Palenque  also anciently known as Lakamha “Big Water” , was a Maya city state in southern Mexico that flourished in the 7th century. The Palenque ruins date from ca. 226 BC to ca. 799 AD.  After its decline, it was overgrown by the jungle of cedar, mahogany, and sapodilla trees, but has since been excavated and restored with an onsite museum. It is located near the Usumacinta River in the Mexican state of Chiapas resides at 150 meters (490 ft) above sea level.

Palenque is a medium-sized site, smaller than Tikal  but it contains some of the finest architecture, sculpture, roof comb and  relief carvings that the Mayas produced. Much of the history of Palenque has been reconstructed from reading the hieroglyphic inscriptions on the many monuments; historians now have a long sequence of the ruling dynasty of Palenque in the 5th century and extensive knowledge of the city-state’s rivalry with other states such as Calakmul and Toniná. The most famous ruler of Palenque was K’inich Janaab Pakal, or Pacal the Great, whose tomb has been found and excavated in the Temple of the Inscriptions. On the lid, as in his tomb, Pakal is positioned in an intermediary space, between the heavens—symbolized by the world tree and bird above him—and Xibalba, the Maya underworld. In addition to the remains of Pakal, precious materials such as jade, shells, pearls, and obsidians were discovered inside the sarcophagus.

It is estimated that less than 10% of the total area of the city is explored, leaving more than a thousand structures still covered by jungle.

The first published account of this lost city was in 1567, from a  Friar  of the Dominican Order Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada. Lorenzo came upon its stone temples, terraces, plazas and architecture, originally decorated with blue- and red-painted stucco but by then long abandoned by the Maya who built it. Lorenzo gave the grand structure the name Palenque, a Spanish word meaning “fortification.”

As drought and warfare tore apart the social and political fabric of the Maya   the Spanish conquistadors began claiming Maya land for plantations and subjugating Maya people to work on them, many residents of storied stone cities such as Yaxchilan and Palenque fled to the countryside in search of a better life. Ultimately they founded a host of new Maya cultures.

Some people, known as the Lacandon Maya, established themselves in the forests around Lake Mensabak in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. Their descendants still live in this region today. They are the Hach Winik, “the true people” in Yucatec Mayan.

The rulers of Palenque were called the “Holy Lord of Toktahn” or “Holy Lord of Baakal”, and among the king list are several legendary leaders, including Snake Spine and Ch’a Ruler I.   The very first named ruler of Palenque is GI, the First Father, said to have been born 3122 BCE, and the Ancestral Goddess said to have been born 3121 BCE

The dynastic rulers of Palenque begin with Bahlum-Kuk or K’uk Balahm, the Quetzal Jaguar, who took the throne of Palenque in 431 AD.

Lengthy Mayan texts, which researchers have used to translate Maya script.
At this point, a brief explanation of how Maya writing works is in order. Maya   hieroglyphs comprise a complex and fully functional system of writing using a combination of logographs and syllabic symbols, similar in some aspects to modern Japanese. Words and names can be written in a seemingly endless variety of arrangements using pictures, syllables, or a combination of both. Also, the same sound can be written using different glyphs that all have the same value. Some glyphs function as words in and of themselves, and some have no meaning other than as syllabic signs. With this in mind, we see that the name Pakal, which means “shield,” can be written with a graphic depiction of a shield or with “letters” that work together to form the word phonetically. Most Mayansyllables include both a consonant and vowel sound, but the vowel is usually not pronounced when at the end of a word. Thus, Pakal is written out as pa-ka-la, but the last A is silent. This feature and another where the last consonant is spoken but not written are very similar to some ancient syllabic scripts from the eastern Mediterranean.

Scientific debt is owned to the famed Mexican archaeologist Alberto  Lhuillier, who in 1952 removed a stone inside the Temple of Inscriptions and found the burial tomb of Pakal the Great. This has since become one of the most extensively studied archaeological sites in the Americas.

500 years later this site is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico with close to 1M visitors x year. Archeological researchers have uncovered some of the most detailed information about Maya culture

Leave your vessel at Marina Chiapas on the Pacific coast ( entry and exit in Puerto Madero  South Western Mexico) and drive to this site with a shared guided tour – or if you are adventurous drive yourself though Zapatista territory. Although the EZLN is still active and maintains a few strongholds in Chiapas, things are relatively peaceful and there is no threat to tourists. Travelers are advised to respect any roadblocks they may come across in rural areas which may require payment of an unofficial road tax. Get to the site early int he day before most day tourist show up and head to the Museum at mid day to avoid the crowds and chachki vendors inside the park which amass around 11 AM.