The Maya kingdom consisted of many independent states composed of rural farming communities and large urban sites. Their cities were built around ceremonial centres with plazas, pyramids, temples, and monuments. Highly skilled engineers and architects aligned these structures with the sun, moon and the stars. The stone buildings were covered with plaster and painted. They were decorated with royal symbols and elaborately sculpted figures related to the Maya's religion.
Tikal was one of the largest city-states, boasting 50,000 inhabitants ca. A.D. 600. Located in the heart of the Petén jungle, its sprawling ruins of over 10 kilometres include lofty temples, pyramids, and massive palaces. Thousands of thatch-roofed hut compounds would have lined the streets and pathways in all directions around these structures.
It is hard to get a sense, from the monumental remains of Maya buildings, of what they would have looked like at the time of construction (akin to looking at dinosaur bones and trying to imagine the live animal). This generic model of a Maya city, not based on a specific historical city, gives some idea of colour and massing.
The building facades were stuccoed, painted in brilliant colours and must have been resplendent in the bright sunlight. It is easy to imagine processions of exotically-attired nobles, wearing jade and elaborate headdresses, participating in the various rituals - such as the funeral of Lord Pacal - of this culturally rich and complex society.