I`ve wanted to come to Mexico for a long time, in particular to visit the Mayan ruins, but most of all the jungley site of Palenque. The ancient Mayans originally called their city Bàak’ (meaning water) to denote fluid unions, fertile lands, and considering it rains nine months of the year in the region the name holds a strong significance for a number of reasons. Maybe the Spanish conquerors got confused by the fertility connotations of the word Bàak’ as their new name for the community of Palenque translates to sexual union. Either way, Palenque has got it all going on.
True to form I visited the site under soggy skies, having slept soundly under a noisy roof of torrential rain the night before. The jungle was steaming, the colour of the vegetation luminescent and the sense of pride in the traditional history of the local indigenous people tangible.
Palenque isn`t a huge site but the location is incredible, and the attraction for me is not only one of the best places to see preserved Mayan art but also relish the climate of the abundant waterfalls.
The main draw card for archaeology enthusiasts is the amazing burial pyramid of King Pakal (above), which was constructed after his death as a tomb. The nine tiers represent the number of layers of the sacred underworld, a place Mayans believed they resided after death. Each of the 80 steps of the pyramid leading up to the altar represent the years of the Kings life. Buried beneath the layers underground, the ruler of Palenque was entombed with ritual masks, precious artefacts and vessels for the afterlife.
Choosing to take make the most of the historical experience I jumped at the services of an indigenous local – Julio. He spoke to me for a few hours in Spanish about the culture of the Mayans, the political and astrological triumphs, as well as the strength of the government and armed forces of the time. And in case you have a macabre sense of humour like me and were wondering; people do still slip down the stairs of the ancient pyramids, hurt themselves and sometimes die!
Easily though, Palenque lived up to my expectations. Wandering the temples, the ruined houses that lie untouched in the dense jungle, as well as the world class Museum, I feel that my education and passion for such an interesting cultural history has been completely renewed.