The physical universe of the Mayas was often a practical representation
of their Cosmology. Many cities were divided into 4 neighborhoods
built around a center. The same is true of the ensembles made of
a place surrounded by 4 constructions where the orientation plays
a very important role.
Some researchers say that the political Maya universe was also a
map of the cosmos with Tikal as the center. Copán, on the
east, was the city where life was born and Palenque, on the west,
towards the sunset, was the closest place to the underworld. Palenque,
because of the numerous tombs, is considered a sacred necropolis.
For the Mayas, possessing the life meant possessing also the death.
The history of Palenque
Part of an ensemble 5 miles long, the ceremonial zone is spread
on a 37- acre area. Palenque reached its peak from the seventeenth
to the nineteenth century, before vanishing like the other Maya
cities, for still unknown reasons.
The abundance of the inscriptions found in the tombs and other buildings
in Palenque allowed the archaeologists to translate some glyphs
and interpret some historical texts. They discovered, among others,
the names of the kings who governed the city. In King Pakal’s
tomb, they found the portraits and names of his ancestors as well
as the dates of their reigns.
Pakal, the club-footed king very often portrayed in sculptures,
was the great builder of the city. He reigned from 615 to 683. After
his death, he was succeeded by his son Kan Balam. This one has 6
fingers and 6 toes. The dynasty seems to have started in 501 with
Chaacal I, born in 465 and dead in 524.
The archaeological excavations confirmed the texts and the dates
of the inscriptions. No building anterior to the sixteenth century
has been found but the site might have been occupied because of
the presence of local pottery as well as pottery imported from Peten.
The first constructions are part of the north group (with different
temples, among them the temple of the Comte (named after the Baron
de Waldeck who stayed there), the ball Court and the first stages
of the Palace). Then, it was the time of splendor : the palace had
been finished and they also built the temple of the Cross, the temple
of the Sun and the temple of the inscriptions which houses Pakal’s
tomb. Afterwards, they experienced some external influences and
in the early ninth century, Palenque started to decline like the
The temple of the Inscriptions
Construction the most important of the site, this nine story pyramid
(corresponding to the nine levels of the Maya underworld) support
a temple in which there is still the "tablero" with the
longest Maya inscriptions.
Inside, a stone slab covers stairs which go down to the crypt located
1.5 m (5 feet) below the base of the pyramid. The crypt is 7m (22
feet) long and 3.5m (11 feet) wide. It is closed to the public.
It housed a huge stone sarcophagus covered with a carved slab 2
m (6.5 feet) wide and 3 m (10 feet) long. Under the 4 ton slab,
the sarcophagus holds the remains of King-Priest Pakal wearing a
mosaic mask and surrounded with a multitude of jade jewels. While
studying this ensemble, the archaeologist discovered that the crypt
has been built before the pyramid that covers it and before the
temple. It was Pakal himself who had this pyramid built. He had
been reigning sixty eight years before being buried there. This
is unique in the Maya culture.