Located in southern Mexico, the ruins of the Mayan city of Palenque date back to 100 BC although its name is recently modern coming from the village located close by. The ancient name of the city was Lakam Ha, meaning "Big Water", as it has numerous springs and wide cascades. Palenque flourished in the 7th century with its decline and fall occurring around 800 AD. After its decline it was covered by the jungle but on going excavation and restoration work has made it one of the most famous archaeological sites in Mexico.
Palenque is much smaller than many of the Maya sites but it contains some of the finest architecture, sculpture, roof comb and carvings that the Maya produced. A great deal of the history of Palenque has been obtained from the hieroglyphic inscriptions found on many of the monuments.
The structures for which Palenque is most famous include the: Palace; Temple of Inscriptions; Temple of the Sun; the Temple of the Foliated Cross; the Temple of the Cross; and the Temple XIII.
Standing on a wide artificial terrace 9m high the Palace is 69m long by 61m wide. Covering an area of 6,500m2 it consists of a complex of several connected and adjacent buildings with a large number of rooms and galleries the wall of which were decorated with mural paintings and carved stone slabs. Running under the Palace are a series of passageways that lead to additional rooms. The palace is situated around four courtyards surrounded by double galleries. In the south-western courtyard there is a square tower which originally rose 22m in height. The tower has a solid basement and three stories with large windows looking toward the four cardinal points of the compass. It has been suggested that this could have been a watch tower or an observatory.
The Temple of Inscriptions was commissioned by Pacal (Pakal) (903 – 984 AD) the founder of the first dynasty at Palenque towards the end of his rein. The vaulted chamber which contained the sarcophagus was discovered in 1949. Originally the temple had eight platforms, which was later added to. As the sarcophagus is made from a 20 ton single piece of limestone and is larger than the passage ways, the temple would have been built around it. The lid of the sarcophagus - weighing 5 ton - was elaborately carved showing symbolic scene of death and resurrection and carved images of Pacal's ancestry are depicted around his coffin and provided a great deal of information about Pacal. On the walls of the tomb are figures of the nine lords of the dead carved in the stucco. There were also a number of skeletons found in the tomb; these were probably sacrificed as part of the funeral ceremony. The body of Pacal was covered in cinnabar and was adorned with pearls, conch shells, pyrite, and jade ornaments and his face was covered with a jade mask. A copy of the sarcophagus is held in the on-site museum while the mask is in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
The temples of the Sun, Foliated Cross, and the Cross are known as the Cross Group and were built between 642 AD to 692 AD by Pacal's eldest son and successor Chan Bahlum. The temples are arranged around three sides of the Plaza. Each of the buildings consists of an outer and inner chamber consisting of three rooms. The walls are decorated with carved stone panels. Visitors are currently able to climb to these temples but only enter the chamber of the Temple of the Sun.
Another structure in Palenque is the Temple XIII, which is adjacent to the Temple of Inscriptions. In 1994 a door was found that led to an underground temple, with three rooms. In the middle room was a sarcophagus which was painted with cinnabar to give it a red colour, inside the sarcophagus was the remains of a woman who became known as the Red Queen. There were no inscriptions to identify the woman. But it was believed that it could be the mother of Pacal.
The site also incorporates a museum containing some of the artefacts found on the site and a reconstruction of the tomb of Pacal as the tomb itself was closed to visitor s.
The Cross Group of Temples The Temple of Inscriptions
Interior and exterior of the Palace
Copy of Pacal's sarcophagus in the on-site museum
To see more photographs and a virtual tour of the site click on photoshow below.