“Mesoamerican architecture: Building traditions of the indigenous cultures in parts of Mexico and Central American before the 16th-century Spanish conquest. The idea of constructing temple-pyramids appears to have taken hold early. La Venta, the center of Olmec culture c.800-400 BC, contains one of the earliest pyramidal structure, a mound of earth and clay 100 feet (30 meters) high. Mesoamerican pyramids were generally earth mounds faced with stone. Typically of stepped form, they were topped by a platform or temple which only privileged community members were allowed to approach. The best-known include the Pyramid of the Sun (rivaling the Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza) and Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacan, the Castillo at Chichen Itza, and largest of all, the 177-foot (54 meters) Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl at Cholula. The Classic period (AD 100-900) saw the flourishing of Mayan architecture, in which the corbeled vault made its first appearance in the Americas. Ceremonial centers in the Mayan Lowlands proliferated, as did inscribed and dated stelae and monuments. Tikal, Uaxactun, Copan, Palenque, and Uxmal all attained their glory in these centuries. A common feature at these sites is a tlachtli, or ball court. Their raised platforms were often the architectural center of ancient cities. See also Monte Alban.”
Excerpted from: Stevens, Mark A., Ed. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2000.