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Palenque, Bonampak, Yaxch
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
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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.








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