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Published: April 23rd 2009
This morning I finally made it the the ruins of the ancient city at Palenque, the reason many people come to visit this area of Chiapas! It is much more accessible than Yaxchitlán and Bonampak, and a huge archaeological site with a nice museum. That said, it is, of course, much more crowded, but not nearly as bad as Tulúm was. It total, the ruins of the ancient city cover more that 40 square km, but many of the buildings are still mounds buried under jungle which is now part of the protected forest. The city had been abandoned a few hundred years before the arrival of the Spanish, and had already been buried under the jungle by then, so that the Spanish though they were walking over hills and not buildings until its discovery.
Today we decided to use a tour guide, as we felt that we missed out on a lot of details yesterday without one, and in the end I think we were all happy that we did. I had learned about Mayan archeoastromony for a presentation in my history class already, and was happy to see the structures in real life, and the guide explained a
(this one was taken later on Kane's trip here)
little bit about it too.
We started out looking at the great tombs nearest the park's entrance. They were built one next to another. Lined up next to each other were enormous structures including the Temple of Inscriptions, the Temple of the Red Queen which turned out to be built over and surrounding her house.
Although there is speculation as to who the so-called Red Queen was, her current name comes from the fact that her bones and her tomb are a deep bright red from being painted in cinnabar when she was sealed in. Cinnabar (HgS aka Mercury(II) Sulfide) was used to preserve her tomb, as it is very toxic and deterred any life from entering, including insects and tomb raiders. This tomb has been excavated and part of the inside is open to view, so I climbed the stairs to take a look.
The Temple of Inscriptions is the tomb of K’inich Janaab Pakal, which we know because of the elaborate inscriptions adorning the chambers which describe the history and dynasty, and provide a lot of information about the kingdom. It was completed around 683 a.c., and is the only pyramid in the Americas that
and yes, there are pictures of Mayan rulers sitting like this.
is also a tomb. Pakal's body was covered in jade, with an elaborate jade mask. All Mayans needed to be buried with jade - the rulers often with thousands of pieces, the poor with one piece in their mouths - in order to make their way to another life. The inside of the is now closed to the public for preservation purposes.
We spent a lot of time exploring the palace and its many interesting features. From the grass in front you notice that the tower on the palace is tilted, leaning to the side. We were explained that this was an original feature - not an accident over time. It was built tilted to align with an astronomic feature. Almost every building in these ancient mesoamerican cities was built with some significance with the sun, moon, planet Venus, or star constellation, and have special alignment with light on equinoxes or other important days. There are beautiful bas relief carvings of people - kings of Palenque, and captured warriors from other warring cities adorning the temple and its courtyards, though the civilization was prosperous and avoided war for the most part in general. The upper portion of the palace
has windows which align to let a light beam through the center on a day calculated to be the day to bestow a blessing of power to the king's baby and heir, holding the baby here and announcing his prowess as the light beam enters to bless him from the heavens. Another interesting feature in the palace was the platform throne of meditation, where the king would sit similarly to Asian monks (according to the paintings on the walls) in meditation for seven days when the corn crops were planted, emerging back to the world when the sprouts came up in the ground. I couldn't miss the opportunity to sit here too. One other thing I found worth mentioning, (those of you who remember my excitement over my trip to the Napoleonic sewers in Paris won't find this too surprising), were the plumbing system and the steam rooms. Our guide pointed out the round holes - stone pipes - in the ground where a toilet had once been, then led us to a series of three steam rooms where steam of herbed water would have come up from the floor. There were many other things to see here, including a
dragon that almost looked as though it was straight from the Chinese classics on a wall, a theatre and courtyard used for performances and ritual piercings and bloodletting, and a hall of the faces kings, and one of the gods.
In a large grassy square near the Temple of Inscriptions and the Palace was a here ceiba tree (not original to the time the city was in it's prime, but still old enough to have grown quite tall). This is a special kind of tree for the Mayans, often referred to as a Tree of Life, and frequently represented with a cross, similar to the Christian cross. The tree is offers shade, but protects itself with many spikes covering its branches.
Our guide picked up a piece of paper from one of the vendors tarps and asked each of us our birth dates to give us our Mayan zodiac signs, then showed us drawings of some of the famous carvings of the city, explaining details of each and showing us how the kings answered the previous king's carvings through a play on the previous. Then we were off to climb to see the temples of the Cross and
the corn before a walk through the jungle and some of the lesser ruins near the waterfall on our way to the museum.
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