Palenque in the Chiapas region
Immersed in a tropical forest, Palenque is situated right in front of the first mountains of the Chiapas region. The main part of the archaeological site consists of numerous pyramid-shaped temples surrounding a huge platform, the so-called Palace. All these buildings, covered with forests and wrapped in intense greenery, seem to be only dormant. Although the Maya disappeared from here hundreds of years ago, traces of their highly developed civilization are still visible.
Today, the Mayan civilization is considered the most interesting of the pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas. The clearest difference to the others is their pacifist approach and reluctance to use weapons only in an emergency.
The history of the Maya
The history of the Maya is now divided into three stages:
– Pre-Classic Period (2000 BC – 250 AD),
– Classic Period (250 AD – 900 AD),
– Post-Classic Period (900 AD – 1521 AD).
The Pre-Classic Period, about which little is known, was characterized by intensive agricultural development and the establishment of new villages in an increasing area. The peak of the Maya civilization development took place in the Classic Period, the so-called Old Mayan Empire. It was then that the Maya created an empire, not in a political or military sense, but in terms of cultural homogeneity, common language, and even costumes between different cities. Then, in a relatively short time, the Maya expanded into a much larger area.
Mayan ceremonial centers
Between 320 and 435 AD The Maya established many ceremonial centers, including Tikal, Yaxchilán, Copán or Palenque. At this time, the Mayans of the Itza tribe also founded Chichén Itzá. The following centuries expanded the territory of the Maya, until their expansion stopped in the 9th century, and after 830 many cities were abandoned. The reasons for this are still unknown today. There are many hypotheses, but an armed invasion is ruled out. Other possible theories include land depletion and a great famine or epidemic, most likely malaria. The amazing fact is that by the 10th century most cities were abandoned and deserted, including Palenque.
The Post-Classic Period that followed brought the so-called Mayan Renaissance. The center of civilization moved from Guatemala to the Yucatan.
King Pakal’s capital city – Lakamha
In the Classic Period, Palenque was one of the most important Mayan cities. It was the capital of a powerful dynasty ruling the area of today’s states of Chiapas and Tabasco. The city’s original name was Lakamha, “place of great waters,” and the territory it controlled was known as B’aakal or “bone.” Most of the buildings that still exist today come from the period 615-800, when the city was ruled successively by 5 kings. The art of Palenque was intended to glorify kings.
The tallest and most impressive building in Palenque is the so-called Temple of the Inscriptions. It was built during the 68-year reign of King Pakal (615-683), whose crypt is inside the pyramid.
East of the Temple of the Inscriptions there is a group of temples, the so-called Temples of the Cross, built in 692 by Pacal’s son and successor. The Temples of the Sun and the Cross are topped with an openwork stone crest. However, by far the largest building in Palenque is the palace complex, built on a 10-meter-high platform and measuring 100 by 80 m. This complex was built over 120 years. Inside the Palace, there is a 4-storey tower that probably once served as an astronomical observatory.
Where to look for Mayan ruins?
Today, Palenque is considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites in Mesoamerica. Former Mayan cities or ceremonial centers are dotted over a vast area, not only in Mexico, but also in Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. The Mayans left behind places like Palenque, familiar, but still shrouded in mystery. Certainly, other ruins are still waiting to be explored.
If you are interested, I also invite you to visit my YouTube channel. And here is a short film Palenque.
Photographs of Palenque
I am a passionate enthusiast of travel, archeology, photography and dancing 🙂 On this page I try to combine the first three elements: P and show you that travelling becomes definitely more interesting when we discover visited places, and often inconspicuous ruins hide the most fascinating stories 🙂