Days 4 & 5
Palenque is a city in the state of Chiapas, which is an area rich in natural resources. The Mayan archaeological site of the same name sits approximately one mile outside of the city.
We settled into our room at Mision Palenque, where we all enjoyed a typical Mexican dinner. Bordering the jungle, the grounds were lush and we were pleased to hear the deep-throated sounds of a howler monkey in the tree right next to the hotel. The next morning, an iguana decided to join our group poolside. It was enchanting but we had little time to marvel at this creature, as we were headed to the Mayan site of Palenque.
Francisco, a very knowledgeable young man in Mayan history, was our guide for the day.
Palenque is one of the most important archaeological sites in Mesoamerica, housing some of the finest architecture, sculptures and bas-relief carvings that the Maya produced. It was also influential because Palenque was where royalty lived. As expansive and fascinating as this site is, archaeologists believe that only about 5% of the total city has been excavated, with 95% still buried under the jungle floor! It was one of the largest Mayan cities during its time (100 BC – 800 AD), with a population of 25,000 – 30,000. It is estimated that there were 1453 buildings constructed, so approximately 1400 still remain underground.
The first European to visit the site was Priest Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada in 1567. Due to the strong construction of the buildings that he encountered, he named the site Palenque, meaning “fortification”.
The Great Palace was one of the first structures that we saw upon entering the grounds. It is actually a complex of several connected buildings and courtyards, housing many fine sculptures and bas-relief carvings, in addition to the unique 4-story observation tower.
A typical bed seen inside the Palace would not have rated high on our comfort scale!
The archway in this structure, with a capstone, was built in such a way that should one wall fall, the remaining structure would remain intact. Can we say the same for our modern architecture? This construction style was much more advanced than that of Rome.
The Palace was also the building where Pakal the Great’s coronation took place at age 12, overseen by his mother.
The Temple of the Inscriptions may be the most significant of all the structures unearthed to date as it houses the sarcophagus and funerary effects of Pakal the Great, the king who reigned during 600 AD for approximately 70 years. This tomb, which no longer can be viewed by the public, weighs 18 tons and was forged from limestone. The construction of this stately temple, with its 69 steps leading up to his tomb, commenced the last decade of Pakal’s life. He did not live long enough to see its completion; however, his son and successor to the throne, Cham-Balum, fulfilled his dream.
Pakal the Great’s sarcophagus was discovered in 1949 and it took until 1952 to fully unearth it. It holds the richest collection of jade seen in a Mayan tomb. Jade was very important to the Maya, as it represented Mother Earth, so Pakal was buried with many jade objects. His mortuary mask was encrusted with more than 200 tiny carved and polished jade stones, perfectly assembled and was purported to represent the Sun God.
Inside the Temple of the Inscriptions is the Temple of the Red Queen, which was not located until 1994. Archaeologists speculate that she may have been a relative to Pakal the Great to garner such a burial tomb.
Another temple that provided us some exercise was the Templo de la Calavera, (Temple of the Skull), perhaps named for a skull-shaped relief that can be seen on one of the porticos. Historians believe that this temple likely operated as a sanctuary.
Templo del Sol (Temple of the Sun) is a 3-tier pyramidal structure depicting a sun panel, which commemorates the birth and ascension of Cham-Balum to the king’s throne.
Another temple that paid homage to Pakal’s son, Cham-Balum, was that of the Templo de la Cruz (Temple of the Cross), which is the loftiest structure at Palenque.
Temple of the Cross afforded many of us some exercise that day.
The last of the three pyramids we climbed that day that honored the gods was the Templo de la Cruz Foliada (Temple of the Foliated Cross).
Palenque is truly a mystical place, an amazing archaeological site that we are thankful we were able to experience. From here we head to the Yucatan Peninsula, on to Campeche.