Palenque Tourist Attractions
How to get thereBy air-taxi from Villahermosa, San Cristóbal de Las Casas and Tuxtla Gutiérrez; by bus from Villahermosa approximately 2.5 hours; by car from Villahermosa 114km/71mi on the MEX 186 to Cataja, turn off right there on the MEX 199 as far as Palenque (23km/14mi), continue for another 9km/5.6mi to the ruins; from San Cristóbal de Las Casas via Ocosingo 205km/127mi on the MEX 199.
Palenque's great Classic Maya site lies at the foot of a chain of low hills covered with tall rain forest, above the green alluvial plain of the Río Usumacinta. The style of architecture and sculpture which developed locally between AD 600 and 800 is unique in its beauty and technical perfection. In contrast to the Mayas of North Yucatán, who liked to locate their imposing buildings around great open squares, the architects of Palenque chose a more enclosed layout which suited the hilly site.History It is certain that the ruined site now called by the Spanish name Palenque ("Stockade") already existed in the pre-Classic period (300 bc-ad 300). At this time the first Mayan culture was already flourishing in the southern region (Pacific coast and highland of Guatemala). It was initially influenced by the culture of the Olmecs and later by Teotihuacán. There is some evidence, however, that the Mayas had undergone their own cultural development long before this.Present-day historians have established that Palenque first appeared in the Mayan early-Classic period (AD 300-600). This religious and political centre experienced its heyday between AD 600 and 800. Thanks to recent research into glyphs reconstruction of the genealogy of the kings of Palenque from the accession of Bahlum-kuk ("jaguar quetzal", born 397) in AD 431 to the death of Cimi-pacal (" 6 dead") in AD 799 has been possible. At this time Palenque was one of the great towns in the central Mayan area, together with Yaxchilán (Chiapas), Caracol (Belize), Tikal, Piedras Negras, Quiriguá, Uaxactún (all in Guatemala) and Copán (Honduras). During this phase basic elements of Mayan culture, including the corbel vault, new hieroglyphic writing, the art of carving stelae and the calendar, were developed to the highest level. This Classical period was earlier called the "Old Empire" to differentiate it from the "New Empire" in northern Yucatán from the 10th c. onwards. As a result of advances in historical knowledge this division is no longer tenable.As with all other Mayan towns in the central region Palenque was abandoned in the 9th c. The last known date discovered is AD 799. Twenty years after that Palenque had ceased to exist. Reasons for the sudden desertion of this and other Mayan sites have been puzzled over for many years and it remains unknown what happened at that time. It is most probable that external pressure led to a popular revolt against the caste of priests whose rule was becoming increasingly harsh. The region's great sites deteriorated within a very short time and were swallowed up by primeval forest.Ordónez y Aguilar, José Antonio Calderón and Antonio Bernanconi were the first to visit the site in 1784. They were followed two years later by the Spanish captain José Antonio del Río, who presented Charles III of Spain with the first report on Palenque. Guillermo Dupaix investigated the site in 1805 and prepared an illustrated report. The controversial Jean Fredéric de Waldeck lived in Palenque from 1832-34. J.L. Stephens and F. Catherwood stayed here in 1841, and their reports and drawings travelled around the world. They were followed by the illustrious researchers Desiré Charnay, Teobert Maler, Alfred Maudslay and, in the 20th c., by Eduard Seler, Sylvanus G. Morley and Frans Blom. During recent decades important research work has been carried out by the Mexican I.N.A.H. (Instituto Nacional de Arqueologia e Historia) under the archaeologists Miguel Angel Hernández and, later, Alberto Ruz l"Huillier and Jorge Acosta. Later excavation work was led by César Sáenz. Arnoldo Gonzáles and Roberto Garcia. UNESCO has declared Palenque a world cultural heritage site.The RuinsThe archaeological zone being excavated now measures approximately 300m (985ft) from east to west and 500m (1641ft) from north to south, and is only a fraction of the entire area of Palenque. It is estimated that this extends for between 89km/56mi in an east-west direction. Water from the small river Otulum is channelled underground via an aqueduct. The new museum just outside the main entrance contains sculptures, stone panels, funerary gifts such as ceramics, jade and obsidian, etc.After entering the area, the ruins of Temples XII and XIII are seen on the right; both were probably constructed between AD 731 and 764. In 1994 a sensational find was made in Temple XIII; a burial chamber complete with sarcophagus. The latter contained the remains of a body painted in vermilion (typical for deceased Maya princes) of a woman of about 40, 1.7m (5ft 9in.) tall, wearing a jade mask, a breastplate encrusted with jewels, and with hundreds of jade pieces and ear-studs. Two further skeletons were discovered in the one room. Although no glyphs were found in the tomb it is assumed that the body was that of a high-ranking female person ("the Red Queen of Palenque"), perhaps even the mother of Pacal and ruler of Palenque. This seems to confirm the theory that the central square of Palenque served as the necropolis for the ruling class.
