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Pre-Columbian city of Palenque
UNESCO world heritage UNESCO World Heritage Emblem

Palenque Collage.jpg
National territory: MexicoMexico Mexico
Type: Culture
Criteria : i, ii, iii, iv
Reference No .: 411
UNESCO region : Latin America and the Caribbean
History of enrollment
Enrollment: 1987  (session 11)
Video about Palenque and animation of the interior of the Temple of the Inscriptions

Palenque is an archaeological site surrounded by lowland jungle in the Mexican state of Chiapas, not far from the modern city of Palenque . Nearby are the ruins of a former in the archaeological zone of Palenque Maya metropolis that since 1987 the UNESCO - World Heritage Site belong. The Lacandon people living near the excavation site are considered to be the direct descendants of the former inhabitants of old Palenque. On March 30, 2015, the memorial was included in the International Register of Cultural Property under the special protection of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict .

The historical name Palenques was probably Lakamha ' (in German about "Big Water"), while the area ruled by the city was called B'aakal ("Bone").


The area of ​​Palenque is located in the Mexican state of Chiapas above the Río Usumacinta . The city is located on a terrace on the hills of the highlands of Chiapas further south and extends about two kilometers in an east-west direction. Numerous small streams flow through the archaeological area of ​​Palenque. The ruins, for which artificial terracing were often created, nestle against the green hills of the highlands, which have been integrated into the architecture of the city. So far, only about 5 percent of the buildings have been exposed. The rest is still overgrown by the jungle.

Construction of the ancient Mayan city

The center of the city is formed by the Temple of the Inscriptions, which is probably the most famous building in Palenque, and the palace opposite it. In addition to the building complex of the neighboring so-called Kreuzgruppe, many other stand-alone buildings are grouped around the center, which were erected on plinth platforms. Almost all buildings were decorated with fine and detailed stucco reliefs, both inside and on the outside walls. The frequent occurrence of niches and the roof ridges of many buildings are just as typical of Palenque. This is one of the reasons why the architecture of the ruins of Palenque is often considered particularly elegant and graceful. 

Temple of the Inscriptions

Pillar at the Temple of the Inscriptions

Opposite the palace is the "Temple of the Inscriptions". The step pyramid is about twenty meters high and has a small temple on its roof platform. It was completed in 690 under the rule of K'inich Kan Balam II and houses the burial chamber of his father Pakal . The Mexican archaeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier discovered an entrance on the roof platform in 1949, behind which a buried corridor was hidden. After three years, the corridor and the burial chamber to which it led were completely exposed. This walk and climbing the step pyramid is no longer allowed for tourists.

The burial chamber has a footprint of four by ten meters and is around seven meters high. Next to the sarcophagus of Pakal were the skeletons of several youths as well as some clay vessels and two stucco heads at the time of discovery. A replica of the crypt and the objects found in the tomb (including the jade mask of Pakal) are on display in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City .

In 1994 a second chamber was discovered in a small temple next to the pyramid, which also contained a sarcophagus. In contrast to the crypt discovered by Ruz, no hieroglyphs have been discovered here that could provide information about the person buried here.

The palace

The palace

The largest architectural complex in Palenque rises on an area of ​​100 by 80 meters: the palace. It consists of buildings with a rectangular base and numerous doors built on artificial platforms. The palace was probably built in several phases with a total construction time of around 120 years. A four-story tower protrudes from the interior of the complex, which may have been used as an observatory or a watchtower. The palace has several inner courtyards that served as a light source for the surrounding rooms.

Three worked panels were found in the palace. On them are scenes of the accession to the throne of the three kings K'inich Janaab 'Pakal I , K'inich K'an Joy Chitam II. And K'inich Ahkal Mo' Nahb III. shown. These scenes differ in the details, but are essentially the same. The king always commemorates his rise in power on the tablets, with his ancestors handing him symbolic objects that embody power and are associated with the ceremony. Many pillars of the galleries are also decorated with representations of Maya in a stately posture.

