Palenque 1Traveling is endlessly fascinating and México is a land blessed with fabulous places to visit.  Of these, Palenque, Chiapas, stands out as the entrance to the Maya World. For many travelers a visit there has been a life-changing experience. That’s what happened to Linda Schele, a teacher of painting, when she traveled for the first time to Palenque in 1970. At that moment, she found the perfect atmosphere to pursue her passion. She fell in love with the Maya glyphs, the stucco panels, the architecture and the amazing rainforest. She quickly decided to focus her attention on the hardest but most important challenge: to decipher Maya writing, with the result that now she is considered one of the most important scholars to contribute to the understanding of Maya culture. She often said that her fist visit to Palenque was really an accident, because the purpose of that first trip was only to visit the Yucatán Peninsula, but now, thanks to that “accident,” we know more about this wonderful place and its history.

The most important structure in Palenque is the Temple of the Inscriptions. What was found inside the Temple is considered the most amazing archaeological discovery of all time in Mesoamerica. In June of 1952 Alberto Ruz Lhuillier climbed the Temple. Walking on the top he found that his steps echoed, and with the idea that there was something underneath he started digging. Four months later he found the Pakal sarcophagus and the impressive tomb where the main ruler of Palenque, K’inich Janaab’ Pakal was buried. Now we can see at the Palenque Museum a wonderful reconstruction of Pakal’s burial. In the tomb was found a jade mask that can show us Pakal’s face with all his attributes and personality. This mask is considered one of the most exquisite masterpieces of  Maya culture. Even though scholars have been able to solve many of the main questions related with Palenque and its importance as one of the most powerful cities in pre-Hispanic times, only five percent of the city has been revealed to travelers, the other 95% is under the majestic rainforest.

Talking about masks, one of the places that has the most important number of them is Calakmul in Campeche, close to the Calakmul 1border with Guatemala. The incredible detail of these pieces is remarkable; these masks reveal not only the physical characteristics of the ruler, but his lineage, his power, and his economic and political status. These masks are known as “portraits of dignitaries”. The most important materials used are jade and jadeite, the green stones revealing the rulers’ prestige, since for the Maya the green of the jade symbolized the color of the plants as well the corn’s growing process. Commonly, jade objects were inherited from generation to generation in order to preserve the memory and legacy of the family. In the pre-Hispanic world there was no other material more durable and resistant than jade, which explains why the Maya used it in the funerary cult of the dead sovereign. The masks were the most important objects in the grave, placed over the face of the deceased or even replacing the skulls removed during the rites of the burial. Buried with rich pieces of jade, the deceased sovereign was equated with the maize god, who, like the grain sown in the earth, awaits his resurrection inside the mystic mountain, in the center of the cosmos. Two examples of these cultural artifacts are the amazing masks of Palenque and Calakmul, two Maya sites of incomparable beauty that are waiting for your visit. We hope that you will be inspired by the examples of Linda Schele and Alberto Ruz Lluillier, two important references among many, that can help us to understand the complex and enigmatic Maya World.

For more details you can visit marinaaguirre.blogspot.mx, who organizes cultural trips around this and other interesting places.