Mexico        Rêve Mexicain en français
Palenque, Bonampak, Yaxch
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
Print        Share on : facebook   twitter   google   myspace 


view of Palenque Located 150 km (93 miles) from Villahermosa and 189 km (117 miles) north of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Palenque is one of the most noticeable ensembles of classic Maya architecture. Built on the foothills of the sierra covered with jungle and dominating a huge humid plain, Palenque is one of the gates to the Maya culture, one of the most brilliant cultures in America.

Left picture : view of Palenque

The Maya culture

Mayan people conceived the universe as an ensemble of layered plans. The earth, square shaped, was held at each corner by "Bacabs" set at the cardinal points and characterized by a specific color. Above, the Heavens, made of 13 steps : the Oxlahuntiku formed a kind of broken arch made of 6 ascending steps (sun from sunrise to zenith), a top level (zenith), and 6 descending steps (sun from zenith to sunset). Under, the Underworld made of 9 steps : the Bolontiku, 4 descending steps, a bottom level and 4 ascending steps. Every Heaven or underworld was the residence of a divinity. Above the Heavens, there were stars, comets and galaxies (the Milky Way was represented as an iguana or a snake unrolling in the sky). Under there was a crocodile shaped monster supporting the universe. The Oxlahuntiku and the Bolontiku maintained a ceaseless fight with imperious Gods of death. But the death was considered as the beginning of the new life which started again the next morning with the sun. The last underworld, the Xibalba, was thus the prelude of the rebirth.

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.
the tower of the palace
       Right picture : the tower of the palace

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

king Pakal 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 Maya cities.

      Above picture : king Pakal

The temple of the Inscriptions

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.

Temple of the Inscriptions



 left and right pictures : Temple of the Inscriptions



The jade treasure and stucco masks discovered in the crypt are now preserved in the Museum of anthropology of Mexico City.










view of Palenque (temple of the Inscriptions on the left and Palace on the right)



     Right picture : view of Palenque
(temple of the Inscriptions on the left and Palace on the right)


The Palace

The palace is built on a base of 330 feet long, 260 feet wide and 33 feet high. It is an ensemble of palaces from different times surrounding four courtyards. In the middle of this ensemble stands a four story tower of almost 66 feet high. Each courtyard, with a different shape, is surrounded by galleries and embellished rooms. The walls are carved with mysterious personages. Then, some rooms have been divided with inner walls and toilets have been added in one courtyard. The tower was used as an observation tower and an astronomic observatory. See the patios de la Torre and de los Esclavos, with a stairway decorated with glyphic inscriptions.

the Palace In the southern part, the underpasses, which linked the palace to the south façade, form rooms with altars. Even if it was mutilated by looters and treasure hunters, the palace still has marvelous relief stone and stucco sculptures for which Palenque is famous. The bases of some walls are adorned with carved slabs. The pillars are decorated with remaining of stucco sculptures; you can still see macaroons, frescoes, realistic patterns as well as murals in some rooms.

     Above picture : the Palace

The temple of the Cross, the temple of the Foliated Cross and the temple of the Sun (Cross group)

Between the Palace and the Eastern Mountain, across the creek, there are three unrestored temples built on mounds around a partially cleared place. Unlike any other Maya site which have many steles, Palenque has instead "tableros" (big stone slabs covering the walls of the temples) carved with signs and symbolic scenes. These three temples were named after the "tableros" found there. The tablero of the Sun, one of the best preserved, represents an adoration of the sun. The sun is represented with one shield and two folded spears put on a throne supported by two slaves. On each side, priests or kings present offerings. Several columns of glyph stands on the sides : you can read the date : 642. The original of the "tablero" of the temple of the Cross is currently at the Museum of anthropology of Mexico City. In the entrance way, magnificent bas-reliefs represent priests and glyphs.

      Right picture : the temple of the Sun

the temple of the Foliated Cross The temple of the Foliated Cross is facing the temple of the Sun. It represents a cross whose ends are transformed into corn and human heads (in an ear shape). Above it are the symbols of the Sun and the Rain God. By the side, priests present offerings. A lot of ink has been spilled over these two "tableros": it means that the Maya would have known the symbol of the cross. To complete your tour, visit also the Templo del Conde and the juego de pelota.

Many other small temples, especially in Grupo Norte, more or less well preserved, are disseminated in the jungle. Others have not been excavated. A lot of treasures wait for the archaeologists since only 10% of the buildings have been dug.

Facing the temple of the Inscriptions is the mausoleum where lie the ashes of Alberto Ruz Lhuillier, who discovered the site of Palenque.

      Above picture : the temple of the Foliated Cross

This site is inscribed on the Cultural World Heritage list of UNESCO since 1987 :

palace and tower of PalenqueOpen daily, 8 AM-5 PM, $57 – free on Sundays – Guides available on the premises (about $550 per group). See also the museum open from 9 AM to 4 PM, from Tuesday to Sunday without extra fee. It is worth the visit. Admire among the 300 objects and sculptures of the site : jade and obsidian jewelry, the fantastic censers of the Cross group, the Tablero del Palacio and the polychrome stucco panel of temple XIX. Complete explanations in Spanish and English.

To get there, take a combi (transports Chambalu) from the village to the archaeological site (8 km or 5 miles), every 10 min from 6 AM to 6 PM (both ways).

     Right picture : palace and tower of Palenque

The history of the state of Chiapas :

Map of the archaeological site :

Maya ruins of Palenque, in the south-Eastern tropical forest of Mexico.

