This archeological site is named after the community of Santo Domingo of Palenque, founded possibly in the 17th century. Towards the end of this century, the site was recognized as the remains of a great ancient city. In 1874, its existence was made known by Antonio del Río, who travelled with Antonio Bernasconi and José Antonio Calderón from Guatemala City to Palenque to announce this discovery to the Royal Spanish Court. From then on, visits and specialist investigations multiplied, which has resulted it the better understanding of the site, its inhabitants, culture and its function as a political center in a vast Mayan region.
The architectural evolution of Palenque and its vast network of trade within not only the Mayan region but other distant parts of Mesoamerica make this place one of the most important of Mayan sites. It is formed by more than 200 architectural structures varying in size and complexity, all adapted to the topography of the land which extends over a land surface of 2.5 kilometers. The major axis of the site is orientated east to west and the minor axis measuring about 1 kilometer, north to south.
Over the foothills of the Sierra Madre of Chiapas, bordering the coastal plain of the Gulf of Mexico, between the landscape of jungle and great abundance of water, Palenque began as a small agricultural village, possibly around 100 BC, in the Pre-Classic period (2500 BC – 300AD).
Palenque grew over the Early Classic period (300-600) and in the Late Classic period (600-900), it became the powerful center of a vast region today known as Chiapas and Tabasco. During this time, the city reached its height, demonstrated in the complexity of its architecture, ceramic and especially its many inscriptions. Through the study of these inscriptions and other archeological remains, we know today the names of the people who governed this city and other important figures. We also know birthdates, marriage ceremonies, the start and end of military conquests, their allies, rituals and the precision of the calendar developed in this archeological site.
Entering this zone from the middle, one can observe the great platform to the right on which Temples XII and XIII are built. Also known as Templo de la Calavera or Temple of the Skull, which owes its name to the small relief of a skull at the bottom of one of its pillars, this temple has two hallways oriented to the north. Temple XIII also features two hallways, of which only the base of the walls are left.
Templo de las Inscripciones
To the east, rises not only one of the best conserved structures of this site, but also one which contains the most information. It is known as the Templo de las Inscripciones due to the three large limestone panels with hieroglyphics inscriptions on the inside. This structure has a central front staircase leading to a temple on top, which is decorated with stucco panels with ornamental reliefs.
Inside the temple, through two flights of stairways, is an imposing funerary crypt, which holds the tomb of Pakal, who governed Palenque between the years 680 and 720. The sarcophagus, the striking sarcophagus lid and the walls are decorated with bas-reliefs which not only recount the name, origin and ancestors of the king but features a grand central scene which recreates the death of Pakal. The reliefs also feature a celestial band and diverse gods, signs and symbols that summarize the Mayan cosmovision.
The palace is situated in the center part of this archeological city. It owes its name to its architectural composition, which includes four patios, long hallways and a tower. This structure is a result of numerous architectural transformations over four centuries. Proof of its complexity is in its varied architectural elements found – a multi-tiered base, stairways, patios, corridors, underground galleries, passageways, windows and openings, lintels, a complex water system, panels with hieroglyphic inscriptions and sculptures and a wide range of stucco decoration which still preserves some of its polychromatic colors. The highlight of the Palacio is its four-story tower which has a stairway leading to the top.
This structure consists of a low platform with a stairway facing south. It is made with great stone blocks. Several interesting architectural elements can be observed such as the walls of the temple and basement. An adjoining structure still requires exploration.
On the platform of the structure described in the previous paragraph are two parallel platforms which were used as the ball court of a traditional Mesoamerican ballgame. These structures, too, require more exploration and research.
Templo del Conde
On the next terrace, on the southernmost extremity of the site, lies the Templo del Conde o Temple of the Count, named after Frederick Waldeck who is said to have lived here during his time in the site. This building is made of five tiered blocks with its main entrance facing east. The top of the temple still preserves all its architectural components.
To the left at the northernmost edge of the site, are a group of five temples on a platform which serves as its base. Today they may seem to form a single structure but they were probably built at different times over many years.
Towards the southeast, one can find a stream, Otolum, which crosses the site from south to north, which explains the construction of a bridge in the northern end called Baño de la Reina. A dam can be found upstream, in the section that corresponds to the eastern façade of El Palacio. With this construction, called the Aqueduct, the two most important sections of the site are joined.
Templo de la Cruz
On the southern most extremity of the site, on a higher elevation than that of all the aforementioned buildings, lays a large plaza which is surrounded by several buildings. In the north sits the Templo de la Cruz, with its imposing tiered base facing south which preserves, among others, the cresting paired with an openwork wall, highlighting the remains of the profusely decorated stucco.
Inside there is a small sanctuary-like temple whose entrance is flanked by two stone cut bas-reliefs featuring two male figures elegantly dressed; one of them is an old man smoking. In the central panel, which is exhibited in the National Anthropology Museum, a monster of the earth appears in the center, from which sprouts a corn in a form of a cross on which a fantastic bird rests. On each side of the plant there is a figure contemplating the scene. The hieroglyphic inscriptions that appear date the panel to the year 642.
Temple XIV is located on the west. The inside displays panels with inscriptions and figures as well as signs and symbols.
Templo del Sol
Templo del Sol is the best preserved on the site, distinguished from its cresting and ornamental stucco decoration on the second tier.
Building of the Cruz Folida
This building is located on the east. Its name is due to a panel one can admire on the inside which principal element is believed to represent a cross. The façade of the building is completely destroyed leaving only the second hallway preserved. The plaza extends south where there are at least seven other buildings yet to be explored.
Templo del Bello Relieve
The temple is located upstream on the left bank of the stream, Otolum, behind the Templo de las Inscripciones. In the 19th century, a relief was discovered. It featured an elaborately dressed figure sitting down with crossed legs on a throne which rested on several felines. Sadly, this relief has since disappeared.
The museum exhibits different objects uncovered during onsite excavations. It highlights several stone cut bas-reliefs, remains of stucco figures and glyphs which were once part of the architectural decorations, ceramic pieces and diverse objects made from shell, jade and obsidian which were removed from tombs. Their existence and discovery in Palenque demonstrate a rich trade and network of exchange. There is also a replica of the tomb of King Pakal.