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Posted by: HoboSylvain | 2014-02-19 18:02:32 | Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico
Keywords: maya, pre-hispanic, UNESCO
With Palenque, I really began my visit of the Maya territory. The Mayan empire was decentralized, as opposed to the centralized one of Teotihuacan. The Mayans had many regional capitals in what is today Southern Mexico and Central America. Palenque was their most Northern capital and was the political and economical centre of the area. It's apogee was between year 500 and 700, period during which most of the buildings were built.

There are over 1 500 buildings and monuments in the archeological zone today... only a small portion is visible or accessible to the public, most of the rest is still under the dirt or wrapped in the thick jungle around the exposed buildings. Yes, the site is literally in the jungle and when you're there you do notice the extreme humidity (weather reports 100% humidity most of the time).

The city is relatively small compared to other Mayan cities in the area (like Tikal in close Guatemala for example), perhaps because it was a province on the outskirts of the empire and with not as much power as other cities closer to the centre of the Mayan civilization. Yet, the analysis of the city revealed quite a lot in terms of the daily life and culture of the Mayas.

Being a non-centralized empire also means that the local authorities had more control or flexibility over the architecture and city layout. In Palenque, although they built the city against small mountains, they carved many terraces to create different levels... they even created artificial mounds to build some buildings.

The engineering achievements aren't limited to leveling or raising the ground level, they built a nice aqueduct system to irrigate all the city, they erected structures on top of others, assembling them in intricate complexes. The most complex building on the site is the Palacio... which is a compound of many different structures put together... from the residential home of the King Pakal family to the observatory which is made of several levels on top of the palace.

Throughout the city, inside and outside the buildings, you will see bas-relief and numerous other art expressions. This artistic richness is one the most impressive features of the site, showing not only the culture of the inhabitants but often also describing the history of the city or its kings.

Palacio complex

Right next to the Palacio, you'll find the Temple of the inscriptions (photo above), the second most important building on the site. In 1952, it was discovered that the pyramid wasn't only there to act as a base to the temple on top of it (like in most Aztec and Mayan sites), but it was also a tomb. It was the tomb of the King Pacal II (or Pacal the Great). They found a great jade mask on the face of the king, because jade's green was the supreme color for the Mayas. The tomb is reached through a very long internal staircase and was open to the public until 2005. Allowing an intense traffic in the staircase caused many vibrations and a complete destabilization of the fragile micro-climate inside the stairwell as well as the tomb... putting in danger the numerous samples of sculptures and hieroglyphs present all over. To preserve the site, the visits were stopped in 2005 but a replica of the tomb was built in the museum on the site.

Unfortunately, it wasn't done in the best conditions. I was not in great shape with back pains (so I didn't escalate the numerous structures available, nor descend to reach the museum site), it was very hot and humid and it was a Sunday morning and with the site full of tourists (I saw at least 6 buses). I was also under the disappointment of the city of Palenque... which is just an entrance to the site... nothing to see there. The city is small, extremely dirty (even by Mexican standards) with no identity of special features. So, if you go see the ruins of Palenque... either base yourself away (there are some tours organized from San Cristobal de las Casas) or spend the minimum of time in the city.

I look forward to visit other Mayan sites however. I'll soon visit Uxmal and the famous Chichen Itza.

Related posts:
San Agustin site
Stone spheres of the Diquís valley
Southern Guatemala
Joya de Cerén


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