Palenque – the power of an ancient civilization in all its glory


Palenque is the remains of the ancient Mayan city, well preserved in the jungle of the southern state of Chiapas in southern Mexico. Palenque makes an unforgettable impression – lost in the humid jungle, often in the grip of fog, the city looks like an alien abode.

Since 1981, the city is a National Park, and since 1987 it is under the protection of UNESCO. Palenque holds the unofficial title of “the most sophisticated and elegant city in South America. In ancient times, the walls of its buildings were decorated with stucco and paintings, some of which have been recreated.

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Panorama of Palenque

A bit of history.

Time has not left us with the original name of the city. The conquistadors did not know about the existence of the majestic ruins for a long time, quite by chance at the end of the XVIII century a military unit discovered a village called Santo Domingo del Palenque in the jungle, and nearby were the mysterious remains of ancient structures. The Spaniards began to call the ruins Palenque.

In the surrounding jungle and now live Chol Oni Indians, who call Palenque “stone house of snakes,” perhaps in the pre-Columbian era and the city was called that.

Archaeologists have found that Palenque was built more than two thousand years ago, it reached its greatest prosperity in the VI-X centuries. But later the inhabitants left the city for unknown reasons and it was swallowed up by the jungle.

Image of a skull on the ruins of Palenque The surrounding jungle

Video about Palenque


Now Palenque has been cleared of forest and restored, numerous tourists and mystery lovers come to touch the archaeological monument of Mayan culture. On the territory of the city there remained about one and a half thousand different buildings – these are houses and complex technical structures: aqueducts, water supply and outflow devices, canals. These systems are considered the most sophisticated of all pre-Columbian man-made structures. Only 34 of the structures have been studied so far.

Inside the temple of inscriptions.

Among all the buildings in Palenque, the Temple of the Inscriptions stands out, so named because of the abundance of hieroglyphics. On the facades of the structure one can see the remains of expressive bas-reliefs. Immured in the wall of the Temple are plates with the longest known Mayan inscriptions, consisting of 620 relief hieroglyphs. The temple stands on a 20-meter pyramid, and to the top of it leads stairs with 70 steps.

Sarcophagus of Pacal the Great inside the pyramid

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In the Temple of Inscriptions archaeologists managed to make the largest and at the same time the most intriguing find in the history of Mayan studies. While clearing the ruins they were able to discover the secret staircase leading to the tomb. Here is a stone sarcophagus with a mummy of the ruler of the city of Pacal the Great. Covered sarcophagus slab, recognized as the most outstanding achievement of Mayan culture – its surface is decorated with a fine artful carving, whose technique is comparable to the works of Renaissance artists. What is striking is that Pacal’s body was mummified according to ancient Egyptian technology, and the tomb itself resembles an Egyptian pyramid.

Reconstructed copy of the sarcophagus of Pacal the Great at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City

But the most incredible was the drawing on the sarcophagus slab, in the deciphering of which, in addition to archaeologists, participated ufologists and astronauts. The slab bears a detailed depiction of a man in a spacesuit, sitting in the chair of an aircraft, which is unusually similar to a spaceship! The pilot’s hands are on the levers and in front of him there is a very clear control panel with many instruments. To this day there is still debate about who and what is depicted on the slab of the sarcophagus, it is one of the most amazing mysteries of the Maya.

Near the Temple of inscriptions is the Palace – a complex of 12 buildings, formerly the focus of urban life. The palace is topped by a five-story tower with an observatory, where the ruler knew the will of the gods by the stars. Here still stands the pew on which the priest-astronomer sat. The building is decorated with reliefs and images from the life of the Palenque nobility. On the steps of the palace, human sacrifices were offered to the gods. The fact that the staircase leading to the observatory begins only from the second floor of the tower is a mystery to researchers. Why not the ground floor? And how did the priest and the ruler get to the second floor? So far it remains a mystery.

Next to the Palace rise three pyramids on the tops of which were the main sanctuaries of Palenque – the Temple of the Cross, the Temple of the Leafy Cross and the Temple of the Sun with the image of the solar god Jaguar. These names are modern, based on the deciphered subjects of the altar plates.

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The courtyard of the Three Pyramids Palace

Behind the palace there is a traditional Mayan playground for the ball game, which was given ritual importance. Losers were often deprived of their lives.

View of the ancient city

Worthy of attention Temple of Jaguar, the Temple of Skulls, aqueducts, stone bridge, houses, pyramids. All buildings are covered with unusual geometric ornaments. Tourists accessible to the inspection of the vast majority of buildings.

