Ancient Cities: Palenque, Mexico

In the history of the Mayan culture, there are some cities that provide a wealth of information regarding the traditions, past, and customs. Palenque is considered one of the most impressive of Mayan ruins in Mexico. From the stone temples to fine sculptures, archeologists have uncovered a glorious history in stories told by inscriptions. In this article, you will learn what makes Palenque so special.

Archeologists estimate that inhabitants lived in Palenque as far back as 300 BC. They were able to shed light on the history of the culture by analyzing pottery left behind. Palanque was a thriving center for ceremonies and other events during what is known as the Mayan Classic Period (300 to 900 AD). The region was most prosperous when King Pakal and his son Chan-Bahlum built the majority of the temples in the area around 600 to 700 AD.

Palenque was surrounded by dense forest, mountains, and waterfalls , prompting the Mayans to call it ‘Lakam Ha’ (which translates into ‘Big Water’). The people had access to a great deal of water, which they created a sophisticated system of aqueducts to control the volume.

The rest of the world did not know the ruins of the Mayans existed until 1773 when the brother of the canon of the cathedral in San Cristobal de las Casas decided to act on rumors that there was a lost city in the jungle. He visited the site and in 1786, the Spanish monarchy ordered a thorough examination of the site. They wanted to know if any treasures or gold could be found. As the people (including locals with pickaxes in hand) rushed to find riches, the Palace suffered significant damage.

Over the centuries, the ruins had become buried under growing jungle and earth. In the 1840s, John Stephens would make a trip to the site. Filled with the tales and early accounts of ruined cities of Mesoamerica, Stephens would play an important role in the rediscovery of the Mayans in Palenque. When he first visited the land, he spent a couple of weeks mapping sites, which included Palenque and a handful of other locations, including Uxmal.

While in Palenque, he documented the Temple of the Inscriptions, the Temple of the Cross, the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Foliated Cross. His accounts offered descriptions of several ancient Maya sites. His colleague provided telling illustrations that provided accurate information and depictions of the ancient Mesoamerica culture that had not been previously published before.

To this day, the main temples have been cleared, but the dense jungle still surrounds the site , gently shielding the unexcavated temples from the public. Despite the terrain, you can still see the structure through the greenery. Archeologists estimate that less than 35% of the ancient site has been excavated.