The Maya ruins of Palenque, are dramatically situated at the foot of the northernmost hills of the Chiapas highlands in Mexico. The Palenque ruins are widely regarded as the most atmospheric and impressive of Mexico’s Mayan ruins. Palenque’s monumental stone temples are famed for their architectural sophistication and fine sculptures, and are made even more interesting by the detailed knowledge of its history that archaeologists have recovered from its inscriptions.
The first European to visit the Palenque ruins was Priest Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada in 1567. By then the ruins were already abandoned for centuries and absorbed by the jungle. In the 19th century Palenque became the most studied of all Maya ruins.
Anciently known as Lakamha’s (“great water”), Palenque’s was already a regional capital between 300 BC and 250 AD. Much of what is known about Palenque rulers comes from the lengthy text found inside the Temple of the Inscriptions. This temple was built as a funerary monument for Pakal the Great, who recorded detailed information on three tables about his dynastic forebears.
Because of these tablets we know that the Palenque dynasty was founded on March 10, 431 by K’uk’ Bahlam (“Quetzal Jaguar”). We also know that Palenque had a queen, Yohl Ik’nal, who reigned for some 20 years between 583 to 604.
Pakal the Great himself was inaugurated in 615 during difficult times. Years earlier Palenque suffered a military disaster when Calakmul and its allies sacked the city. During Pakal’s reign which lasted until his death in 693, Palenque began to emerge as a major power, expanding its control over the surrounding region. He was also one of the main figures responsible for rebuilding Palenque and for a renaissance in the city’s art and architecture.
A record of the last known Palenque rules comes from a pottery vessel and refers to an inauguration of a ruler in 799. After this date the historical record at Palenque falls silent.
Map of Palenque, Mexico
|The map shows the location of Palenque. The buttons on the left can be used to zoom in or out. Click and drag the map to move around.|
The largest pyramid at Palenque, the Temple of the Inscriptions was specifically built as the funerary monument for K’inich Janaab’ Pakal. Construction of this monument started in the last decade of his life, and was completed by his son. The temple is named for the hieroglyphics found inside, describing the family tree of King Pakal. In 1952, the tomb of King Pakal was discovered deep within the temple. The crypt is closed to the public, and much of the tomb has also been moved to Mexico City.
The Palace is a complex of several connected and adjacent buildings and courtyards including a unique four-story tower. The Palace houses many fine sculptures and bas-relief carvings.
The Temple of the Cross, Temple of the Sun, and Temple of the Foliated Cross are a set of graceful temples each built on top of a pyramid. This group of temples, now in various stages of reconstruction, was built by Pakal’s son, Chan-Bahlum.
The Mayan ruins are about 4 miles (6 km) from the town of Palenque and minibuses run between the town and ruins every 10 to 15 minutes during the day. Taxis and combis (shared taxis) are also available. Sleeping accommodation can be found either in the town of Palenque, or just outside the limits on the road to the national park.
The easiest way to get to the Palenque ruins is by bus. There are many buses daily from San Cristobal de las Casas (5 hours), Tuxtla Gutierrez (6 hours), Villahermosa (2 hours), Merida (8 hours), Campeche (5 hours), Cancun (13 hours). One or two buses per day also ply from Mexico City (14 hours), Oaxaca (15 hours) and Tulum (11 hours). It is also possible to get to Palenque from Flores in Guatemala by bus (about 6 hours).
The entrance fee is M$45.