Yaxchilán, Bonampak

These two sites are contemporary of Palenque and Tikal. It is difficult to get there and you need two days to visit them because of the ride.

Located between Palenque and Tikal, Yaxchilán gets the influences of both sites.

crossing the Usumacinta river The city spreads out between the Usumacinta River which flooded several buildings and many hills where numerous constructions were built.

Left picture : crossing the Usumacinta river

The site is invaded by the jungle but it is worth the visit because of the interesting monuments which are as important as the ones of the big Maya cities. The buildings with smooth or adorned facades are crowned with openwork roof combs as in the temple of the Sun in Palenque. They discovered thirty steles showing the influence of Tikal as well as door lintels carvings showing inscriptions and personages. The many texts allow putting together the history of the reigning dynasty, the "Jaguars". These warlike kings had relations with the neighbor cities. They are carved on the monuments in Yaxchilán, in Bonampak, where the glyph symbol of Yaxchilán is painted by the side of the portrait of a high ranked woman, and in Piedras Negras, Guatemala, on lintel number 3, where a king of Yaxchilán is depicted leading a meeting to elect the next ruler of the city. Several bas-reliefs depict the exploits of such kings as "Jaguar-Shield" and his son "Jaguar-Bird" who succeeded him in 752. The most important constructions are the Labyrinth (structure 19), the Gran Acropolis (edifice 33) and the South Acropolis where the edifices 39, 40 and 41 dominate the forest.

one of the temple of Yaxchilán The most noticeable elements of Yaxchilán are the elegant roof combs and the mansard roofs supporting an anthropomorphic stucco decor. The numerous lintel and stele carvings describe the important historical events and the diverse rites of the ceremonial life : The epigraphists identified glyphs symbolizing the access to the throne, the dates of birth and the matrimonial alliances.

     Right picture : one of the temple of Yaxchilán


Famous for its murals, Bonampak is located about 25 km (15 miles), as the crow flies, from Yaxchilán. The name Bonampak means “murals” in Yucatán language. However, these paintings had lost a lot of their brightness since their discovery in 1946. The site is set in the Valley of Lacanja River, affluent of Usumacinta River. The temples, as the ones of the neighbor sites, were worshiped and the Lacandóns Indians are maybe still worshiping them with offerings and burning incense.

fresco of BonampakFacing a big place surrounded by constructions, the temple of the paintings (Templo de las Pinturas), stands on a terrace reachable by a huge stairway. It has three rooms entirely covered with frescoes.

The scenes describe a very important event for Bonampak. This event took place in the late eighth century. The local army, ready for fighting, (the soldiers wore armor and helmets with feathers) seems to wait for the conclusion of a meeting presided by the King.

     Right picture : fresco of Bonampak

Musicians accompany the troops. The second episode corresponds to the fight where warriors show their skills and force that led to the victory. Then, after the triumph, the captives, naked and tortured, are presented to the king.
The third episode shows the personages of the court with their most beautiful clothes, accompanied with musicians. Finally, to celebrate the victory, a ceremonial dance is performed to the sound of long trumpets. Women pierce their tongue to thank the Gods. Notice that, above each door, the inner face of the lintels is carved with bas-reliefs depicting the capture of the prisoners. The best preserved, in room 3, shows the winner, crowned with a skull, holding a captive by the hair and piercing him with a lance.
These frescoes are reproduced in the Museum of anthropology of Mexico City. Close to Bonampak is Lacanja, where live some families of Lacandóns, last survivors of the inhabitants of the forest. Other temples and palaces of the Gran Plaza and the Acropolis can be visited with a Lacandón guide.
Isolated from the Spanish and other Indian groups, the Lacandóns still keep many elements of their ancient Maya culture. These Indians, native to Yucatán, are not the descendants of the builders of Bonampak, Yaxchilán and Palenque, (they were the Chols), but they are descendants of the Maya Indians of the peninsula who fled the Spanish domination.

How was this place discovered ?

This spectacular discovery was made in 1946 by Gilles Healey, a photographer of the "United Fruit Company". He came to meet the Lacandóns. This tribe, with long hair and white tunic, seems to send you to a Pre-biblical innocence. In one temple, Healey saw frescoes as bright as if painted the previous day. The myth of Maya pacifism is gone. On these admirable blue backgrounds, there are only scenes of mutilation – women piercing their tongues with a barbwire, men making their genitals squirt blood- or scenes of war prisoners waiting to be killed. The few hundred remaining Lacandóns are there to manage the site.

Open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM, for Yaxchilan ($55) and for Bonampak ($46).

How to get there ? Coming from Palenque, the combis of Rio Chancalá and Chamoan run several dozen times day from Palenque to Frontera Corozal (3 hours) and Benemérito (4 hours). To go to Bonampak, go off at the crossing of San Javier. It remains 2 km (1.2 miles) to get to the entrance of the reserve Montes Azules (you can take a combi) and 9 km (5.5 miles) to reach the site (taxi : $90 or bike : $70). To go to Yaxchilán, go off at Crucero Corozal and take a colectivo to the pier. Take a lancha ($140) for the last part of the ride to Yaxchilán.

The best way to visit these two sites is a car or a tour via a travel agency in Palenque or San Cristóbal (see tourist offices).

Bonampak and Yaxchilán  

Aucun produit culturel dans la boutique
XML ERRdata 



No comment has been yet posted on this page.