The cross group

To the southeast of the palace are three temples that delimit an open space and are collectively referred to as a group of crosses. The group was probably built in the middle of the 7th century AD and is dominated by the "Temple of the Cross", whose name, like that of the whole group, comes from a relief inside the sanctuary on its top, which depicts a cross-shaped world tree.

All three buildings, the "Sun Temple", the "Leaf Cross Temple" and the "Cross Temple" are built according to the same scheme. Inside they have a vaulted room, on the back wall of which there is a three-part relief. The reliefs are of particular interest to archaeologists because of their very long texts in Mayan hieroglyphics and their many calendar dates. In addition to the sanctuaries, the temples also have in common that they all have a pitched roof with a comb and also stand on a step platform with a staircase at the front. Because of their similarities, it is believed that the three temples all served the same purpose, namely the worship of the three local deities, to whom the rulers of the city attributed their ancestry.


The rise and fall of the city of Palenque

According to legend, the rulers of Palenque descended from three local gods. The first representative of the dynasty, who, according to an inscription, was born as early as 993 BC, derived its origin from a goddess who is only called beast by archaeologists because of the appearance of the hieroglyph that symbolizes it. Because of the early date of birth of that ruler, it is believed that he was an ancestor whose birth was pushed far in the past. However, its existence may be purely fictional.

The first traces of settlement can be traced back to the fourth century AD, i.e. at a time when the rise of many important centers of the Classical era began in the southern lowlands. Little is known about this early Palenque period, as the archaeological findings from this period are extremely sparse and there are practically no authentic contemporary texts. The first historically secured Ajaw (king) was K'uk 'Bahlam I (431–435). In a text from the seventh century - the so far only discovered Maya text that gives information about the early period of Palenque - he is consistently referred to as "Lord of Toktahn ", which may indicate that the ruling dynasty did not originally come from Palenque itself. Palenque itself is mentioned for the first time with the name Lakamha 'on an inscription from the year 490, i.e. during the reign of the third king Butz'aj Sak Chiik , which could perhaps also mark the historical foundation time.

In the 6th century Palenque developed into a local great power and received great influence over some neighboring cities. Palenque was a close ally of Tikal in the wars between Tikal and Calakmul, which began around 550 . After the long-term elimination of Tikal, Calakmul, more than 200 kilometers away, was even able to destroy almost the entire city in an attack on Palenque in April 599. In 611 another attack took place under the leadership of the King of Calakmul. The ruling king Ajen Yohl Mat survived the attack by a few months, but almost the entire political upper class of the city was killed. Who ruled for the next three to four years is debatable. The following Ajaw appears in the inscriptions as Muwaan Mat , but this name actually refers to a deity Palenque. It is thought that this name as a pseudonym for a ruler named Sak K'uk ' served, who have assumed the regency due to lack of male heirs and the formal domination of her twelve year old son 615 K'inich Janaab Pakal I could have given .

With his enthronement, which is immortalized on the back of the throne in the palace, a lot of building activity began. During Pakal's reign, parts of the palace as well as the small Templo Olvidado (German for "the lost temple") were built outside the city center. When his death loomed in 683, at the age of 80, work began on the Temple of Inscriptions, which may have been designed by Pakal himself. Under his son K'inich Kan Bahlam II , the building activity focused primarily on the group of the cross and here especially on the temple of the cross, which was built in 692. He also seems to have had sovereignty over some smaller towns along the Río Usumacinta and attacked the city of Toniná in 687 .

In 702 K'inich K'an Joy Chitam II succeeded his older brother on the throne. He was captured and kidnapped in a raid on Toniná in 711 after only nine years of reign . The victors installed a governor named Xok and ensured that Palenque could not choose a new ruler by leaving the imprisoned ruler alive. After the death of the old king in 721, K'inich Ahkal Mo 'Nahb III. a man from a branch line of the King dynasty.

