in Palenque Museum
Culture in Chiapas
Regarded by many experts, as the most brilliant
civilization in New World, Maya culture flourished
in Southern Mexico and Central America from the
second to 16th century. It was at its peak from
300 to 900 AD. Tabasco, Yucatan and Chiapas are
the states with most Mayan archaeological remains.
Not all the ethnic groups living in the state took
part in the development of this ancient culture.
However, one of them which does descend from Mayas
of yesterday is that of Tzeltas. They still
preserved the legend of Voltan, the civilizing
hero who established himself in Usumacinta basin
and founded the city of Palenque, the center of
In 6 AD, cities were abandoned; some Mayas
emigrated to Peten and Yucatan, while others who
remained in Chiapas split into independent
chiefdoms, founding cities and conquering nearby
Religion of Mayas was polytheistic, with pantheon
that included deities of all types, ages and both
sexes. Various different rites were necessary in
order to obtain their favors. One of them was
human sacrifice, which not only established
communication with gods, but also ensured that
life would continue.
In 1482, the region was invaded, but not
conquered, by Aztecs, who were ruled by Ahuizolt
at that time. Tiltototl subdued Quelenes and left
garrisons in Zinacantan and Soconusco. Moctezuma
II resumed the fight against Mames in 1505 and
imposed a tribute of cacao beans, feathers, jaguar
skins and other articles.
Examples of architecture of these ancient Mayas
still exist in Jiquipila and Cintalpa valleys that
seem to be of funerary nature, along with the
great archaeological cities of Palenque, Yaxchilam,
Tonina, Bonampak and Chinkultic.
Palenque, a site in the Northeast of the
state, is one of the finest examples of Maya art.
Existence of this city deep in the rain forest had
already been reported in 18th century, and it was
visited by various explorers in 19th century:
Desire Charnay, Guillermo Dupaix and John L.
Stephens together with the illustrator Frederick
Catherwwod, who all described or depicted
architectural wonders they had see.
Palenque was the capital of extensive area from
600 to 900 AD and was its most splendid during the
reign of Pacal , "Sun Shield" who ruled
from 615 to 683. This king was succeeded to the
throne by his eldest son Chan Bahlum, also
known as "Serpent-jaguar".
Palenque, whose name is Spanish word meaning
"wooden palisade", is in Otulum
("fortified house" in Chollanauage)
facing Northern mountains. The main buildings on
this 8 km-long site feature human figures on stone
slabs, tablets set into walls and in stucco relieves.
Palace is a complex of patios, galleries and rooms
overlook by square tower with four stories
connected by inside staircase, which could have
been observatory or watchtower. The palace has
carving, low relieves and hieroglyphs on facades,
wall and patios, while on exterior columns there
are stucco relieves of governors and priests.
Temple of Inscriptions, which stands on high
pyramidal base, has stone slabs carved with
hieroglyphs. The most important pre-Hispanic tomb
in Mexico was discovered underneath this pyramid.
A staircase below the floor of inner chamber leads
down to a tunnel that contained the collective
burial of six people, who had been sacrificed to
serve the person in funeral crypt behind sealed
triangular slab of stone.
In the center of crypt was the sarcophagus of King
Pacal, in monolithic lid carved in low relief. The
main scene has three basic elements: Mask of Earth
monster at the bottom, human figure in the middle
and the foliated cross at top. Inside, there were
pieces of jade, stone pendants, stucco heads and
human remains, wearing jade mask, with shell and
Other important monuments on this site are Temples
of Cross and Foliated Cross, which are very
similar to each other, Temple of Sun, with fine
panel of low relief carving, and a group of
buildings in North that includes Temple of Count
and Ball Court, covered in undergrowth. Some of
these buildings still have the remains of roof
crests, typically Maya decorative element, that
make them look more spectacular.
Mayas developed sophisticated system of writing.
Palenque has a good example of it in the shape of
more than 350 genealogies of leaders and rulers
including names such as those of ladies Zac-Kul
and Kun-Ik. The on-site museum contains
exhibits such as incense burners, plaques and
Another great Maya city in Chiapas is Yaxchilan,
built on the banks of Usumacinta river. It
developed between 350 and 810 AD, but it was
during the reign of "Bird-jaguar IV" in
8th century that the city established its power.
The main buildings on the site are Temple of Four
Carved Lintels, Palace of Seven Chambers,
Acropolis, Ball Court, Labyrinth, Hieroglyph
Staircase, Red Temple and House of Hachakyum.
Some of these are topped by magnificent roof
Apart from its architectural attraction, site has
the added interest of 124 texts on 59 lintels, 30
stelae and 21 altars. Lintels are finely carved
with scenes of governors, while stelae are in low
Tonina, "house of stone", in
Tzeltal, lies on the spurs of the mountain range
that closes Northern end of Ocosingo valley. Its
buildings, which have the characteristic Mayan
architectural feature of the false arch, stand on
large pyramid bases. In addition to one Ball
Court, there is another larger one with benches
along the walls, Temazcal (steam bath) at
one end, and two stone hoop targets. Stelae and
sculptures have been discovered in surrounding
area, most of them in pieces.
Buildings of this ceremonial center have typical
Maya false arch and roof crests. This Maya enclave
was at its height between 6th and 10th centuries
AD. Tonina conquered Palenque in 730 AD and its
last ruler was taken prisoner.
There is a stucco slab, like codex at Tonina,
called Four Suns, that shows several deities as
well as the gruesome picture of beheaded prisoner.
This scene illustrates the legend of four suns or
cosmic eras that ancient civilizations of Mexico
Bonampak, "painted walls", in
Maya is set deep in Lacandon rain forest and was
discovered in 1940s. Its more famous for its
murals than for its buildings, possibly painted in
800 AD. These cover the walls of three chambers in
Temple of Paintings.
They are done in mineral-based colors on surface
of lime plaster. Walls of the first room show
richly dressed priests, nobles and musicians
surrounded by masked performers. The second has
enemy troops engaged in battle, with prisoners
condemned by victorious chief in the background,
while murals of the third chamber depict dancers
in fantastic but attractive disguises, an
orchestra, nobles being attended by their servants
and human sacrifices. Among different personages
is Chaan Muan II, the last governor of
Bonampuk, sporting magnificent jaguar pelt
In the South of the state is the city of Chinkultic,
which was at its height in Late Classic period,
between 600 and 900 AD. It grew up around several
natural wells (cenotes), of which the most
important is Cenote Azul. Although parts still
have to be explored, acropolis formed of three
small shrines, great temple with five stepped
tiers and a base on the edge of cenote can be