courts with stone steps, terraces, aqueducts, and water basins, and, like the palaces of Babylon, to have had hanging gardens.

Groves of trees, flowers, birds, and fishes were all pressed into the service of the palace gardens. Provision for thousands of royal servants suggests the usual ancient story of despotic power, gangs of workers, and heavy burdens of taxation.

Peru.—Cyclopean ruins of vast and apparently unfinished buildings exist at Huaraz in the north, at Tiahuanaco in the south, and Cuzco in the centre, which were erected by the Incas some three centuries before the conquest of Peru by Pizarro (A.D. 1526). They seem to have been the outcome of conditions of forced labour and royal vanity, similar to those which existed in ancient Egypt. They probably date from the twelfth century of our era and exhibit great skill in their construction, while the masonry is a marvel of stone-cutting and fineness of fitting, similar to early Etruscan work (p. 133).

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