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 Location: Nr Usumacinta River, Chiapas, Mexico.  Grid Reference: 17� 19' 2.4" N. 92� 2' 20" W


   The palace, Palenque   Palenque: (Mayan Pyramid Complex).


Palenque is a relatively small Mayan complex, much smaller than such huge sites as Tikal or Copan, but it contains some of the finest architecture, sculpture, and bas relief carvings ever produced by the Maya.

The tomb of Pakal is one of the Gems in the Pre-Columbian crown

The complex spread out from the top of an artificially levelled hill. Archaeologists estimate that only 5% of the total city has been uncovered.

(Click here for map of the site)




An ancient name for the central core of the city was Lakam Ha, which translates as "Big Water", for the numerous springs and wide cascades that are found within the site. Palenque was the capital of the important Classic period Maya city-state of B'aakal or B'aak (Bone).

Spence (1), says: 'The entire city of Palenque was solely a priestly centre, a place of pilgrimage'. The city is laid out in the shape of an amphitheatre, with a central pyramid.

The earliest contemporaneously dated monument at Tikal is from the 'Tikal Stela 29', which gives a date of 292 AD ( (3)

The palace, PalenqueThe 'Palace'

A single storey building built in the shape of an irregular quadrilateral (unusual for Mayan constructions), and inside which three subterraneous 'apartments' can be found down a 180ft deep 'flight of gloomy steps'. Here are found one of the many mysteries of Palenque, in the shape of three great stone tables (alters), 'fretted with sculptured symbols' (1).

Originally this tower did not have a roof. Early archaeologists reconstructing the site, ignorant of the Mayans sophisticated astronomical knowledge, did not understand the purpose of a roofless platform (for viewing the stars) and thus capped it with a roof of their own design.



The Temple of Inscriptions: (The Tomb of Pakal).



The Largest Stepped-pyramid at Palenque and resting place of Lord Pakal.


The Temple of Inscriptions was begun perhaps as early as 675AD as the funerary monument of K'inich Janaab' Pakal. The Temple of Inscriptions records approximately 180 years of the city's history from the 4th through 12th K'atuh. It houses the second longest glyphic text known from the Maya world (the longest is the Hieroglyphic Stairway at Copan).

The Pyramid measure 60 meters wide 42.5 meters deep 27.2 meters high The Summit temple measure 25.5 meters wide 10.5 meters deep 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. (2)

In 1949, Mexican archaeologist Alberto Ruiz Lhullier removed a stone slab in the floor of the back room of the temple superstructure revealing a staircase  (Filled in shortly before the city was abandoned), which plunged into the heart of the pyramid. After three years of excavating, he reached the burial chamber in 1953. It contained a 20-ton stone coffin with a wonderfully carved lid. Inside was the skeleton of the Mayan ruler Pakal (Pacal), heaped with jade.

Tomb of pakal, palenque


The tomb is remarkable for its large carved sarcophagus, the rich ornaments accompanying Pakal, and for the stucco sculpture decorating the walls of the tomb. Unique to Pakal's tomb is the 'psychoduct', which leads from the tomb itself, up the stairway and through a hole in the stone covering the entrance to the burial. This psychoduct is perhaps a physical reference to concepts about the departure of the soul at the time of death in Maya eschatology where in the inscriptions the phrase ochb'ihaj sak ik'il (the white breath road-entered) is used to refer to the leaving of the soul.

(More about Holed-Stones)



Tomb of Pakal, palenque

The much-discussed iconography of the sarcophagus lid is commonly believed to depict Pakal in the guise of one of the manifestations of the Maize God emerging from the underworld with the 'Tree of Life' motif in the background.



Tomb of pakal, palenque

In no other part of America has a tomb like this been found. The crypt is on display at the Museum of Palenque.



Temple of the Skull's

Temple of skulls, palenque

The sole surviving portion of the stucco decoration on the Temple of the Skull (Temple XII) at Palenque is the skull above. Visitors to the ruins might notice it just as they enter the ruins, looking up at the temple�s one remaining pier. The skull was clearly part of a larger composition, and its position at the base suggests it served as a pedestal for a standing figure, much like the skeletal heads beneath the feet of the royal portraits on piers of the Temple of the Inscriptions.




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. The cross-like images in two of the reliefs actually depict the tree of creation at the centre of the world in Maya mythology.

It is said that if three people stand on top of the three main pyramids, a three-way conversation can easily be held without shouting.

(More about Sonics in Ancient Structures)


Other structures include:

  • The Aqueduct constructed with great stone blocks with a three-meter-high vault to make the Otulum River flow underneath the floor of Palenque's main plaza.

  • 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.



Archaeoastronomy at Palenque:

The four-story tower, the only one of its kind in Mayan architecture, is suggested as having been an astrological observatory. During the winter solstice on December 21, the setting sun lines up from the Palace tower to the centre of the Temple of the Inscriptions, where Pakal is buried.

(More about Archaeoastronomy)


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(Index of Ancient Sites)



1) Lewis Spence, Mexico and Peru, 1994, Senate press.
2). Scarre, Chris. The Seventy Wonders of the Ancient World. Thames and Hudson. (1999).
3). http://www.mesoweb.com/palenque/resources/index.html



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