Archaeological Site is an ancient city state situated 9 km (5-6 miles)
from the village of Santo Domingo de Palenque in the Mexican State of
Chiapas. You can get here from from Villahermosa via highway 186/199.
It covers a total area of over 2 sq km or 1 sq mile. Palenque
is a medium sized Mayan city, but it is one
of the best preserved and mysterious.
History of Palenque or B'alam
In the ancient times Palenque
Archaeological Site was
known as B'alam. It is hard to say when residents first settled the
banks of Usumacinta river, but in the 4th and 3rd centuries the
village turns into a municipality with a large population capable of
erecting notable stone monuments. Most of the structures of Palenque that you
see today were build between 500 and 700 AD, although first settlement
date back to the 300 BC. Few records that survived to our times indicate
that Palenque was attacked by another Mayan city state of Calakmul
and its allies between 599 and 611 AD. At the conclusion of the
disastrous wars Palenque ajaw (Mayan ruler, king or monarch) began
reconstruction of the ravaged city. One of the better known kings
K'iinich Janaab' Pakal (Pacal the Great) started this process during
his rule between 603 and 683. He was buried in the underground crypt
underneath the Temple of Inscriptions, one of the more famous
buildings on the site.
In the late 9th century the
building ceased and the city fell in disrepair, so by the time Spaniards
arrived to the site in 1520's most of the city was overgrown by the
jungle. In 1567 Father Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada was the first man to
describe this ancient city state. He was among few Europeans who visited
the site. Spanish conquistadors also gave the ruins it modern name Palenque
which means "fortification" or "wood stake fence", a rough translation of Mayan Otolum or "land of the strong houses". However in the time of
its power and influence Palenque
was called Lakam Ha or "Big
water" after numerous springs that are found in the region. This
was the capital B'aakal (the Bone) a mighty states that ruled southern
and despite exploration and digs has still
a lot to uncover. The archaeological site was designated UNESCO World
Heritage Site in 1987 due to its historic and artistic importance in the
Pre- Columbian history of the New World.
Rulers of Palenque
This is an incomplete list of ajaw
or rulers of the city. Unfortunately some of the dates are
approximate since records were largely destroyed by the Spanish.
Another reason for difficulty in use of the records is difference in
calendars that the ancient Mayans used. It is often hard to compare
their complex calendar with the one we use today.
967 BC- unknown
Ch'a Ruler I 252 BC- unknown
K'uk' B'alam I 431- 435 AD
K'uk B'alam I
also known as Quetzal Jaguar was born on March 31st, 397. He
is a mythical founder of the ruling dynasty in Palenque. He
started ruling on March 11, 431. Upon his death in 435 AD he
was probably buried in Temple XX.
"Casper" 435- 487 AD
born on August 422. He was probably the son of Kuk Balam and
his immediate successor. He ruled for 52 years, but he
remains nameless to history. His strange name was given by a
Mayan scientist Floyd Lounsbury who gave him its name since
the hieroglyph of his name resembled a ghost.
B'utz Aj Sak Chiik 487- 501 AD
Butz Aj Sak
Chiik was born on 15th November and became a king at 28 and
reigned until his death at 42 years old.
Ahkal Mo' Naab I 501- 524 AD
Naab I was born on July 5, 465 and became a ruler of
Palenque at 36 years old. He was probably the youngest
brother of king B'utz Aj Sak Chiik who died with no heirs
left to take the throne. His biography is not very well
known, but Pakal the Great for some reason considered him
particularly important in the history of Palenque.
K'an Joy Chitam I 529- 565 AD
Chitam I or "Tied Yellow Peccary" in Mayan was born on May 4
490 and became a monarch at 39 years old.
Ahkal Mo' Naab' II 565- 570 AD
Naab' II or "Turle Macaw Lake" was born on 3 September 523.
He was probably older brother of Kan B'alam. The details of
his life was written on the stone sarcophagus of Pakal the
Great in the Temple of Inscriptions as well as the Temple of
the Cross constructed almost a century later.
Kan B'alam I 572- 583 AD
ruled for a fairly long period of time, but he died with no
surviving heirs to the throne.
Yohl Ik'nal 583- 604 AD (female ajaw)
or "Heart of the Wind Place" in Mayan is one of the few
female rules of Palenque. She ruled from December 21, 583 to
her death on November 7, 604. She was the direct descendant
of K'uk B'alam I, founder of the
dynasty. The only reason why became a queen is due to a fact
that Kan B'alam died leaving no sons to take over.
