Bonampak is located in the Lacandon jungle of Chiapas, in the valley of the river Lacanhá. It covers an area over four square kilometers. The main buildings were built over a chain of hills which run through the center of the valley, from the Cojolita range to the banks of the river.
However, only the Grand Plaza and Acropolis have been explored and are open to the public. Here you find the building with the famed murals painting. The earliest archeological material date back to the start of the Classical period (year 250), when the site began to gain importance. The Mayan society of the Classical period had an agricultural based economy, complemented by the abundance of natural resources from the jungle.
Their society was organized in various strata, or social classes, and its inhabitants fell into these groups based on birth, marriage or through learning and practising a specialized skill. At the cusp of the social pyramid were noble persons who supported themselves by means of taxes, and above them, a ruler who governed all the city and regions around it.
The first ruler of Bonampak was one who was called Bird Jaguar. In Yaxchilán, he is mentioned in the inscriptions as one of visitors in the ascension ceremony of Cráneo Mahk’ina I, fifth ruler of the city between 402 and 423 AD. The first monuments found in Bonampak refer to a ruler known as Fish Face, who ruled during the end of the 5th century. Regrettably, these monuments containing the inscriptions are no longer in the country.
The following rulers of Bonampak which are mentioned in the inscriptions include Jaguar Knotted-Eye (516 AC), Chaan Muan I (603 AC) and Ahau (683 AC). Unfortunately there are big historical gaps as this site yet to be extensively explored. By the year 746, the inhabitants of Bonampak and Yaxchilán had defeated the nearby city of Lacanhá, which soon submitted to the rule of Bonampak.
Bonampak achieved the height of its splendor under the rule of Jaguar Knotted-Eye I, who ascended the throne in 743. His conquests are immortalized in lintel 3 of the Painting Building. The last ruler of Bonampak, so far known as Chaan Muan II, took over the throne in 776, as depicted in Stele 2, where he is seen with two women, possibly his mother and wife, the latter of Yaxchilán nobility. His fifth year of rule around 780 is represented in the magnificent Stele 1 and Stele 3 commemorates his 10 years of rule in 785 AD.
In 787, Chaan Muan II captured an important enemy called Ah-5-Skull, an event depicted in lintel 5 of the Painting Building; his final actions are represented in the paintings of the same building. The images show his son as the heir to the throne, battle preparations and events that accompanied the propitiatory self-sacrifice by the ruling family.
They also depict the events of the battle where they held captives who were then sacrificed in a sumptuous ceremony accompanied by dance and more sacrifices. All these events happened between 790 and 792 and mark the last acts and the end of the rulers of Bonampak, after which the city was abandoned and left to the jungle for 12 centuries.