Temple of Inscriptions in Palenque, detailed information

The Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque

As Julius Caesar was taking over Gaul and Britain, the Great Mayan Civilization was emerging on the other side of the Earth.

It existed for many thousands of years, creating masterpieces of world culture in various fields. Reaching its heyday in the 6th – 8th centuries, it fell to the Toltecs – the northern conquerors. For a long time the cities of civilization were buried and forgotten. And now, 150 years ago, scientists suddenly remembered the Maya, trying to solve all its mysteries. But for so many years of non-existence, traces of the civilization were lost. Famous travelers of the time went in search of lost cities, and finally, luck smiled on them.

John Lloyd Stephens wrote: “The city was deserted. Among the ruins there was no trace of life, no traditions, no art of the inhabitants. The city lay at its feet like a ship wrecked in a vast ocean. It had been completely destroyed, all its names erased, and its crew dead. And it is unknown who was its master, how many years it wandered the world, and from what it was wrecked.” That ship was Palenque, an ancient city once located in the north of the state of Chiapas. Its heyday was in the seventh to eighth centuries. Several temples were built in the area, notable for their unusual architecture. The most prominent of these is considered to be the “temple of inscriptions. It got this name because of the huge number of hieroglyphs found on the walls and columns. Scientists have even deciphered several dates, among which was the year 692.

The temple is an elongated pyramid of nine steps, which is characterized by clear lines and a certain sophistication. It is not a separate temple, but simply hewn from a huge boulder. Accordingly, the back side rests on the mountainside. All nine steps are crossed by a wide staircase with more than eighty steps. On climbing up, one enters the sanctuary, which consists of three halls. The facade of the pyramid is crossed by five large windows and the top is reminiscent of the national Chinese roofs. The columned walls are decorated with a bas-relief depicting a young girl holding a very ugly infant in her arms. His face is covered by a mask and snakes peeping out of his clothes.

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In the main hall of the shrine, there are three stone tiles carved with hieroglyphs in the wall – the biggest inscription in the whole temple, which is 620 hieroglyphic signs. A little to the left is the staircase down which one of the greatest discoveries was made by scientists.

It is believed that in the depths of the pyramid sanctuaries were created, but after the excavations rich tombs of rulers, studded with gold, clothing and luxury goods were found. It was at Palenque that this discovery was first made. While inspecting the temple, archaeologist Alberto Rus-Louillier noticed a staircase under the sanctuary leading to the tomb of the royal dynasty. Near the entrance, he found stone boxes containing the corpses of young men who had not died of their own accord. These were members of noble families who had been solemnly sacrificed in honor of the dead ruler. The burial chamber is of decent size. It is 4 meters wide and 9 meters long. The height is more than 7 meters. The walls are decorated with nine plaster statues in long splendid robes. According to the legend, they represent the Nine Lords of the Night. In the middle of the tomb is a huge sarcophagus made of a single piece of stone.

The lid of the sarcophagus is completely covered with hieroglyphs. This is information about the deceased. Also on the sarcophagus is an image of the king accepting death. This image is still controversial among scholars, but no one can yet understand its meaning.

The discovery of Rousse-Louillier has given rise to even more questions from science. There is even a suggestion that the ancestral home of the Maya was ancient Egypt. There are pyramids there too. In any case, the scientists-archaeologists are still looking for answers to the questions, which are getting more and more every year.

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Palenque – the lost city of the Maya


Information about the May 2016 Mayan city found in the jungle of the Yucatan is available here.

The ruins of Palenque are considered one of the most important Mayan archaeological sites in Mexico. Its beautiful natural surroundings are beyond any epithet. The ancient city is nestled among forested hills, the ruins are often shrouded in dense fog in the morning, a small stream flows nearby, and large pyramids and temples grow in the midst of a canopy of dark green forest. It sounds too good to be reality, but that’s how it really is. The combination of nature and ancient ruins gives the place a special aura. Palenque was declared a National Park by the Mexican government in 1981 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.

Palenque – the lost city of the Maya

In its cultural heyday, Palenque was much more beautiful because the monuments were covered in decorative plaster painted in shades of blue. The existence of the city hidden deep in the jungle was not known until 1746. Even then, rediscovered, Palenque was lost several times until finally explorers John Lloyd Stevens and Frederick Caterwood finally introduced this gem of Mayan architecture to the world (1841).

Palenque photo

A settlement on this site had existed since 300 B.C., but Palenque acquired its status as an important Mayan city in the Classic period (300-900). Most of the surviving buildings were built between the 7th and 10th centuries, and it reached the height of power during the reign of Pacal and his son Chan-Bachlum (600 to 700).

The inhabitants then left the city, and since this region of Mexico receives the greatest amount of rainfall, the ruins quickly hid themselves in the dense jungle thickets. Even the original name of the city is lost; the surviving ruins got their present name from the nearby small town of Santo Domingo de Palenque. Today, about one-third of the city has been excavated by archaeologists. Wandering between the ruins or viewing the park from the top of high-rise monuments, you can see hills everywhere. For the most part, they are not hills, but Mayan temples and pyramids hidden by jungle thickets.