From the reign of his successor, information about the kings of Palenque becomes increasingly sparse. Around 742, K'inich Janaab Pakal II married a princess to Copán in what is now Honduras . The end of his reign could be linked to another attack from Toniná, for which, however, no exact date is certain. It also seems that control over the city of Pomoná was lost at this time . The last known calendar inscription in Palenque is recorded on a pottery shard for the year 799 and tells of the accession to the throne of Janaab Pakal III. Since there are no signs of further settlement after that and the last possible mention of the empire of B'aakal from Comalcalco dates back to 814, the city of Palenque seems to have been one of the first great centers of the classical period, that of the general collapse of the Maya fell victim in the southern lowlands. The reasons for this collapse are still controversial in research. 

List of rulers of Palenque

Pakal the Great (drawing by Maya researcher Alfred Maudslay , 1902)


Genealogy of the rulers of Palenque


Rounded rectangles: female persons, the family connections drawn with broken lines are hypothetical, (a) captured in Toniná in 711 and presumably sacrificed there. Contradictions with the above list are the result of insufficient deciphering, damaged monuments or missing inscriptions.


K'inich Kan Balam II (drawing of a relief on the west side of the Temple of the Cross by Frederick Catherwood , 1841)

Palenque is one of the earliest explored cities of the Maya. At the end of the 18th century, the inhabitants of the small village of Santo Domingo de Palenque on the Rio Usumacinta found the ruins and reported their discovery to the colonial authorities. The abandoned city was called Otolum ("place of stones") by the locals . In 1773 the ruins of Palenques were first visited by the monk Ramón de Ordóñez y Aguilar . He was so impressed by the site that he wrote a report on the ruins of Na-chan ("House of the Snakes"). This report prompted José de Estacherías, President of the Royal Audience in Guatemala, to send his Lieutenant Antonio Calderón and the architect Antonio Bernasconi to explore the ruins between 1784 and 1785. They made several elevations and drawings. The news of the discovery aroused great interest among the Spanish royal family, who immediately sent an expedition to the area under the direction of the engineer Antonio del Río and the painter Ricardo Almendaríz . The group made drawings and reports and hid some items, using rather brutal methods, for example to uncover entrances blocked by rubble. The records of the expedition were never published, but a translation of a copy of the report was published in London in 1822 with the title Description of the Ruins of an Ancient City (in German: "Description of the ruins of an ancient city"). Heinrich von Minutoli published a German translation in Berlin in 1832 based on the English from the original Spanish manuscript of Capitain Don Antonio del Rio and Dr. Paul Felix Cabrea`s: Teatro critico Americano, or solution of the great historical problems of the American population, together with a raisonnaire list and 14 explanatory panels, depicting the Palenqueschen, the Deppeschen and other American antiquities present in the local art chamber.

The translation drew more researchers to Palenque. Although there was still a research expedition initiated by the Spanish king in 1807, it was not until the 1830s that several researchers became aware of the ruins. One of the most famous is Jean Frédéric Waldeck , who lived in Palenque from 1832–33 and 1834–36 and made engravings and drawings of the ruins. He saw Chaldeans , Phoenicians and other peoples of the ancient world as ancestors of the Maya, which turned his works into imaginary views, as he built non-existent things into them, such as elephants or ancient statues. Other researchers of this time were the then US ambassador to the Central American Confederation , John Lloyd Stephens , and the illustrator Frederick Catherwood . The two traveled to the Yucatán Peninsula between 1839 and 1841 and also came to Palenque. They described the remains of the city in much more detail than the researchers before them and thus gave a fairly accurate picture of the ruins.

The first excavations in the modern sense took place from 1940. The numerous inscriptions were of great help in deciphering the Mayan hieroglyphs , especially after the discovery of the burial chamber of King K'inich Janaab Pakal in the building that is now called the "Temple of Inscriptions". Excavations are still ongoing, but the city has now been opened to tourists as public interest has grown. For example, part of Max Frisch's novel Homo Faber takes place in the ruins and the modern city of Palenque.

