Where the abundance of archaeological remains unveil the master lines of Mayan cosmology
All the information you can’t miss about the land
Kilometer 6.5 of the highway going to Palenque Archaeological Zone, in the municipality of Palenque, Chiapas
Monday through Sunday from 8:00 to 16:00
57 pesos. The archaeological zone offers irregular hours after 17:00 for a cost of 191 pesos.
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While flying over Palenque, travelers see an abandoned city, a city that does not seem to ever have been inhabited by human beings. They see pyramids and plazas covered by wilderness over a thousand years ago. The even treetops embrace the pyramids, which show their moss-covered peaks.
The true name of the ancient city of Palenque is Lakamha, which translates as “Big Water”. Although, eventually, the archaeological zone took its name from the neighboring community founded towards the end of the 16th Century, Santo Domingo de Palenque. Palenque means “Stake” which refers to a wooden circle built to protect the site.
Palenque, declared a World Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 1987, was the most important city of the low western lands during the late Classic period. It reached its peak between 600 and 800 A.D.
It began to decline at the beginning of 900 A.D., and was eventually devoured by the jungle, until 1784, when José Antonio Calderón conducted the first official exploration of the site and, a year later, Antonio Bernasconi conducted a detailed study of its buildings.
Palenque was, along with Tikal and Calakmul, one of the most powerful Classic Mayan cities. It was the seat of one of the most distinguished dynasties, which Pakal belonged to.
Very well preserved, the abundance of archaeological, architectural, pictorial, and written remains, among others, have made Palenque a required place for archaeologists to come and decipher the lines of Mayan writing and its cosmological tales.
It is also, from a monumental point of view, a landmark for Mayan culture, due to the quality of its architecture as well as the originality of its constructions. Its original architecture include the tilted façades on the buildings upper parts and panels with stucco embossing. It was one of the most important Mayan cities of the Classic period and today, it is a renowned archaeological zone thanks to its architecture, sculptures and the vast group of hieroglyphic inscriptions that tell us about its long and fruitful history.
The Temple of the Inscriptions, built in front of the Great Palace, is located in the upper part of a staggered pyramid. It has five entrances, an unusual trait in Mayan architecture. It is actually a funeral temple filled with inscriptions that live up to its name, with a carved tile inside which leads to a stairway which, in turn, leads to a funeral chamber, located in the depths of the building. Inside the mortuary chamber, which is seven meters high, there is a beautiful decoration and a richly carved sarcophagus containing the remains of Pakal II or K’inich Janahb Pakal II (Sun Shield Bird-Janahb), who lived between 603 and 683 A.D. and ruled for 67 years.
The Palace, in front of the Temple of the Inscriptions, is more than just a building, it is a magnificent group of interconnected structures on an artificial terrace, which were built, remodeled, and modified over the course of four hundred years. It is one of the most beautiful and complex structures of the Mayan World due to the diversity of its elements. It consists of hallways, staggered bases, subterranean galleries, courtyards, panels with hieroglyphics and other sculptural elements, such as the Oval, which displays the enthronement of Pakal next to his mother Zac Kuk.
Alongside the Temple of the Inscriptions, stand the Temple of the Skull and the Red Queen Temple, laid over a wide platform; at the top, the buildings reveal the remnants of temples, which served as tombs for important people of the site’s dynasty.
The Cross Group consists of the Temple of the Cross, Temple of the Sun, and Temple of the Foliated Cross, three staggered pyramids with temples that commemorate the ascension to the throne, after the death of Pakal the Great and Lord Chan Bahlum II, displaying the new lord receiving greatness from the hands of his predecessor. The Temple of the Sun is distinguishes for having the best preserved of all site cresting, which is over 4 meters high, and the panel of the Sun rests in its interior, carved in limestone. The Temple of the Cross is the tallest in the group. The entrance to the premises is flanked by two carved tombstones that display two richly-dressed men, the first is the Jaguar-Serpent ruler and the second is an underworld deity. The Temple of the Foliated Cross was built at the peak of a small hill. Its front façade and cresting have completely collapsed.
The North Group is located away from the plaza, to the north. It consists of five aligned buildings over the same base. To the west, the Temple of the Count can be seen with its five-body base. At the peak is a small temple that retains a large part of its original architecture, except for the cresting. This is where several almost intact tombs with offerings were found. Temple XIX, a throne decorated with two carved panels, is one of the most interesting structures in recent findings.
While on the site, a visit to the onsite museum is a must. The museum is named after the eminent archaeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier, who discovered the Tomb of Pakal II. Carved tombstones, stucco and ceramic figures, incense holders, as well as obsidian, jade and seashell jewels can be appreciated –all these pieces are rescued objects from the Palenque archaeological zone.
In 2007 opened a replica of the burial chamber and the sarcophagus of Pakal, with the intention of safeguarding the original monument located in the Temple of the Inscriptions.
Wear comfortable footwear, preferably something sporty, pants, preferably cotton, a long-sleeve shirt, and a bandana or hat. Remember to bring mosquito repellent, as you’ll be in the jungle.
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Remember the importance of respecting and keeping the space you are visiting clean.
How to arrive
The city of Palenque is located in the northern part of the state, in the jungle region. It can be...
The city of Palenque is located in the northern part of the state, in the jungle region. It can be reached by highways 190 and 199, with an approximate 6-hour journey time, leaving from Tuxtla Gutiérrez, the state capital.
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