The Great Palace, on the left, and the Temple of the Inscriptions stand surrounded by the mighty Lacandón Jungle in the Mexican state of Chiapas.

Pakal the Great transformed this Maya city into a glorious center of power

Stepped pyramids, colorful temples, and a grand palace proclaimed Palenque's brilliance, reflecting the favor of the gods and the strength of its seventh-century ruler.

Pyramids in the jungle

The Great Palace, on the left, and the Temple of the Inscriptions stand surrounded by the mighty Lacandón Jungle in the Mexican state of Chiapas. The image shows one section of the remarkable city-state whose rise began under its greatest leader, the seventh-century ajaw Pakal the Great.
Danny Lehman/Getty Images

Deep in the jungle of Mexico's state of Chiapas stands the ruins of a Maya city known today as Palenque. Surrounded by a thick canopy of cedar and mahogany, some 1,500 individual structures make up the ancient complex, whose center is dominated by a palace and ringed by temples.

Although Palenque is relatively small compared to other Maya sites such as Chichén Itza or Tikal, the fine detail and elegance of its architecture has stunned visitors since its heyday. The slender walls of its of monuments were once coated with a layer of stucco and painted with brilliant reds and blues. Although these colors have long faded, Palenque’s ornate friezes and stonework endured. So too has its rich repository of inscriptions, most notably on the panels in the city’s largest stepped pyramid known as the Temple of the Inscriptions.  

As historians sift through Palenque’s visual treasures and decode the intricacies of its glyphs, they have learned how the city’s ruling dynasty, architecture, and faith were all bound together. They reflected the beliefs of the wider Maya world while also proclaiming Palenque’s own distinctive religious traditions and gods.

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