June 2022. Although I have been in Mexico before, the last time was in 1994-1995. Twenty-seven years later, Oriol and I are doing a classic tour of the United Mexican States, featuring Mexico City (CDMX); Palenque in Chiapas; Villahermosa in Tabasco; Uxmal, Mérida, Chichen Itza, Ek’ Balam, Valladolid, and a few cenotes (waterholes) in Yucatán and Tulum in Quintana Roo. We returned via Cancún to CDMX and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
Palenque, Bàak’ in Yucatec Maya, also anciently known in the Itza Language as Lakamha (literally ‘Flat-Place-River’), was a Maya city state in southern Mexico that perished in the 8th century.
The Palenque ruins date from ca. 226 BC to ca. 799 AD. After its decline, it was overgrown by the jungle of cedar, mahogany, and sapodilla trees, but has since been excavated and restored.
It is located near the Usumacinta River in the Mexican state of Chiapas, about 130 km (81 mi) south of Ciudad del Carmen, 150 meters (490 ft) above sea level. It averages a humid 26°C (79°F) with roughly 2,160 millimeters (85 in) of rain a year.
Palenque is a medium-sized site, smaller than Tikal, Chichen Itza, or Copán, but it contains some of the finest architecture, sculpture, roof comb and bas-relief carvings that the Mayas produced.
Much of the history of Palenque has been reconstructed from reading the hieroglyphic inscriptions on the many monuments.
Historians now have a long sequence of the ruling dynasty of Palenque in the 5th century and extensive knowledge of the city-state’s rivalry with other states such as Calakmul and Toniná. The most famous ruler of Palenque was K’inich Janaab Pakal, or Pacal the Great, whose tomb has been found and excavated in the Temple of the Inscriptions.
By 2005, the discovered area covered up to 2.5 km2 (1sq mi), but it is estimated that less than 10% of the total area of the city is explored, leaving more than a thousand structures still covered by jungle.
Temple of the Inscriptions
The Temple of Inscriptions had begun perhaps as early as 675 as the funerary monument of Hanab-Pakal. The temple superstructure houses the second longest glyphic text known from the Maya world. The longest is the Hieroglyphic Stairway at Copan.
The Temple of the Inscriptions records approximately 180 years of the city’s history from the 4th through 12th K’atun.
The tomb itself 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.
Temple of the Cross Complex
The Temple of the Cross, Temple of the Sun, and Temple of the Foliated Cross are 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.
These temples were named by early explorers; the cross-like images in two of the reliefs actually depict the tree of creation at the center of the world in Maya mythology.
The Palace, a complex of several connected and adjacent buildings and courtyards, was built by several generations on a wide artificial terrace during four century period. The Palace was used by the Mayan aristocracy for bureaucratic functions, entertainment, and ritualistic ceremonies. The Palace is located in the center of the ancient city.
The Palace most unusual and recognizable feature is the four-story tower known as The Observation Tower. The Observation Tower like many other buildings at the site exhibit a mansard-like roof.
The Palace was equipped with numerous large baths and saunas which were supplied with fresh water by an intricate water system. An aqueduct, constructed of great stone blocks with a three-meter-high vault, diverts the Otulum River to flow underneath the main plaza. The Palace is the largest building complex in Palenque measuring 97 meters by 73 meters at its base.
Other notable buildings
- The Temple of the Skull has a skull on one of the pillars.
- Temple XIII contained the Tomb of the Red Queen, an unknown noble woman, possibly the wife of Pakal, discovered in 1994.
- The Temple of The Jaguar or Temple of the Beautiful Relief. 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.
- Temple of the Count another elegant Classic Palenque temple, which got its name from the fact that early explorer Jean-Frédéric Maximilien de Waldeck lived in the building for some time, and Waldeck claimed to be a count.
How we got there
From Belgium it was hard to find tours from Villahermosa to Palenque. So we booked a private tour with Marco Polo Operadores. A driver picked us up at the hotel and drove us to the site. There a middle man gave us some explanations and upsold us some extra tour for 1,500 pesos. Then a third guy turned out to be the actual guide.
He did provide us with a very insightful tour and explanations. We also had a hike in the jungle.
We found those 1,500 pesos extra a bit odd. And as none of the three even suggested getting a tip, we assume they decided the tip was 1,500. Ah well.
Palenque is a must-see stop in the classic Mexico tour. Period.
- REVIEW | KLM Amsterdam Schiphol to Mexico City on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner in economy.
- MEXICO CITY | Zócalo.
- MEXICO CITY | Templo Mayor.
- REVIEW | Hotel Carlota in Mexico City.
- MEXICO | Teotihuacan.
- MEXICO CITY | National Museum of Anthropology or Museo Nacional de Antropología.
- FORMULA 1 MEXICO CITY GRAND PRIX | Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez.
- MEXICO CITY | Museo Nacional de Historia at Castillo de Chapultepec.
- MEXICO CITY | Frida Kahlo Museum.
- MEXICO CITY | Coyoacán.
- Mexico City 2022.
- REVIEW | Mexico City – Villahermosa with Volaris.