Splendid ball courts still stand at Tikal, Copán, Chichén Itzá, and several other Maya sites

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In certain types of artistic activity, the Classic Maya surpassed all other native peoples in Mesoamerica. Other native cultures built larger pyramids, but these structures often lacked the grace and subtlety of Maya construction with its decorative stonework, graceful statues, intricately carved facades, and high ornamental roof combs in temples and palaces. A distinctive feature of Maya architecture was the corbelled arch. Other Middle American peoples used horizontal wooden beams to bridge entrances, producing a heavy, squarish impression. The Maya solved the same problem by having the stones on either side of the opening project farther and farther inwards, bridging the two sides at the apex with a capstone.
Maya writing was not primarily used to record literature or history. Maya myths, legends, poetry, and traditional history were passed on orally from one generation to the next. Although no examples of Classic Maya literature survive, many Maya legends can be found in material such as Popol Vuh, the Sacred Book of Quiche Maya of present-day Guatemala. The Popol Vuh was written after the Spanish conquest in the Spanish alphabet by a native who drew on the oral and written tradition of his people. One popular Maya legend had to do with the ball game and the twins. It told that a long time ago, while playing the ball game, two twins disturbed the gods, named 1 death and 7 Death. The twins were defeated in the ball game and were subsequently executed; the severed head of one of them hung in a tree as a warning to others. Later, a daughter of one of the lords of the underworld was warned not to go near the tree. However, she found herself attracted to the head and so she walked up to it. After a conversation with the head, she was asked to hold out her hand. When she did, she was impregnated. For disobedience, the lords of the underworld sentenced the woman to death, but she escaped to the world above and gave birth to a new set of twins. The twins born to this woman eventually tried to avenge the deaths of their father and uncle by winning a ball game against the underworld lords. The Maya believed that each modern recreation of the ball game symbolized this series of struggles.

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