See also


  • Gerardo Aldana: The Apotheosis of Janaab 'Pakal: Science, History, and Religion at Classic Maya Palenque. University Press of Colorado, Boulder 2010, ISBN 978-1-60732-071-5 .
  • Guillermo Bernal Romero: El señorío de Palenque durante la Era de K'inich Janaahb 'Pakal y K'inich Kan B'ahlam (615–702 dC). Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Histomesoamericana, 2011 ( PDF; 0.7 MB ).
  • Guillermo Bernal Romero: Historia dinástica de Palenque: la era de K'inich Janahb 'Pakal (615–683 dC). In: Revista Digital Universitaria. Volume 13, No. 12, 2012 ISSN  1607-6079 , pp. 1–16 ( PDF; 1.6 MB ).
  • Michael D. Coe : The Maya . Gustav Lübbe Verlag, Bergisch Gladbach 1968, ISBN 3-404-00566-X . (contains some passages to the most important buildings)
  • Michael D. Coe: The secret of Mayan writing: A code is deciphered. Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek near Hamburg 1995, ISBN 3-498-00898-6 . (with details about exploration)
  • Linda Schele , David Freidel : The unknown world of the Maya. The secret of their culture deciphered. Weltbild Verlag, Augsburg 1995, ISBN 3-89350-737-X .
  • Nikolai Grube (Ed.): Maya. God kings in the rainforest. Könemann-Verlag, Cologne 2000, ISBN 3-8290-1564-X . (with details and pictures of the most important buildings)
  • Damien B. Marken (Ed.): Palenque. Recent Investigations at the Classic Maya Center. AltaMira Press, Plymouth 2007, ISBN 978-0-7591-0874-5 . ( Limited online version )
  • Simon Martin / Nikolai Grube: Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens. Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya. Thames & Hudson, 2nd ed., London 2008, ISBN 978-0-500-28726-2 . (Pp. 154–175, detailed account of the history of Palenque with a focus on the kings of the city)
  • Minutoli, JH von: Description of an ancient city that was discovered in Guatimala (New Spain), near Palenque . Berlin, 1832 with G. Reimer .
  • Berthold Riese : The Maya: History - Culture - Religion. (from the series "Beck Wissen"). Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-406-46264-2 . (Pp. 87–95, contains details about the Palenque royal dynasty)
  • Joel Skidmore: The Rulers of Palenque . Mesoweb, 5th ed., 2010, pp. 71–73 ( PDF; 9.1 MB ).
  • Henri Stierlin: Maya. Palaces and pyramids in the jungle . Taschen, Cologne 2001, pp. 70-101, ISBN 3-8228-1240-4 .
  • David Stuart , George Stuart : Palenque. Eternal City of the Maya. Thames & Hudson, London 2008, ISBN 978-0-500-05156-6 .
  • Kuhlmann, Enriqueta, Löbau, Andrea, Zabé, Michel ,: Palenque: history, art and buildings . INAH, México, DF 2001, ISBN 970-9019-10-4 . INAH, México, DF 2001, ISBN 970-9019-10-4

Web links

Commons : Palenque  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikivoyage: Palenque  - travel guide

Individual evidence

  1. International Register of Cultural Property under Special Protection. (PDF) UNESCO, July 23, 2015, accessed on June 2, 2016 .
  2. Nikolai Grube: Maya. God kings in the rainforest . Könemann-Verlag, Cologne 2000, pp. 202f.
  3. Michael D. Coe: The Maya . Gustav Lübbe Verlag, Bergisch Gladbach 1968, p. 123
  4. Michael D. Coe: The secret of Maya writing: A code is deciphered . Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1995, p. 100f.
  5. Martin / Grube: Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens. 2nd ed., Pp. 154-175; Skidmore: The Rulers of Palenque. 5th ed .; Mesoweb Encyclopedia
  6. Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube: Chronicle of the Maya kings and queens , London 2000, pp. 176-189; Guillermo Barnal Romero: La historia de Palenque, principales acontecimientos y genealogía de sus gobernantes . In: Arqueología Mexicana 113, p. 63

Coordinates: 17 ° 29 ′ 0 ″  N , 92 ° 3 ′ 0 ″  W.