Palenque amazes with its uniqueness and ingenuity of the Maya – how did they manage to erect such monumental structures in a remote jungle? How did they get the huge stones here?

Once you visit this place, you will be impressed by its enchanting atmosphere for a long time – Palenque stands on the floodplain, surrounded by rainforests where you can hear the sounds of macaws and howler monkeys.

Mexican temples of Palenque: Mayan history lurking in the jungle

Mexico has always been and, I think, will always be shrouded in a kind of aura of mystery. And how else could it be with a country that has such a rich, rich and extraordinary history? Colonial cities are interspersed with Indian villages, ruins of ancient civilizations about which we know so little. Perhaps everyone who does not even really know where Mexico is, has heard about its great pyramids. Teotihuacan, Monte Alban, Chichen Itza… Tell me, who does not dream to look at them at least once? Mystery, mysticism, something unexplored have always attracted man.

One of the most famous mysterious places in Mexico are the temples or as they are called – the pyramids of Palenque. Never heard of them? Well, that’s exactly where we are going.

Palenque, Palenque decoration element

We enter the Palenque archaeological site (Zona arqueologica Palenque), take a few steps and find ourselves in the thick of it. No preambles, vague ruins and small buildings – at once the power of the ancient Mayan civilization in all its glory.

Palenque, Temple of the Skull

Sightseeing in Palenque

In this article I will not scrupulously bring to you the names of all the temples of Palenque and their descriptions, if you ever find yourself here – you will know everything. I will mention only the most important buildings, show you how unusual, beautiful and mysterious this place is, and give you some practical advice.

Personally, to be honest, sometimes I am not at all interested in how this or that building is called, I just like to take the picture as a whole, without the names, cliches and conclusions of archaeologists.

Palenque, Temple of the Red Queen and Temple of Inscriptions

No sooner have we set foot on the land of the capital of the ancient Mayan kingdom, as our feet are already carrying us up the steps of the first temple. The temptation to look at Palenque from above is too great! You can climb almost all of the pyramid temples. At the top we were welcomed by such a handsome fellow. Judging by the surviving bas-reliefs, the Mayans loved all sorts of spooky images.

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Palenque, Skull bas-relief

When we go down, we walk a little further along the Plaza Principal and see the landmark of Palenque – the Templo de las Inscripciones. For some reason you can’t climb it, everything is fenced with strings.

Palenque, Temple of Inscriptions

To the left of the Temple of the Inscriptions is one of the key buildings of the complex, the Palace (El Palacio). There is a lot to see and a place to explore: galleries, courtyards, a lot of rooms with well-preserved bas-reliefs, wall ornaments, even underground passages, but they are not accessible to nosy tourists.

Palenque, Palace

Palenque, Palace Corridors

Palenque, bas-relief

Palenque, Palace Galleries

Palenque, courtyard of the palace

Palenque, bas-relief Prisoners

Palenque, Palace

From the walls of the palace you can see another isolated group of buildings, hidden among the scattered trees – the so-called Palenque Triad or Group of the Cross, located on a hill.

Palenque, Group of Crosses

From the temples of this group there are great panoramas of Palenque, the main thing is not to be lazy to climb the stairs.

Palenque, Cross Square, Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Cross

Palenque, panorama

Palenque, Temple of the Sun

Palenque, Sheboldasik and Andrusiks

Palenque, panorama

Palenque, Temple of the Leafy Cross

Also at the top there are often bonuses in the form of well-preserved bas-reliefs and hieroglyphs.

Palenque, hieroglyphs

Beyond the Plaza of the Cross the paths go into the jungle, where Mayan buildings lurk away from the sun as well.

Palenque, a path in the jungle

Palenque, jungle building

Palenque, bas-relief

We get out of the jungle, pass the Group of Cross, bypass the Palace on the right and get to a large open area.

Palenque, view from the palace wall

Here the ball court, a similar one we had already seen in Monte Albán, immediately draws the eye. I’d love to see how the ancient Mayans played here. I hope they had a ball and not someone’s head.

Palenque, ball court

Palenque, Palace

Behind the site is another isolated complex of buildings, the Grupo Norte. From the top of one of the temples there is a great view of the valley.

Palenque, panorama of the valley

And then the paths lead back into the jungle: steps up and down, knotted roots of trees, moss-covered rocks, the intricacies of lianas. It reminds me very much of the Cambodian Angkor or the jungle of Thailand, where we were making our way to the temple there.

Palenque, jungle buildings

Palenque, jungle

Palenque, jungle

Palenque, vines

Here in the jungle to the delight of tourists hid small, but nice waterfalls. If it were not for the numerous signs and the characteristic noise of the water, they could have been an unexpected surprise.

