​​​​​welcome to the mayan ruins website .

the red queen                                                                  inah

temple of the warriors                                         steve mellard

group J site plan                          palenque mapping project

palace house A captives detail                         steve mellard

temple of the foliated cross tablet                                                                                                                                       jorge perez de lara

warriors temple panel                          ela ginalska

temple of the foliated cross      erick martin del campo

palace tower c.1880                                        desire charnay

tomb of the red queen                          erick martin del campo

ball court                                                 erick martin del campo

palace complex                                  erick martin del campo

temple of the inscriptions                                 jan harenburg

palace tower & house E                     steve mellard

palace view c1890                                              alfred maudslay

temple of the sun                                                 steve mellard

temple of inscriptions pakal's tomb                                 inah

jade necklace structure XII tomb                 inah

palace House C                                   erick martin del campo

cross group                                                           steve mellard

temple XX                                                          steve mellard

site map                                          palenque mapping project

murcielagos structure III vase                                     inah

temple of the skull                                 erick martin del campo

palace house A                                               steve mellard


del rio expedition 1785          ricardo almendariz

group J                                                                          inah

palace house E oval tablet                  mesoweb

north group                                         erick martin del campo

tablet of 96 glyphs                                                                                      jorge perez de lara                                                                        

palace tablet                                             jorge perez de lara

structure XIX panel                ela ginalska

censer in museum                       stee mellard

palace house E                                                  steve mellard

drone image                                                                  inah

murcielagos group                                                             inah

palace house A  c.1840                            frederick catherwood

temple of the count                                            ryan mcfarland

temple of the inscriptions detail                  alejandro l garcia

overview                                                             google earth

group C                                              alejandro linares garcia

PALENQUE-Chiapas, Mexico

Palenque, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is considered by many to be the most beautiful of the ancient Maya cities. It is situated at the foot of the Sierra de Don Juan, beside low, fertile plains with streams and waterfalls running throughout. Its original Maya name was Lakam’ha which means” Place of many Waters”. There is also a city-state emblem glyph that reads “Baak’/bone”. The site encompasses a large area of over 1sq mile/2.5 sq km containing over 200 architectural structures within more than 30 identified groups, most of them residential. Only the core area, which in itself covers a lot of ground, is open to the public.

 Palenque is one of the most studied of Mayan sites. A number of important discoveries concerning the decipherment of glyphic texts based on the numerous carved inscriptions found there have revealed a trove of information about the history of the site as well as a better understanding of Maya culture in general. The royal lineage of the site has now been documented from the 5th through the 8th centuries with births, accessions to the throne, deaths, victories and defeats all gracefully inscribed in stone throughout the site.

Palenque is best known for the elaborately decorated tomb of Kinich Jaanab Pakal discovered deep within the Temple of the Inscriptions. Unfortunately, Pakal’s tomb is no longer accessible to visitors, though the museum has a great reconstructed exhibit.

There are several advanced engineering principles to be found here including an aqueduct, channels, and at least two foot bridges.

Palenque is located in the Mexican State of Chiapas. It is about 93 miles/149 km southeast of Villahermosa. From Villahermosa or Ciudad del Carmen take Highway 186 to the small town of Catazaja where the turnoff on Highway 199 to Palenque is situated.

HOURS: 8:30 A.M-5 P.M.
ENTRANCE FEE: U.S. $5.40/90 Pesos; $1.90/31 Pesos Parking
GUIDES: Yes, inquire at visitor kiosk for current rates
SERVICES: Bathrooms, cafe, museum, gift store
ON-SITE MUSEUM: Yes, and highly recommended
ACCOMODATIONS: Lodging can be found within the town of Palenque, and on the road from town to the archaeological zone.
GPS: 17d 29’ 03” N, 92d 02’ 48” W
MISC: Group IV, Structures J1-7 is to open late 2023

Palenque’s settlement dates back to the Middle Preclassic (600-300 BCE) as attested to by ceramic shards found at the site. Monumental construction begins by the Early Classic (250-600 CE) where the recorded history of Palenque begins with the earliest recorded king, K’uk’ Bahlam, installed on 1 Kan 2 Kayab, March 10 431 CE. There followed a nearly uninterrupted succession of kings through the end of the eighth century. Inscriptions denoting the first three early rulers mention them as ruling from an unknown site named Tok Tahn before they relocated to Lakam’ha/Palenque. The corpus of glyphic inscriptions is extensive, and has helped piece together the site’s history, political/social relations with other sites, with insight into Maya rituals and world views.