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Palenque Mexico

Palenque’s main merit is not its size or antiquity (many other archaeological sites are larger and older). Its importance lies in its location (in the middle of the jungle), atypical Mayan architecture and epigraphy (inscriptions). Thanks to the epigraphy, archaeologists have been able to reconstruct many stanzas of the city’s history.

Compared with Chichen Itza, the less known Palenque has a quieter atmosphere and less intrusive locals trying to sell souvenirs to visiting tourists. Plus, tourists are not banned from climbing most of the ancient pyramids. Plan to spend most of the day, then you can visit all the monuments, walk through the jungle, and spend some more time in the museum. The best time to visit the ruins is early in the morning from the time the park opens at 8 o’clock, when the pyramids are shrouded in mist against the jungle.

Palenque sights

Palenque Palace

Palenque differs from any other Mayan archaeological site not only in the wealth of relief images and carved decorations, but also in the interesting architecture of its palace. The palace is the largest structure in the archaeological park; it is a complex of buildings built at different times and divided into four parts by a labyrinth of corridors, residential and administrative premises.

The palace was firstly thought to have served as a residence for rulers and clergymen but later it was concluded that it had administrative functions. Political and military alliances with other Mayan cities-states were made here, offerings were made, and it served as a place of entertainment, sacrifices, and ritual ceremonies.

palenque pyramids

The main feature of the palace is a four-story tower, which is not found in any other Mayan city. This unique tower makes the palace look almost like a Chinese palace. When archaeological research began, many ideas were put forward as to what functions it served. It is believed that from the height of the tower the Maya watched the sun’s rays fall directly on the Temple of Inscriptions on the winter solstice.

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Temple of Inscriptions in Palenque

palenque temple of inscriptions

The Temple of the Inscriptions (Templo de las Inscripciones) is one of America’s most famous pyramids and Palenque’s tallest monument. The temple is named after the stone inscription tablets found here. Most of the stone tablets that tell the genealogical tree of the Palenque rulers are now in the National Anthropological Museum in Mexico City. Thanks to the texts and relief images found here, the Temple of the Inscriptions has greatly helped in the study of ancient Maya culture.

The Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque is the only pyramid in Mexico built specifically as a tomb. In 1952, Mexican archaeologist Alberto Rus moved a stone slab in the floor at the top of the pyramid and discovered a stone-filled passage leading down a long staircase. This is how the tomb of Kinich Hanab Pacal, the famous ruler of Palenque, who ruled this city-state for 68 years (615-683), was discovered. This tomb is one of the most famous artifacts in the Mayan world. It contains rich jewelry, sculptural images, but of most interest is the stone sarcophagus in which Pacal’s remains lay untouched from the time of his burial.

Unfortunately, Pacal’s tomb is now closed to the public to avoid further damage to its frescoes. While in Mexico City, you can see the sarcophagus lid in a posthumous jade mask at the National Museum of Anthropology (see Mexico City Museums), but the massive stone sarcophagus still remains here.

Group of the Cross in Palenque

The Group of the Cross consists of the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Leafy Cross, and the Temple of the Cross, all of which are pyramids with a temple on top, topped with comb-like stone decorations. The walls of each temple are covered with sculpted images of religious themes and texts in the Mayan language.

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The images of the cross found on the walls of the temples are not at all the cross we are accustomed to, but represent the tree of the world. The tree of the world was a common element of ornamentation among the pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica, embodying the four cardinal points.

Palenque Museum

The Palenque Museum is located 1.5 km before the entrance to the park, open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm, its visit is included in the price of a visit to the ruins. The museum is small but interesting, with exhibits discovered during archaeological excavations: jade jewelry, a huge collection of ceramic censers, and several stone panels with inscriptions. The main exhibit of the museum is a life-size reproduction of Pacal’s sarcophagus, housed in an exact replica of a Plexiglas tomb. The museum has a gift store.

Palenque has a number of other temples, pyramids, noblemen’s residences, an aqueduct and an interesting stone bridge over the river.

palenque temple of the sun

Interesting facts about Palenque

– The Mayan ruins are located about 7 km from the small town of Santo Domingo de Palenque. There are hotels, nice cafes and restaurants here, but visitors come here first of all to explore the famous ruins of the ancient Mayan city.

– The tourist office is located near the main square of Santo Domingo de Palenque, on the corner of Avenida Juárez and Abasolo. It is open Monday through Saturday from 9 am to 9 pm, Sunday from 9 am to 1 pm.

– The cheapest way to get there and back is by bus (colectivos), running between downtown Santo Domingo de Palenque and the Mayan ruins every 10 minutes from morning to evening.

– Between Santo Domingo de Palenque and the Mayan ruins is La Canada, a popular tourist hotel area (located in the forest). On the way to the ruins, shuttles pass by La Canada; wave your hand and they stop right away.

You can read about other ancient cities in Central America in our articles about Machu Picchu and Tenochtitlan. Palenque photo:

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