Palenque (Bàak' in Modern Maya) was a Maya city state in southern Mexico that flourished in the 7th century. The Palenque ruins date back to 226 BC to its fall around 1123 AD. After its decline it was absorbed into the jungle, which is made up of cedar, mahogany, and sapodilla trees, but has been excavated and restored and is now a famous archaeological site attracting thousands of visitors.
It is located near the Usumacinta River in the Mexican state of Chiapas, located about 130 km (81 mi) south of Ciudad del Carmen about 150 m (164 yd) above sea level. It stays at a humid 26°C (79°F) with roughly 2160 mm (85 in) of rain a year. Palenque is a medium-sized site, much smaller than such huge sites as Tikal or Copán, but it contains some of the finest architecture, sculpture, roof comb and bas-relief carvings that the Mayas produced.
Much of the history of Palenque has been reconstructed from reading the hieroglyphic inscriptions on the many monuments; historians now have a long sequence of the ruling dynasty of Palenque in the 5th century and extensive knowledge of the city-state's rivalry with other states such as Calakmul and Toniná. The most famous ruler of Palenque was Pacal the Great whose tomb has been found and excavated in the Temple of the Inscriptions.
Much of the Early Classic history of the city still awaits the archaeologist's trowel. However, from the extent of the surveyed site and the reference to Early Classic rulers in the inscriptional record of the Late Classic, it is clear Palenque's history is much longer than we currently know. The fact that early ajaw (king or lord) and mythological beings used a variety of emblem glyphs in their titles indeed suggests a complex early history. For instance, K'uk' B'ahlam, the supposed founder of the Palenque dynasty, is called a Toktan Ajaw in the text of the Temple of the Foliated Cross.
During the 8th century, B'aakal came under increasing stress, in concert with most other Classic Mayan city-states, and there was no new elite construction in the ceremonial center sometime after 800. An agricultural population continued to live here for a few generations, then the site was abandoned and was slowly grown over by the forest. The district was very sparsely populated when the Spanish first arrived in the 1520s.
Occasionally city-state lords were women. Lady Sak Kuk ruled at Palenque for at least three years starting in 612 CE, before she passed her title to her son. However, these female rulers were accorded male attributes. Thus, these women became more masculine as they assumed roles that were typically male roles.
Temple of The Inscriptions
The Temple of Inscriptions was begun perhaps as early as 675 as the funerary monument of Hanab-Pakal. The temple superstructure houses the second longest glyphic text known from the Maya World (the longest is the Hieroglyphic Stairway at Copan). The Temple of the Inscriptions records approximately 180 years of the city's history from the 4th through 12th K'atun.
The focal point of the narrative records K'inich Janaab' Pakal's K'atun period-ending rituals focused on the icons of the city's patron deities prosaically known collectively as the Palenque Triad or individually as GI, GII, and GIII. The Pyramid measures 60 meters wide, 42.5 meters deep and 27.2 meters high. The Summit temple measures 25.5 meters wide, 10.5 meters deep and 11.4 meters high. The largest stones weigh 12 to 15 tons. These were on top of the Pyramid. The Total volume of pyramid and temple is 32,500 cu. meters.
Temples of The Cross Group
The Temple of the Cross, Temple of the Sun, and Temple of the Foliated Cross. This is a set of graceful temples atop step pyramids, each with an elaborately carved relief in the inner chamber depicting two figures presenting ritual objects and effigies to a central icon. Earlier interpretations had argued that the smaller figure was that of K'inich Janaab' Pakal while the larger figure was K'inich Kan B'ahlam.
However, it is now known based on a better understanding of the iconography and epigraphy that the central tablet depicts two images of Kan B'ahlam. The smaller figure shows K'inich Kan B'ahlam during a rite of passage ritual at the age of six (188.8.131.52.3 9 Akbal 6 Xul) while the larger is of his accession to kingship at the age of 48.
The Palace, a complex of several connected and adjacent buildings and courtyards, was built by several generations on a wide artificial terrace during four century period. The Palace was used by the Mayan aristocracy for bureaucratic functions, entertainment, and ritualistic ceremonies. The Palace is located in the center of the ancient city.
Within the Palace there are numerous sculptures and bas-relief carvings that have been conserved. The Palace most unique and recognizable feature is the four-story tower known as The Observation Tower. The Observation Tower like many other buildings at the site exhibit a mansard-like roof. The A-shaped Corbel arch is an architectural motif observed throughout the complex.
Other Notable Constructions
- The Temple of the Skull has a skull on one of the pillars.
- Temple XIII contained the tomb of a queen.
- The Temple of The Lion at a distance of some 200 meters south of the main group of temples; its name came from the elaborate bas-relief carving of a king seated on a throne in the form of a jaguar.
- Structure XII with a bas-relief carving of the God of Death.
- Temple of the Count another elegant Classic Palenque temple, which got its name from the fact that early explorer Jean Frederic Waldeck lived in the building for some time, and Waldeck claimed to be a count.