3 – Postclassic Period (950 – 1511)
Although the Maya never again reached the heights of the Classic Period, they did retain a significant presence in Mesoamerica. Admittedly, most of the major cities were abandoned by the tenth century, and unlike the beginning of the Classic Period, the Maya did not quickly resettle in the empty lands. Overall, millions of Maya died during what is called the Terminal Classic Period, but it is a mistake to believe they practically vanished.
Many scholars have a less than favorable impression of this era; they suggest it was marked by decadence and was overly militaristic compared to previous periods. However, while their accomplishments and artwork are not as impressive as their ancestors, it is unfair to dismiss them completely.
The center of Mayan urban development moved to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico in the late tenth century. The most important cities in this era of Mayan settlement include Uxmal, Chichen-Itza, and Mayapen. These cities had large central cores with enormous buildings complete with carved or plastered motifs on the blocks. The Casa Del Gobernador at Uxmal is a splendid structure containing 24 chambers. At Chichen-Itza, the pyramid and its temple rise 30 meters above the central plaza.
Chichen-Itza was the dominant city at the start of the Postclassic Period, but it declined dramatically by the 11th century. As a consequence, there was no important city in the civilization until the growth of Mayapen in the 12th century. The Maya enjoyed a lengthy period of successful maritime trade around the Yucatan until the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century.
While the official end of the Maya civilization didn’t occur for another century, it was practically finished when Mayapen was abandoned in the 1440s. Some sources suggest the city was destroyed by the Maya that once ruled Uxmal. They founded a new city at Mani, but for the rest of the civilization’s history, it was embroiled in warfare between rival tribes over the territory. A number of natural disasters in the Yucatan Peninsula coupled with disease weakened the Maya and made them easy pickings for the Spanish.