The jungle of Chiapas is home to one of the most famous and beautiful Mayan sites in the world.
The place called Palenque by the Spaniards was called Lakamha’ (Great Water) by the Maya and was the capital of the empire Baak. The principality was ruled by a “k’uhul ajaw” (divine king). With ruler Pacal (Shield), who was enthroned in 615 as a twelve-year-old, Palenque’s heyday began. At the end of the 8th century the inhabitants left the city. The last recorded date is 799 AD.
The elegance of its architecture distinguishes Palenque from other ceremonial centres of the classical period (ca. 300-900 AD). The building structures consist of platform-like foundations on which stone stepped pyramids are erected, supporting stone temples. The roofs of these temples are reminiscent of mansard roofs and are characteristic of Palenque’s architecture. The buildings are mostly single-storey, and their walls show relief figures and glyph inscriptions referring to events within the ruling genealogy.
The largest structure of the complex is the “palace”, which is also built on a flattened pyramid base with a length of almost seventy metres. Its unusual tower is considered a symbol of Palenque. The showpiece of the complex, however, is the temple of inscriptions, which contains the tomb of Pacal in its interior. Today, the crypt and sarcophagus are regarded as the most grandiose example of this burial form outside Egypt.
Palenque has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. In order to protect the burial chamber, visitors are not allowed to enter it, however, a faithful replica was erected in the museum near the ruins in 2007.
Hardly any other Mayan city is as intensively and continuously explored as Palenque. Nevertheless (or precisely because of that) new discoveries are constantly being made. Recently, the focus of excavation work has been on Temple XX, which belongs to the extended cross group. In 1999 an untouched grave, not unlike that of the Pakal, was found in it, which has not been opened or entered since its construction around 500 AD. The archaeologists inserted a digital camera through a hole measuring only ten by ten centimetres and documented the interior. Standing figures with scepters and shields were visible on the walls – apparently the guards of the tomb of a ruling family. This is also indicated by the eleven ceramic vessels and traces of teeth and bones. A wall fresco shows a ruler figure with all the insignia of power, which resembles a representation of Pakal in the temple of inscriptions.
The burial chamber was sealed again airtight after this examination. Now the whole temple will be excavated, the entrance uncovered and restored. Only after that the archaeologists want to open the burial chamber with the greatest possible care and examine it thoroughly.
The visit to Palenque and its remote temples and buildings is a hot and humid affair. In any case, take enough drinking water with you!