Surrounded and literally digged out of the jungle of Chiapas, the ruins of Palenque are certainly an obligatory stop for any archaeological geek – it was one the most fantastic places I visited in Mexico and just think about the fact that it is estimated than only 10% of this ancient city has been “recovered”.
As skeptical as I might be, it was hard to ignore the strange energy I was feeling in this place. Perhaps the heat and humidity were taking over my best judgement, or perhaps, just maybe, the mayans had a reason to choose that place to build one of their biggest cities. Just may be, just for a little bit, I’d allow myself to believe in the supernatural. For just a few moments (which turn into hours of exploration) I let myself believe that magic truly exists and it was there in that place. The spirits of the Mayans and their Gods were floating over me.
I went early – I was there before it was opened to the public. The vendors were arriving on the same colectivo (shared public van) I was taking from the town centre to the site. I was the only one with white skin in that vehicle, and the little dark skinned children were staring at me with wide open brown eyes. Yes, I was a tall white woman, and definitely standing out. They were curious, even though I am sure they see so many different tourists every day… but I guess a lot of them take a taxi… I wanted to mix up with the locals.
I soon realised we were going up, deep into the jungle. When I got there, it wasn’t eight in the morning yet – there was just one other person waiting for the ticket office to open. A thin layer of sweat and humidity already covered my skin. It was hot, and I was glad I was there early. I had never savoured the jungle in the flesh. So perhaps that was also part of the magic. As well as being able to listen to the howling monkeys from the distance.
After ignoring local guides trying to sell me their services, and rolling my eyes at catwalking from some local teenagers probably bored with life, I happily stepped inside the archaeological site that would leave me breathless and in a constant dreamy state for the rest of the day.
Because I was stepping into a different dimension. Travelling in time, getting to know what is part of my own history, our history, as human beings, as Humanity. Yup, it’s story time.
Lakamha, meaning Big Water, is the original name of the city, renamed to Palenque by the Spanish. Palenque seems to have been first occupied in 100 BC, flourishing around 630 to 740 AD under the ruling of Pakal – he seems to have become a Mayan king at the early age of 12 and lived until the impressive 80 year old mark. He was responsible for most of the most impressive temples, including El Templo de las Inscripciones (The Temple of Inscriptions) which would become is own mausoleum after his death.
After 900 AD, the city seems to have been abandoned. Why? Who knows. That is part of the mystery of so many of this ancient places… many talk about rebellions, while others support the thesis that heavy farming had made the land infertile, and people had to migrate to somewhere, abandoning the city in search of fertile lands. Left abandoned, in a place where heavy rainfall and hot temperatures are perfect for the proliferation of heavy vegetation, Nature took over, covering this massive temples completely in a relatively short period of time. In such a way that the ruins were only discovered until 1746.
Most recent excavations revealed detailed carvings in stone, and it is fantastic how well nature manage to preserve them. In some places, you can still see remainings of red ink used to colour them…. yes, because if these sights look amazing, just imagine how it was at that time – the stones coloured in bright reds, golds and blues, the smell of burning incense, the chants of the tribes!
At one point, I could feel the streams of sweat down by back, and I didn’t even cared. It just felt so natural to be part of that, to feel that way. I climbed to the top of Templo de Las Cruces and sat there in the shadow for a while, observing the magnificient view extending upon my eyes. How privileged I was. How I would love to feel like I felt forever.
Palenque might not be as famous as Chichen Itza (considered one of the seven wonders of the world). But it is definitely worth your visit – and I heard it is even better than the most famous places… I cannot tell myself, but anyone out there who would care to give his or her opinion? 🙂
Check out my post on Teotihuacan, the other archaeological site I visited in Mexico.