Aj Ne' Yohl Mat 605- 612 AD
Aj Ne Yohl
Mat was a king of Palenque who ruled during most unfortunate
years of its history. Neighbour city of Calakmul with their
allies invaded the kingdom and ravaged surrounding lands.
Janaab' Pakal 612 AD
("the shield" in Mayan) ruled for a very brief time. Some
indentify him as a father of Aj Ne Yohl Mat, but it is
unclear of his relationship to this ajaw.
Sak K'uk 612- 615 AD (female ajaw)
Sak K'uk was
a female ruler of Palenque and mother of Pakal the Great.
She became a queen of Palenque after her father Janaab Pakal
died after a brief rule. She took the throne after her
father Janaab Pakal. Her mother K'inich Janaab' Pakal or
"Heart of the Wind Place" died earlier. It seems that she
reigned only briefly as a regent for her son. However even
after Pakal took power in the kingdom Sak Kuk still yielded
great influence and power over political matters in the
city. She died on 12 September 640.
Pakal (Pakal the Great) 615- 683 AD
Janaab Pakal or Pakal the Great was the greatest ruler of
Palenque. He was also the longest ruling king having reigned
for 68 years. He was born in March 603 and ascended to the
throne at 12. He is responsible for large building projects
in the city including erection of Temple of Inscriptions
that also served as his mausoleum.
B'alam II 684- 702 AD
B'alam II was born on May 23 635 and ascended to the throne
at 49 years old. However he had no surving heirs and upon
his death on February 20, 702 his younger brother K'inich
K'an Joy Chitam II took charge of the city. K'inich Kan
B'alam II continued construction project that was started by
his father Pakal the Great. One of the more notable
structures constructed in Palenque at the time is the Temple
of the Cross.
Joy Chitam II 702- 722 AD
Joy Chitam II was younger brother of K'inich Kan B'alam II
and son of K'inich Janaab Pakal (Pakal the Great). He was
born on November 6, 644 and become ajaw of Palenque at 57
years old. He probably suffered military defeat by the
Tonina in 711. Although we don't know of his fate it
is more likely that Tonina leader K'inich B'aaknal Chaak
murdered old king or sacrificed him to one of many Mayan
Mo' Naab' III 722- 741 AD
Mo' Naab' III was the son of Tiwol Chan Mat and lady Kinuw.
He was also the great son of K'inich Janaab Pakal (Pakal the
Great). He continued construction projects of his famous
ancestor by construction of Temple XIX and possibly Temple
XVI, Temple XVIII, Temple XXI and Group IV.
Janab Pakal uknown-764 AD
K'inich Janab Pakal or the Shield of the Sun God is a ruler
of Palenque. Little is known about his life. The city it
seems went into a decline around this period.
Bahlam 651 AD
Bahlam II 764 AD- 783 AD
Bahlam or "Quetzal Radiant Jaguar" was a son of K'inich
Ahkal Mo' Naab' III. His rule is marked by a significant
decline in economy of the city as well as a decline in
Pakal 799 AD- unknown
Mo' Naab' III is the last known ruler of Palenque. It is
possible that the final collapse of the city state occured
around this time period.
The Temple of Inscriptions (Palenque
The Temple of Inscriptions
was constructed around 675. It measures 60 meters by 42.5 meters with a total
height of 27.2 meters. It was used for religious ceremonies and burial of one of
the most powerful rules or ajaw of the city. He was known as K'inich
Janaab' Pakal or simply Pakal also Pacal (the Shield in Mayan) the Great and
reigned for almost 70 years from 615 to 683 AD. The name of the structure comes
from hieroglyphic texts that are inscribed on Inscription Tablets on the six
piers of the building. These piers are named from A to F and suppose to
represent about history of the city and its significant events.
Pakal the Great of Palenque
The Temple of Inscriptions protected a burial site of one of Palenque's
rulers, Pakal the Great. In 1952 Alberto Ruz Lhuillier, a Mexican
archaeologist, came to Palenque and started exploration of the city. In
the Temple of Inscriptions he noticed a strange slab that seemed to
cover an entrance at the top of the pyramid. After cleaning tons of dirt
descended and found a crypt with sarcophagus containing the body with
his worldly possessions. Five skeletons of his servants, both women and
men, were found at the feet of their dead ruler. They were supposed to
follow their master to the Xibalba ("place of fear"), a Mayan version of
the underworld or hell. Skull of Pakal was covered by a jade death mask.
Its eyes are covered by shells, pearls and obsidian. The body of the
king wore rings, jewelry and other items.
