The Mayans – Palenque Chapter


On the last day of our Chiapas adventure, we visited the Mayan ruins of Palenque.  Our hotel was a short car ride to the entrance of the ruins. Our driver, Abel, dropped us off and waited on the parking lot until we were done.

A prime example of a Mayan sanctuary of the classical period, Palenque was at its height between AD 500 and 700, when its influence extended throughout the basin of the Usumacinta River. The elegance and craftsmanship of the buildings, as well as the lightness of the sculpted reliefs with their Mayan mythological themes, attest to the creative genius of this civilization

The city was founded during the Late Preclassic, which corresponds to the beginning of the Christian era. Its first inhabitants probably migrated from other sites in the nearby region. They always shared the cultural features which define the Maya culture, as well as a level of development that allowed them to adapt to the natural environment. After several centuries, ca. 500 A.D., the city rose to be a powerful capital within a regional political unit.

Without a buffer zone the total area of the archeological site is 1780 hectares, 09 areas and 49 square meters and 1,400 buildings have been recorded, of which only about 10% have been explored.

Set into a hillside and completed c. 682 CE, the pyramid has nine different levels, corresponding, no doubt, to the nine levels of the Maya Underworld.  The temple is also notable as the only known example of a Maya pyramid being built before the death of the occupant.

This is also the tomb of King Pakal, which the remains can be seen at the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City.

Once the ancient city of Palenque was abandoned around the 9th century, the thick jungle surrounding it covered its temples and palaces. This vegetation largely protected the buildings and their elements from looting. Furthermore, the fact that the area remained uninhabited, from its abandonment until the Colonial period, aided the protection of the site’s integrity.

The palencano style is unique for its high degree of refinement, lightness and harmony. It includes buildings with vaulted roofs upon which pierced crestings emphasized its height.

Residential areas, buildings with political and administrative functions, as well as those whose function was ritual are conserved in their original setting, turning the site with its exceptional artistic and architectural features into a living museum.

Uniquely for Maya cities, at Palenque a royal residence and not a temple is the central focus of the city. The palace, likely first begun by King Pakal and with major additions such as the tower c. 721 CE, is one of the most complex architectural structures at any Maya site.

The building was used as a royal residence and court but also as accommodation for nobles, servants, and military personnel.

Being in the middle of the Jungle, there are some non-human visitors to the ruins.

The name Palenque derives from the Spanish, meaning ‘fortified place’, but the original Maya name, we now know, was Lakamha.

Its architecture is also characterized by its interior sanctuaries and modeled stucco scenes found on its freezes, columns, walls, crests, as well as ogival vaults, vaulted halls connecting galleries and T-shaped windows, among other unique architectural features

It takes around 3 hours to visit the whole site. It requires some level of fitness as you will be climbing many pyramids and other structures.

Some of the super detailed stucco reliefs are incredible.

They have a Mayan Ballgame court. The Maya ballgame was more than just an athletic event. It was also a sacrificial and religious event. The Maya believed that it was necessary to play the game for their own survival. The ballgame provided an opportunity to show devoutness to the gods by sacrificing captured kings and high lords, or the losing opponents of the game.

A few more pyramids to climb and we were on our way back to the car.

We stopped for a fresh coconut to re-hydrate again.

Abel picked us up and we started to drive towards the Villahermosa airport.  We made a quick stop to eat some fresh local food.

And this is where we say goodbye to our amazing driver and guide Abel. He made our trip experience amazing and would recommend to anyone planning a trip to Chiapas!! Our next stop is Edy’s wedding in Mexico City!!

Bonus Pic Of The Day:  The Mayan calendar is an ancient calendar system that rose to fame in 2012, when a “Great Cycle” of its Long Count component came to an end, inspiring some to believe that the world would end . Of course, the predictions did not come true—just like hundreds of other doomsday prophecies that fizzled out in the past.  There are a lot of vendors selling these Mayan calendar symbols that represent the months of the year; each month represent a different personality and traits of the person.

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