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Palenque, waterfall

Palenque, waterfall

Palenque, moss-covered paths

You see, not only temples are rich in Palenque complex, there are also natural beauties. Together, both of these components give a lot of positive emotions and impressions.

Ah, yes, about the colleagues. I expected to see many more tourists, but apparently the effect of the fact that the tourist season is coming to an end and the rainy season begins. Even now, at the end of May, they come literally every evening and night. Apparently, the main flow of visitors has already evaporated. Most of the tourists are locals, although visitors are also glimpsed.

Palenque, tourists

You can also see some nice iguanas. The main thing is not to make any sudden movements or they will run away.

Palenque, iguana

The vegetation on the territory is also very bright and interesting. What are just these flowers. I do not know what they are called, but the locals, pointing fingers at them, shouted “Aves de Paradiso”, that is, “little birds of paradise. So be it, they know better, although we had already met some “birds of paradise” in Guanajuato, and they looked very different. In general, sometimes in Mexico we meet very interesting plants.

Palenque, flowers

And another indispensable inhabitant of the Palenque temple complex are the ubiquitous souvenir sellers. It must be said, in some places you can find very nice things, so fans to bring home something nice, will be satisfied. Moreover, in Mexico there is no problem with souvenirs – for all tastes and colors.

Palenque, seller of souvenirs

Palenque, seller of souvenirs

Here is an interesting walk through one of Mexico’s treasures. Impressive, isn’t it?

Should you visit Palenque? Yes, it is! It is one of the places you go to Mexico for.

Before visiting the temples of Palenque, on the one hand, seemed to me something very mysterious and fascinating, on the other hand – I thought that this place is super-pop and there will be no spirit of history and mysticism. As a result, all the same, the first expectations prevailed. Yes, there were a lot of tourists around, yes, everything is even too neat and tidy, yes, there are signs “Don’t go there, don’t go there” everywhere, but epicness and grandiosity of the place wins it all.

Palenque. Pyramids. Maya. The rest is trivia.

Palenque, Sheboldasik and stones

The city of Palenque welcomed us from our walk with a crazy sky with gorgeous clouds. I can’t help but share ))

Palenque, clouds

Palenque, clouds

Palenque, clouds

Enjoy your walks through the temples of Palenque, dear readers!

Sheboldasik and Andrusiks

Sheboldasik and Andriusiks

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Comments (8)


Lyuba 06.06.2014

How interesting. Gorgeous photos, can’t stop admiring.

Thanks for the informative report full of details!


Sheboldasik 06.06.2014

I think the details are the best way to convey the peculiarities and energy of the place.

Yelena 06.06.2014

How many Moments. What a “hearty” cute this creepy bas-relief. Well look closely – all the openings (eye sockets, nose, recesses of the ears, cheekbones) – everything is heart-shaped.

The flower Heliconia – a relative of bananas and strelitzia (Ave de paradiso) – as evidenced by its paddle-shaped leaves – grows perfectly at home. It is an interesting exotic plant with inflorescences of unusual shape and color.

These plants are native to the humid rainforests of South America and the southern USA. In nature, the unusual flowers of these plants are pollinated by hummingbirds.


Sheboldasik 06.06.2014

Elena, Skull also has a smile up to his ears ))

Plants in rainforests are very interesting and Heliconia is far from the only one, but certainly pretty.

Boris 12/25/2015

Stayed at the Plaza Palenque near the Chidraoui supermarket. Loved everything about the hotel except the lack of hot water. Even in the tropics, taking a cold shower is not pleasant.

When visiting, I recommend going a little deeper into the jungle to get a feel for the jungle spirit. It is safe enough as there are no poisonous plants in this area, and there are more than enough beaten trails.

Palenque is visited mostly by Mexicans. There are very few gringos. And, unlike Chichen Itza, you can climb almost everywhere except the Temple of the Inscriptions, which is blocked. This incredible city of Pacal captivated me much more than both Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza. Highly recommend it.

Irina 06.04.2018.

We were impressed with Palenque too! When we were there, there were heavy clouds hanging over the mountains! It was quiet and mysterious. Admittedly, we broke the rules and went behind the fences. I really liked that there were not many people there and it was not too hot. I parked my car at the entrance, so I had to walk back to the central jungle complex of ruins, using very steep and long stairs. It is covered with moss and still difficult to reach. But it was interesting. We’re alone! Not a soul around! And very pleased with the waterfall!

Shamsha 8/17/1990

Great photos, super all described as if I have been there myself. Thank you so much for sharing, hope to go there someday.

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