Palenque, like all Maya city-states, was engaged in the business of constant political and economic rivalry with its neighbors forming alliances, making war, expanding its influence where possible and contracting when experiencing defeat. It suffered a series of early defeats at the hand of the powerful Kaan kingdom which led to a period of decline and disorder. These defeats occurred in 599 CE under the rulership of Queen Yohl Ik’nal, and in 611 CE under King Ajen Jol Mat.

On 9 Etznab 6 Keh, October 19 612 CE, Lady Sak K’uk’ acceded to the throne and ruled for three years. It was her son, Kinich Janaab Pakal (Pakal the Great) who later became king on 5 Lamat 1 Mol, July 26 615 CE, and returned Palenque to prominence and built it into a major political and economic powerhouse. He ruled for nearly 68 years, and it was under his long reign that many of the monumental structures that are seen today were built. Pakal married Lady Tz’ak bu Ajaw of Tok Tahn in 624 CE and had at least three children. She has also been referred to as Ahpo Hel in the inscriptions.

After his death his son, K'inich Kan Bahlam II (r.684–702 CE), assumed the throne and continued the construction projects started by his father. He expanded other existing complexes, and began the construction of the Cross Group. He greatly expanded Palenque’s sphere of influence, and re-installed the king of Moral Reforma who had been enthroned by the Kaan Kingdom during his father’s reign.

Palenque was defeated by Tonina in 711 CE while under the rulership of K’inich Kan Joy Chitam (r. 702-721?). It is possible that he remained in power as a vassal to Tonina after his defeat. Ahkal Mo’ Nab III acceded to the throne on 9 Ik 5 Kayab, December 30 721 CE. He initiated an extensive building program that focused on the South Acropolis. He is noted for promoting secondary figures in his inscriptions including the office of Yajaw K’ahk’/Lord of Fire.

The last king mentioned is Wak Kimi Janaahb’ Pakal who assumed the throne in 799 CE. After this the site went into a steep decline with its abandonment sometime before the 12th century.

Palenque was one of the earliest sites to merit attention by the Spanish authorities. The first mention of the site is from Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada in 1567. A vague report of stone houses dating from around 1746 was made by Father Antonio de Solís, priest of the town of Santo Domingo de Palenque. Ramon de Ordoñez y Aguilar arranged to have the ruins visited in 1773. The first official expedition to the site was led by Joseph Antonio Calderón in 1784. His report included 4 crudely drawn pen and ink drawings. He returned again in 1785 accompanied by Italian architect Antonio Bernasconi. Antonio del Rio led a military expedition to the site in 1785. Accompanying him was draftsman Ricardo Almendáriz, who produced 30 early drawings of the site. There followed visits by Guillermo Dupaix and Jose Luciano Castañeda (1807), Juan Galindo (1831), Jean-Frédéric Waldeck Waldeck (1832-34), and those intrepid explorers John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood in 1840. It was their books, released soon thereafter, that have driven the public’s interest ever since to a better appreciation and understanding of the Maya. Several scholarly conferences have been held at Palenque, known as the Palenque Round Table, which has greatly increased our knowledge about the Maya.

The next explorations were undertaken by Désiré Charnay (1858,1881/82), who took the first photographs, followed by Teobert Maler (1877), Alfred Maudslay (1890/91), and Frans Blom (1923) among others.  Beginning in 1949 through 1952 Alberto Ruz L’Huillier of INAH conducted extensive explorations and consolidations, and rediscovered the magnificent Pakal the Great’s tomb under the Temple of the Inscriptions in 1952. INAH and other supporting institutions continue to conduct important investigations and restorations into the present time. Edwin Barnhardt’s recent Palenque Mapping Project has produced the most detailed maps of the entire site.

The largest and most impressive complex within the archaeological zone is that of the Palace, constituting part of the civic and ceremonial center located in the heart of the site. The Palace is situated on the west side of what could be termed the Main Plaza. This multi-level complex consists of numerous structures, platforms and courtyards and is best known for its four-story tower.

The Palace complex is built atop an immense platform measuring about 318 feet/97 meters x 260 feet/73 meters. The north and west sides display monumental stairways. It was expanded and remolded over a period of centuries. The main level is composed of several interconnected courtyards, ringed by thirteen structures.