"Astronaut" of Palenque
sarcophagus of was covered by a huge slab that depicts a
man (presumably Pakal the Great himself) ascending to heaven from the
jaws of the underworld represented as flames on the bottom of the slab.
The cross figure is a representation of the World Tree that according to
a Mayan mythology stands in the middle of the known World.
theories arose on the nature of the depiction. Some suggested it was a
religious metaphor for after life, while others claimed it could very
well be influenced by ancient machines that the local tribes saw in the
past. Some archaeologists speculated that the legend
of Kukulkan also known as Cucumatz (some Mayan tribes), Quetzalcoatl (aztecs),
Viracocha (incas), Bochica (Chibcha) in the New World describes actual
people who were technologically very advanced and inspired Mayan artists
with advanced technology. All these heroes seemed to possess the same
technology and the same description throughout the continent, but their
actions, behavior on Earth are strikingly different. This allowed some
scientists to speculate that in fact the legends don't have the same
source. They are merely describing the same group of people. This somewhat controversial, but
it is not
an impossible version. One can easily find many similarities between an astronaut in a
Mercury space module from the 20th century and the man ("The astronaut"
or "spaceman") depicted on a stone slab.
Temple XIII (Palenque Archaeological Site)
Temple XIII is a small religious building that is situated near
the Temple of the Inscriptions. Locally it is known as a Tumba
de la Reina Roja" or Tomb of the Red Queen after a royal burial
of a Palenque queen inside. Her burial crypt was discovered in
1994. Her body and the inside of the coffin was covered in red
after treatment with cinnabar. Her body was wore a malachite
mask and over 1000 pieces of jade. Some suggested that the
position of this temple and time period indicated that the Red
Queen was actually wife of Pakal buried in the Temple of the
Inscriptions next door.
The Palace (Palenque
The Palace of Palenque (El Palacio in Spanish) sits in the
center of the archaeological site. It was the political and
bureaucratic center of the city state. It consists of several
buildings that were constructed over a course of four centuries
between 5th and 9th centuries and form a rectangular complex. It
is most recognizable by the four story Observation Tower that
sits in the center. It was constructed in the 8th century by the
orders of king Ahkal Mo' Nahb III. Its walls are still covered
by preserved stucco reliefs. Unfortunately it is closed to the
public for safety concerns. Archaeologists believed it didn't
serve any military purposes, but instead was used so that the
royalty or religious heads of the city could observe the time
when the sun directly fell on the Temple of the Inscriptions
during the winter solstice. The inner rooms and passageways
inside the buildings are extremely narrow. The Mayans never
developed the so called Roman Arch that effectively expanded the
closed space. Instead they constructed v- shaped roofs that
allowed only narrow long spaces to be constructed. It is visible
in Palenque as well as other regions around the Yucatan
peninsula. Their buildings were somewhat gloomy, but extremely
durable despite encroach of the jungle and centuries of
abandonment. In the southern part of the Palace you can descend
into massive subterranean sweat baths that were used by the
Mayans to cleanse themselves before performing religious
rituals. Additionally they were several bathrooms here.
The Palace Observation Tower (Palenque
Ball Court (Palenque Archaeological Site)
The Ball Court of Palenque is not very impressive comparing to
other similar structures in the Mayan World, but it is
nevertheless worth a visit. It was here where people played for
the "honor" to be sacrificed to the gods of the Mayan Pantheon
Temple of the Sun and Temple XIV (Palenque
Temple of the Cross (Palenque Archaeological Site)
The Temple of the Cross is the largest pyramid in the ancient
city state. It is also a part of the group that also contains
the Temple of the Foliated Cross and the Temple of the Sun. It
is situated in the South- East corner of the archaeological
site. It was constructed in 684- 702 AD and intended to
commemorate rule of Chan Bahlum II who took throne after Pakal
the Great. This huge monument contains hieroglyphs that describe
history of the king's family. The temple was named after a cross
that is a common motif found in the bas reliefs. The cross is
common representation of the World Tree that is supposedly grew
in the center of the World.
The Temple of the Skull (Templo
de La Calavera) (Palenque
The Temple of the Skull got its name after a depiction of the
skull on one of its pillars.
Temple of the Count (Palenque Archaeological Site)
Temple of the Count is another smaller temple of the city. It
got its name from a Frenchman
Waldeck who claimed to be a count. He became famous for
traveling around Mexico and drawing ancient ruins. He chose this
temple as his temporary home in the middle of the 19th century
and hence the name appeared.