Temple of Inscriptions
After the tomb, the next building is the Templo de las Inscripciones (Temple of Inscriptions), begun in 675 under the ruler Pacal ("Shield"; AD 603-683) and completed in 683. The crypt was built first, followed by the pyramid. This plain classical pyramid with the temple cap measures 20 m (66 ft) in height and comprises nine plinths placed on top of each other.
Remains of stucco figures can still be recognised on the six pillars framing the five entrances to the temple. A total of 620 glyphs have been chiselled into the walls leading from the main entrance to the chamber at the rear. These inscriptions, from which the building has gained its name, appear mainly to concern the family chronicle of the rulers of Palenque.
Temple of the Cross
The Templo de la Cruz (Temple of the Cross) is in the same group as the Temple of the Sun. This temple, which resembles the Temple of the Sun, was also built by Chan-bahlum in AD 692. It is suspected that the ruler lies buried in this building. The medium-sized relief slab, found in the rear shrine of the temple and now displayed in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, shows Chan-bahlum on the right, and on the left his father Pacal with a cross-like object ("ceiba", the sacred tree of the Maya?). The temple owes its name to this scene. Carved into the left-hand side panel is a depiction of Chan-bahlum after his accession, while the right-hand one shows the god L, an old god of the underworld who was associated with the ruling house, smoking a cigar. In 1993 Mexican archaeologists discovered four tombs with skeletons and numerous grave goods. The most important tomb was on the south side of the temple, halfway towards the west side. Among other things, it contained some fine jade pieces, including a burial mask, a breastplate and ear adornments, suggesting that the tomb must have been that of a person of high rank.
Temple of the Foliated Cross
The Templo de la Cruz Foliado (Temple of the Foliated Cross) stands opposite the Temple of the Sun, and resembles this and also Building XIV and the Temple of the Cross and dates from the same decade. The relief here once again concerns the transfer of power between Pacal and Chan-bahlum. The main motif is a cross, which is growing from the head of the sun-god. A sun bird perches on top of the cross. The arms of the cross form the leaves of the maize plant, decorated with human heads. The figure of a ruler again stands on either side; this time it is the dead father who is on the right with his son and successor on the left.
There are other buildings near Temples XVIII and XVIII A, while the Casa del Jaguar (House of the Jaguar) stands on the other side of the River Otulum.In 1993 the otherwise insignificant Temple XVII revealed the "Stela of the Warriors", completely covered in hieroghyhics and showing two interesting stucco figures. This building is probably also attributable to Chan-bahlam.
Palenque surroundings include a green jungle, hidden treasures, and archeological discoveries.
20km/12.4mi south-west of Palenque on the road to Ocosingo a turning to the right leads to the Mizol-há (Maya: "waterfall") waterfalls. These beautiful romantically-situated cascades tumble almost 30 m (99 ft) into a large pool in which it is possible to bathe.
Agua Azul Falls
Approximately 45km/28mi past Mizol-há on a road turns off on the right to the Agua Azul (Spanish: "blue water") waterfalls, 4km/2.5mi away. The water here falls in several wide cascades into the Rio Bascan and later into the Rio Tulijá. Good swimming is possible in the various natural pools. Simple restaurants, a camp site and a landing-strip have been recently established here.
Map of Palenque Attractions