The structures are lettered A-L with several of them being in the form of galleries supported by decorated pilasters, some of which have stairways that lead downward into a series of underground passageways and chambers that include carved glyphic benches. All the stucco designs and figures were once richly colored in red, yellow, and blue. All the structures, excluding House E, exhibited colorful, decorative roof combs.

House A is located along the northern half of the east side of the complex. The west side of the gallery-type structure faces onto the East Court, the most notable of the courtyards. The west facing stairway is flanked by sculptured panels of six individuals including a king from the site of Santa Elena, Nuun Ujol Chaak, and a captive lord from Pomona, Ahiin Chan Ahk.

House B is situated on the south side of the East Court. The structure has five chambers set in two parallel rows. Recent excavations have uncovered a small pool that had a drain. At the bottom of the pool a finely sculptured bust of Pakal the Great was recovered.

House C is located on the west side of the East Court opposite Structure A, and has a hieroglyphic stairway that faces onto the East Court. It records the accession of Pakal the Great, and his military victories in 659 CE. The stairs are flanked by two sloped, stucco panels depicting captives. On either side of the panels are other stucco figures, also captives, divided by short glyphic inscriptions. The structure’s exterior pillars depict stuccoed, standing figures encased in sky bands.

House A-D is on the north side of the courtyard. House A-D is a gallery that connected House A and House D and closed off the north side of the complex. The Palace Tablet was located within this structure. The tablet commemorates the dedication of House A-D/ K’alhuun Naah, or “Headband-Raising House” in 720 CE, and relates important events in the life of K’inich K’an Joy Kitam II. The pilasters were at one time richly decorated with stuccoed figures.

House D is on the west edge of the complex, and is through this structure that most of the visitors first pass through. It is composed of a gallery on the west side, and four chambers on the east side.

Structure Sak Nuk Naah, House of the White Skin, (House E) contains the Oval Tablet. This tablet records the ascension of Pakal in 615 CE, and adorned a wall under which a throne (no longer in place) was later recorded in several accession ceremonies. Parts of the throne are now in the site museum and the Mueso America Madrid, Spain. A stairway within the structure leads down to the subterranean passageways and chambers.

The Tower is across the Tower Court from House E. It is a four-story structure with interior Venus glyph decorations and may have been used for astronomical and/or ritual purposes. The Tablet of the 96 Glyphs was recovered from the Tower Court in front of the Tower steps. The tablet displays a beautiful style of poetic calligraphy recounting the site’s dynastic lineage, and was commissioned by Kinich Kuk Balahm II (r.764-783). It was unfortunately damaged during excavations. House E is located on the east side of the courtyard, with House I on the south, and House K on the west.

The water system that runs through the city center and underneath the Palace contains an advanced hydraulic engineering principle that enables water to reach to an upper level of the palace.

The Temple of the Inscriptions, one of four connected platforms in a row, lies at a right angle across from the Palace on the south side of the Main Plaza. It is by far the most well-known of the structures at Palenque. It was here in 1952 that archaeologist Alberto Ruz L’Hillier made his startling discovery of a sealed passageway that led down from the top of the structure to ground level. After a few years of excavating the rubble from the passageway he came upon one of the most significant finds in the Western Hemisphere. It was the discovery of the tomb of the great king K’inich Janaab Pakal housing his elaborately carved sarcophagus. Inside the sarcophagus was the stunning, jade bedecked king himself. The lid of the sarcophagus depicts Pakal arising from the jaws of the Earth Monster reborn in the guise of the young Maize god. The frame of the lid displays astronomical glyphs of the sky most likely relating to the time of this event. What we call today astrology was intricately, and accurately, woven through their history, rituals, and daily life. The walls of the tomb feature nine stucco relief carvings of individuals, with the number nine often related to the Underworld.

The structure has been wonderfully restored. There are four, intricate stucco relief carvings of dynastic rulers and the mother of K'inich Janaab Pakal II each holding him as an infant on pilasters that frame the exterior entryways into the temple. The rear wall of the temple houses three large panels that relate an in-depth, chronological narrative of the Baak Dynasty. It crowns a nine-tiered pyramid platform containing a total of 69 steps, the number of which may have an astronomical (possibly lunar periods) and/or a ritual connotation. The nine tiers themselves may relate to the nine levels of the Maya Underworld. The construction of the structure was begun by Pakal the Great, and completed after his death by his son, K'inich Janaab Pakal II.

