Located in southern Mexico, the ruined Mayan city of Palenque is considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites of Mesoamerica. Dating back to 100 BCE it developed between 300 to 650 AD, although it flourished between 615 to 783 AD and contains some of the finest architecture, sculpture and carvings that the Maya produced. It has provided a significant amount of knowledge of the Maya due to the hieroglyphic inscriptions and the intact tombs of Pakal and of the Red Queen found there.
Located in southern Mexico, the ruins of the Mayan city of Palenque date back to 100 BCE 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 developed between 300 to 650 AD, although it flourished between 615 to 783 AD with its decline and fall occurring around 800 AD. After it was deserted it was covered by the jungle, but on-going excavation and restoration work in recent years 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 800 structures and some of the finest architecture, sculpture 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 structures and 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 known as the Temple of the Red Queen.
On entering the site, the building on the right is The Temple of the Skull, it got its name from the stucco relief which depicts a skull, which is believed to be that of a rabbit.
The whole temple was painted red and blue and consists of a number of rooms, but itís the next two temples which create the lasting impression of Palenque.
The Temple of Inscriptions was commissioned by Pakal (903 Ė 984 AD) the founder of the first dynasty at Palenque towards the end of his reign as his tomb.
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 in the temple, 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. Carved images of Pakal's ancestry are depicted around his coffin and provided a great deal of information about Pakal. On the walls of the tomb are figures of the nine lords of the dead carved in the stucco. A number of skeletons found in the tomb which were probably sacrificed as part of the funeral ceremony. The body of Pakal 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 as the tomb itself was closed to visitors.
The mask of Pakal was discovered in 1952 in more than 300 pieces. In 1955 it was reassembled and is displayed in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. The one in the site museum is a copy made in 2001.
Next to the Temple of the Inscription is Temple XIII, which is known as the Temple of the Red Queen.
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, an ore of mercury which is red in colour. Inside the sarcophagus was the remains of a woman and she became known as the Red Queen. The sarcophagus is still there and can still be seen. There were no inscriptions to identify the woman, but scientific investigations indicate that she may have been Pakalís wife, Sock Boor How.
Just across from these structures, standing on a 69m long by 61m wide wide artificial mound is the Palace.
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 walls of which were decorated with mural paintings and carved stone slabs, some of which can be seen in the onsite museum.
The palace is situated around four courtyards surrounded by double galleries.
Models showing what the palace looked like, are in the onsite museum and these enable the layout and the courtyards to be seen.
The pillars, walls and roof combs were covered with painted stucco reliefs which generally portray masks, hieroglyphs and religious scenes. Today most of the stucco paintings have either been eroded by the jungle humidity or removed to the museum, where they can be seen along with many everyday objects.
Running under the Palace are a series of passageways that lead to additional rooms.
In the south-western courtyard is a square tower which originally was 22m high. 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. Access to the tower indicates a monitored access, and the tower probably functioned as an astronomical observatory for the Priest/Kings.
Across from the palace is the Cross Group which consists of The Temples of the Sun, Foliated Cross, and the Cross. These were constructed between 642 to 692 AD by Pakal's eldest son and successor Chan Bahlum II.
The temples are arranged around three sides of the Plaza. Each of the buildings has an outer and inner chamber consisting of three rooms. The walls are decorated with carved stone panels.
The Temple of the Sun has three entrance doorways and four stuccoed piers and contains scenes in the panels depicting images of war and sacrifice.
The entire front wall and mansard roof of the Temple of the Foliated Cross have fallen, which gives the building its unusual appearance. It originally looked much like the Temple of the Sun.
The Temple of the Cross consists of a step pyramid with the temple at the top containing inscribed panels depicting the stories relating to Palenque and its leaders.
It was constructed to commemorate Chan Bahlum taking over the throne after the death of Pakal. It is the largest and most significant in the Group.
The site also contains a number of other ceremonial groups, plazas, aqueducts, mausoleums and residential complexes and a ball court.
To see more photographs and a virtual tour of the site click on photoshow below.