Land of the Maya

Palenque sits proudly in Palenque National Park, in the foothills of the Tumbalá mountains of in the Mexican state of Chiapas. Palenque is situated on a ledge overlooking swampy plains that stretch northward all the way to the Gulf coast. The city was built against the hills in such a way that it could be seen for days as one ventured through the rain forest from the coast. This positioning also gives Palenque a mystical charm that is quite enchanting and has been declare by many it to be the most beautiful Mayan site. The vista of the flat plains to the north, and the misty green of the lush mountain backdrop to the south, captures the imagination and certainly inspired the ancient artists and architects.

The region around Palenque has the highest average rainfall in Mexico, watering a chokingly dense rainforest. The site covers 15 square miles.

While the name Palenque comes from a nearby village, it is possible that the village was named after the ancient city or something similar sounding - bahlam kin - jaguar sun - the place where the sun descends into the realm of the jaguar known as the underworld.

Although the site of Palenque originated at about 100 BC, it did not become a major population center of importance in the Maya culture until 600 AD when their greatest ruler, Pacal, assumed power. Pacal took power in 603 AD and ruled for 68 years. During his rule, he emphasized the construction grand buildings to reflect his power. One of his great structures was the Palace. The Palace was made with mansard-type roofs and the walls were covered with priceless stucco carvings of rulers, gods, and ceremonies that have taken place. On the inside of the palace were a plethora of rooms with interior courts that overlooked a four-story square tower that may have served as both lookout and observatory. Underneath the palace and through a long, corbel-vaulted tunnel, a stream ran through carrying a constant supply of fresh running water. Flowing water through a monumental structure like that was a feat of engineering genius.

Another structure Pacal had built would end up being his eternal resting place, the Pyramid of Inscriptions. In this Pyramid he was buried at the age of 80 year old upon the end of his 68-year reign. The importance of this burial site is that it is the most extraordinary feature of Palenque with a tomb that held the sarcophagus of Pacal, an unusually tall ruler. Within this sarcophagus was the richest offering of jade ever seen in a Maya tomb. Placed over his face, a mask fitted with jade mosaic and a suit of priceless jade adorned his body. Each piece of hand- carved jade was threaded together with gold wire.

The village of Palenque offers several hotels and restaurants, from very upscale to quite rustic. We stayed at Hotel Villas Kin-Ha, about 3 miles from the site. It was very comfortable, with good food and drinks. The pool was a great plus. After a day of walking the ruins it was a nice refresher.