Recently discovered about 25 feet under the tomb of Pakal is a stone lined water tunnel. It has been hypothesized that the once water-filled tunnel may have been constructed to transport the spirit of Pakal into the Underworld.

Next to the Temple of the Inscriptions is Temple XIII, also known as the Temple of the Red Queen. Her tomb was discovered in the 1990’s and is thought by some to be the wife or mother of Kinich Janaab Pakal. Her body was interred in a limestone sarcophagus and covered in cinnabar, a red mineral compound, hence her name. This temple is open to the public, and her sarcophagus can be viewed. The Queen herself is now housed in a special room in the fabulous site museum.

Butting up against the Temple of the Red Queen is Temple XIIa, a pyramid platform base. Next to that is Temple XII, also known as the Temple of the Skull. There is a passageway leading down from the temple to a tomb containing a sarcophagus of an unknown ruler. A very nice jade necklace and a jade block are among the rich trove of funerary items recovered. The jade block inscription appears to relate it as a tribute item from the site of Pomona. This temple is currently closed to the public.

To the north of the Palace multiple, raised plazas contain the Ball Court, the North Group, and the Temple of the Count. The Central Plaza houses the Ball Court, other low mounds, and Temple X.

The Ball Court is the first structure encountered. It runs on a North/South axis, about 12 degrees east of North. The twin structures measure about 72 feet/22 meters in length by 33 feet/10 meters in width. The “end zones” are open.

To the west of the Ball Court is Temple X. The temple structure sits atop a low, five-tiered pyramid base and is accessed through three entryways. The roof of the single chamber structure was supported by six interior pillars. It faces to the south towards the Palace.

The Temple of the Count is the most notable structure of the North Group, and is built atop a five-tiered pyramid platform containing a looted tomb of an unknown member of royalty. The temple structure is entered between three entryways. A series of stairways face East onto a plaza, the Waldek Plaza, named after the 19th century explorer, Jean-Frédéric Waldeck.

 Attached to the north side of the Temple of the Count platform are five joined temple structures that run on an East/West axis. These structures have been nicely restored, and contain between one and four chambers. At the base of one of the structures is a carved panel.

An important structural complex known as the Cross Group is situated southwest from the Palace across a small stream, the sides encased in stone. This complex consists of three main temples ringed around an open plaza that were constructed by a son of K’inich Janaab Pakal, K’inich Kan Balam II. Each temple contains an inner sanctuary that depicts Kan Balam II in different ritual contexts intricately carved into large stone panels. The texts that frame the central image relate the dynastic history and rituals of the ruler, and begins in the Temple of the Cross, and ends in the Temple of the Foliated Cross. Each temple was constructed to honor one of the three deities that were the patron gods of Palenque known as the Palenque Triad, and were dedicated in 692 CE.

The Temple of the Foliated Cross, though the smallest, is the most photographed as it is framed by the jungle atop a small hill. The front portion of the corbeled vault has fallen away leaving only the rear intact. This is a common structural failure affecting many buildings throughout the Maya World.

The Temple of the Sun is located directly across the plaza and is built on a small four-tiered pyramid platform. It has a nice roof comb that lends an air of elegance. A portion of the text relates to an attack on Tonina in 687 CE after which Ruler 2 from that site is never heard from again Next to this temple is a smaller structure known as Temple XIV.

Facing the west side of the plaza is the Temple of the Cross, the largest of the three. The temple sits atop a five-tiered pyramid and is crowned with a beautiful roof comb. One of the texts refer to a planetary conjunction that occurred in 690 CE involving Jupiter. Jupiter had a special relationship with Palenque, and was carefully tracked and recorded in their mythic and contemporary histories. Directly to the south of the Cross Group is Plaza C which houses the South Acropolis. It has several structures, Structures XVII-XXII, with Structure XVII on the east, Structure XX on the south, Structure XXII on the west, and Structure XXI on the north.

Temple XVII is also known as the temple of the Warriors. The temple structure is set on a pyramid base with a central staircase on the east side of Plaza C. The structure houses two parallel chambers, and at the back of the rear chamber is a sanctuary featuring a nicely carved panel. The panel depicts ruler K’inich Kan Bahlam II with a captive identified as Bolon Yooj. The interior pillars display remains of stucco images, and a step still exhibits bright colors.

Temple XVIII is located on the east side of an upper plaza level of Plaza C. It is a multi-chamber structure wherein three burials were located, two of which have yielded numerous jade objects. A tablet and other texts located within refer to ruler K’inich Ahkal Mo’ Nahb III.

