civic planning

Mesoamerican Cosmograms

Central Arguments and Themes

Ashmore and Sabloff, in “Spatial Orders in Maya Civic Plans,” focus on civic planning, cosmology, and politics through the lens of Maya arenas and the buildings. The authors establish the relationship between the above factors by examining the complexity of spatial order and politics in particular centers. Sabloff and Ashmore observe that urban centers with short and less complex political histories are easier to interpret spatially compared to those with turbulent and long political history. The authors argue that urban centers with longer development and minimal upheavals are characterized by strong and consistent planning, which is influenced by politics and cosmology. Therefore, Ashmore and Sabloff successfully identify the relationship between civic planning, politics, and cosmology of Maya civilization civic planning.


To support their arguments, Ashmore and Sabloff provide an analysis of spatial layouts in several urban centers, such as Xunantunich, Copan, Sayil, Tikal, and Seibal. The directional model is consistently utilized in the paper in order to link city planning to cosmology and politics. For instance, in the north of Copan, excavations identified pieces of glyphic frieze, which included the name of 18-Rabbit and a calendar-round date (Ashmore and Sabloff 204). Additionally, the authors establish significant similarities between the core urban layout of Xunatich and that of Naranjo (Ashmore and Sabloff 206). In the case of 18-Rabbit, (a political figure of Copan who was buried in the heavenly North), the authors clearly show how cosmology influenced politics and city planning. The second case shows how cities were built based on emulation and directional strategies to engulf future ritual and civic centers in a cover of longstanding authority; hence, connecting urban planning and politics. civic planning

Comparison with the Other Readings

Ashmore and Sabloff’s arguments about cosmology and cosmograms in Mesoamerica are highly criticized by Michael E. Smith in “Did the Maya Build Architectural Cosmograms?” Although Smith acknowledges that construction was influenced by cosmology in such territories as China, the author vehemently criticizes the methods used by Ashmore and Sabloff to connect urban planning and cosmology and regards them as speculative, subjective, and less grounded on heuristic evidence. However, Sprajc, in “More on Mesoamerican Cosmology and City Plans,” supports the study conducted by Ashmore and Sabloff and dismisses Smith’s arguments stating that rigorous approaches have been used to support claims that Maya buildings were influenced by cosmology (209).civic planning

A Comparison with Architectural Historians

Ashmore and Sabloff’s approach to urban planning and cosmology is generally similar to that of architectural historians, who suggest that archaic cultures influenced the weighting and configuration of human habitat and the placement within ritually, mythically, and symbolically. Architectural historians acknowledge that in the ancient world, human life was embedded and received a deeper meaning and spirit from an organized and ordered spatiotemporal natural world that resided in culture (Rappengluck 387). Therefore, the authors and the architectural world possess a similar view of cosmology and cosmograms.civic planning

Part 2


A cosmogram is a symbolic or graphical representation of specific aspects of origin, especially that of the universe. The graphical representation can be a building, a city, or a coin that has metaphorical interpretations pointing to the origin of the universe or humanity. As stated by Smith, “Cosmogram is a representation of the entire universe through symbolic shorthand or artistic metaphor” (217). The phrase indicates that a cosmogram, whether an artistic metaphor or symbolic text, must entirely represent the understanding of a particular group of people about the origin of the universe. Therefore, a complete cosmogram must involve the underworld, the physical world, and, the heaven.civic planning

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