Palenque precioso

Trip Start Nov 06, 2009
Trip End May 28, 2011

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Where I stayed

Flag of Mexico  , Central Mexico and Gulf Coast,
Friday, May 6, 2011

This was my third visit to Palenque, having previously visited with my mum in 2006, and before that in 1980, also with my mum, in mummy's tummy.

I don't remember much about my first visit, but I do remember having very much enjoyed the second, so didn't mind going back again to share it with Risto too.

Although only a few hours apart and constructed at around the same time, the ruins of Palenque are very different from those at Tikal. Both sites are awesome in their own ways. Both are huge. Both boast beautiful, mighty temples. Both are set in lush jungle. But both served rather different functions. Whereas Tikal was one of the most important urban Mayan centres, Palenque was a massive cemetery, with most of the temples used as ceremonial burial chambers.

Jose, our guide, escorted us through the main buildings, including the:

Temple of the Skull: named after the stucco relief of a skull, thought to be a rabbit skull, on the front of it.

Temple XIII: where in 1994 the remains of the Reina Roja (Red Queen) were found. The bones are thought to have belonged to a 40 year old woman, and had been preserved in red cinnabar. Although the bones have now been removed, we were allowed to visit the sarcophagus in the inside the temple and could see the red pigment still in it.

Temple of the Inscriptions: a 26 metre high pyramid with 9 levels, so-named because of the inscriptions discovered inside its walls. In the 1950s a Mexican archaeologist, Alberto Ruz Lhuiller, was exploring the bowels of the temple, removed a stone stab in the floor of a back room and discovered a big old tomb.

It turned out to be that of King Pakal, one of the most important Mayan rulers. He ruled from 615AD to 683AD, and lived to the ripe old age of 80, which was positively ancient in those times when most people died by the age of 40.

Apparently he was really tall as well, unlike most Maya who are even smaller than me. Some historians debated whether he was actually Maya at all, or perhaps came from Europe or somewhere like that, although most now agree that he was probably just big because he got to eat all the best food.

He's still in his mausoleum in the temple, although unfortunately tourists aren't allowed to go inside the temple anymore as people have in the past taken it a bit too literally and graffittied it.  Doh. There is however a replica of the tomb in the site museum which we later visited, and were also shown a video with some footage of the sarcophagus as Lhuiller discovered it - all covered in centuries'of stalagtites and stalagmites. Just seeing the pyramids from the outside is awesome, it must have been absolutely mindblowing to find all that stuff inside.

Grand Palace: unlike the others, people weren't buried in this one. Instead it was an administrative and residential block. It's an intricate maze of courtyards and corridors leading into rooms with some old beds (which Risto couldn't resist having a kip in) and some old Maya loos.

The tower on the top is thought to have been used for astronomy, although the very top part of it was reconstructed in 1930 according to how a French archeaologist thought it would have looked, but now they reckon it probably wouldn't have looked like that afterall, but just been flat. Oops.

Aquaduct: the Maya controlled the course of the Usumacinta river which flows through Palenque, to prevent floods and damage to the buildings. There are some pretty waterfalls around there too.

Cross group: made up of the Temple of the Cross, Temple of the Sun, and Temple of the Foliated Cross; a set of tall, narrow temples with elaborate carvings. One has a cross on the top, although it's not actually a cross, but supposed to represent the tree of creation.

We also walked along a jungle trail where Jose pointed out various different types of tree (cedar, mahogany, sapodilla, avocado, mango and almond), we got to swing on lianas Tarzan-stylee, and also saw several examples of unexcavated ruins.

The city was so huge that they reckon only about 5% of the structures have actually been uncovered. Jose pointed out a huge mound behind the Cross group of temples that is in fact another temple, which must have dwarfed all the others.

There are no plans to uncover it at the moment though as the jungle its buried under is so rich in wildlife that a lot of poor spider monkeys, howler monkeys, pumas, jaguars, toucans, parrots and other birds would be made homeless if they cut it down.

So we'll just have to make do with the 5%, which is plenty impressive as it is.



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Loli on

So glad you enjoy it!!! I MISS YOU SO SO SO MUCH!!!!!

Michaeleija on

Palenque still remains my favourite ever ruin since visiting it in 1977. However, I have learnt more from your blog than I ever knew or remembered about its history and story - so thanks for that!!

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