Structure XIX is an elongated temple structure on the south side of the upper plaza level that was constructed during the reign of K’inich Ahkal Mo’ Naab’ III. It was commissioned by a Palenque noble, Yajaw K’ahk’/Lord of Fire who is identified on an interior panel. The structure was accessed from the north via three flights of stairs. Its stepped platform base measures around 131 feet/40 meters x 79 feet 24 meters. The palace itself is longer and wider than the Temple of the Inscriptions, and is composed of two parallel chambers with a roof once supported by a series of interior pillars. Attached to one of these pillars was a very fine stucco panel featuring the principal heir to the throne ‘Upakal K’inich Janahb’ Pakal. It has been removed to the site museum. A nice replica is now seen in front of the temple structure.

The temple is accessed through a very large, single entryway spanning 17 feet/5.3 meters. A beautiful, intricately carved bench was discovered inside the structure that has provided expanded information on the site’s history. It is located in the northeast corner, and contains over two hundred glyphs. It contains a retrospective date in the seldom encountered 819-day cycle that has been linked with planetary associations. A recently discovered stone with additional glyphic information was discovered at the foot of the main stairway.

Adjoined to the west side of the Structure XIX upper plaza level is Structure XX, a large pyramidal structure. A ruined summit structure housed a single chamber whose roof was supported by four interior pillars. This structure has not seen as much restoration as Structure XIX, but is noted for its tomb chamber that was painted a bright red. The occupant’s identity has yet to be established, though there are indications he may be the founder of the dynasty, K’uk Bahlam I who ruled c.461 CE.

Structure XXI is located across Plaza C from Structure XX and to the east of Structure XXII. The single chamber temple is rectangular in shape with its roof once supported by four interior pillars. During recent excavation a throne platform with carved text was recovered in the southwest corner. The sides exhibited limestone panels worked in bas-relief featuring a scene of Ahkal Mo’ Nab III, the current ruler at the time.

To the north and east of the North Group are several residential areas: Groups I and II, Group B, Group C, and Grupo de los Murcielagos (Bats Group), a sub-group of Group B. These areas are open to the public and are reached along winding paths across streams and past waterfalls. Very picturesque and peaceful. The structures consist of one or two stories featuring numerous chambers, and buried within were numerous burials, ceramics, lithics and more.

The Murcielagos/Bats Group has several structures, a few of which have been nicely restored. Within Structure III a blackware ceramic vase was recovered that provides information on the last known ruler of Palenque. The vase records the date, 7 K’an 17 Muwaan, November 13 799 CE, and is the latest date known at Palenque. The inscription denotes the accession of Wak Kimi Janaahb’ Pakal, last known ruler of Palenque.

Group J is located to the west of Temple X and the Main Plaza. It is a sub-set of Group IV, and is being prepared to open for visitors in late 2023. This new area includes several structures, Structures J1-7, that surround a small courtyard. Three shrine structures, Structures J3, J6 and J7 have been excavated and consolidated, while Structure J2 has seen some excavation work. The most important structure here is Structure J1. This two-story residence has a frontage of about 148 feet/45 meters, and was the clan house of Chak Suutz, a member of an important lineage at Palenque. Among his titles is that of a warrior chief who held the distinguished rank of Yajaw K’ahk’ /Lord of Fire.

On the second floor a stone censer carved with historical information was recovered that names an individual, Aj Sul, probably an ancestor of Chak Suutz, who was also a Yajaw K’ahk’/Lord of Fire in c.610 CE, and which may indicate this office was hereditary. On the back wall of the rear chamber a glyphic panel, the Tablet of the Slaves, was recovered. This important panel was dedicated on 1 Kaban 15 Wo, March 13, 730 CE in commemoration of the third katun (60 years) since the birth of Chak Suutz, along with other historical information including his capture of several warriors in battle. This new information has opened an interesting window into the dynamics that relate to the office of lesser lords, their relationship to the rulers, and the residential compounds in which they reside.

Palenque is an excellent site to visit. Recent explorations have led, and will lead to many more revelations pertaining to the history of the site and its important place in the Maya World.

updated March 2024

temple of the inscriptions                                   steve mellard

structure X                                                               erick martin del campo

palace east court structure B                                  ricraider.

structure XIII                                        erick martin del campo

temple XIX                                            erick martin del campo

palace house D                                   erick martin del campo

aj sul censer struture J1              inah

temple of the cross                                             steve mellard