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The archaeological zone of Palenque, one of the most important archaeological zones of the Maya culture, is located in the southern state of Chiapas (chee-ah-pahs). Situated at an altitude of 3000 metres, surrounded by dense forests housing a large variety of birds and wildlife including jaguars and howler monkeys, it is one of the most enigmatic archaeological zones of the country.

It is famous for the tomb of one of the most powerful Maya kings, Hanab Pakal, also known as Pakal the Great, who ruled over the city from 615-683 AD. The discovery of his tomb in 1952, beneath the 85 feet high temple-pyramid, Templo de las Inscripciones, drew tremendous attention to the site. It was so named after the discovery of three large limestone tablets containing hieroglyphic inscriptions inside the pyramid. This temple was dedicated to Pakal and contained details of his exploits as well as information on the ruling dynasty of the city.

It all started with the discovery, in 1949, of a secret descending stone staircase cleverly hidden under a stone slab, leading 80 feet down from the top of the temple. After three years of excavation, the tomb was finally uncovered. The remains of Pakal, adorned with jade ornaments and face covered with a jade mask, were found inside this sarcophagus. The carving on the lid of the sarcophagus depicted Pakal as the young Maize God, with the Tree of Life — a Maya motif of resurrection and life — springing from his body. The carving is Mesoamerica’s most famous and remarkable story in stone, describing the deceased’s name, origin, ancestry as well as re-enactment of his death.

The massive, intricately carved stone sarcophagus is still inside the temple but the tomb is closed to the public. A replica of the elaborate sarcophagus can be seen at the site museum, while the hieroglyphic panels along with some of the smaller objects found inside the sarcophagus, including the jade death mask, are placed in the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City. The remains of the tomb’s discoverer, Alberto Ruz Lhuillier, are buried just opposite the temple.

In 1994, archaeologists discovered a massive tomb inside a temple-pyramid alongside the Templo de las Inscripciones. The stone sarcophagus held the remains of a woman completely covered in red cinnabar powder, along with a rich offering of jewellery. So, the deceased was called the ‘Reina Roja’ (rei-nah roh-hah) or the Red Queen. The sarcophagus is open for public view, but the artefacts discovered inside this tomb have been shifted to the site museum.


El Palacio (ehl pah-lah-syoh) (The Palace) is the biggest complex on the site. Located at the centre of the Maya city, it is so named because of its composition, which includes several connected and adjacent buildings and courtyards, long corridors and a four-storied tower, built on a wide artificial terrace. The complex has highly artistic stucco works and bas relieves. Inside, stairways lead into a labyrinth of damp subterranean rooms and corbelled passages that served as royal sleeping quarters. The toilets and sweat baths close by are quite unique too.

As of today, only 5% of the buildings in the zone have been excavated, the rest remain unexplored in the dense forest.

El Baño de la Reina, (ehl bah-nyoh deh lah rei-nah) the bathing pool of the queen, is one of the most beautiful places at the site. Here, the river Otulum cascading through the forest flows over beautiful terraces into a series of gorgeous pools. It’s a very good place to rest in the forest and listen to the cascading waterfalls and the sounds of the birds.

You can read more about Palenque and my experiences in this beautiful destination in my ebook “Discovering Mexico

Click here to read the book synopsis and sample chapters and to know how you can buy a copy of my ebook. Happy Reading and see you soon 🙂