Mayan Temple

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Free History For Your Report

Mayan Temples

The Mayan Civilization was a pre-Columbian people in Mesoamerica, and is most noted today for having incredible art and architecture as well as the only fully-developed written language in the time period. Primarily occupying the area of current-day central Mexico and Latin America, the Mayan civilization developed around 250 BCE and thrived until the arrival of Spanish colonists; their densely-populated civilization vanished shortly after. One of the most famous Mayan sites today is in the city of Palenque, in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. Palenque was not as large as other Mayan cities, such as Tikal, Guatemala, or Copan, Honduras, but the architectural integrity of the ruins found here far surpasses that of any other location.

Four ancient Mayan temples, which have become the main icon of the Mayan people, are found in the main part of Palenque, and include the Temple of Inscriptions, as well as the Temple of the Cross complex, which comprise of Temple of the Cross, Temple of the Sun, and Temple of the Foliated Cross. The Temple of Inscriptions, one of the largest Mayan temples and begun around 675, tells the story of the culture’s history and Palenque’s main deity, the trinity of the Palenque Triad. This is done through iconic art and the language of hieroglyphics. This second-largest assembly of Mayan hieroglyphics (second only to Copan’s Hieroglyphic Stairway) also records the important rituals of the city’s leader, K’inich Janaab’ Pakal, especially due to the fact that this large temple also serves as Pakal’s tomb. A passageway inside the temple, once concealed by the Mayans and re- opened by archeologists, led to the discovery of Pakal’s tomb chamber, as well as what is called a psychoduct – a small opening from the tomb chamber to the outside of the temple. This psychoduct is said to have aided the release of the soul from the structure after one’s death, and would be keeping with Mayan cultural traditions and beliefs regarding death.

The other three temples, like the Temple of Inscriptions, all sit atop large step pyramids, which were constructed to serve as funeral monuments and to aid in sacrifices to the gods. Their heightened elevation was both to gain closer access to the gods and to raise the significance of the temples among the other buildings in the city. Each temple was often decorated with intricate bas-reliefs, each corresponding to a particular reason or individual to whom that temple was built. The three Temple of the Cross structures featured bas- reliefs of figures holding ritual instruments and making sacrifices, while the nearby Aqueduct Pyramid features a bas-relief of The God of Death.

Little attention was paid to the Mayan temples and pyramids ever since their abandonment by the native civilizations. Other than being random points of interests for tourists, even the archeological community gave little heed. This changed in 1949 when archaeologist Alberto Ruz Lhuillier was commissioned by Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History to excavate and explore the site. The work de-escalated in the early 1950’s, and again was abandoned until Mayan descendents successfully persuaded further study on the culture and the pyramids, mostly focusing on Palenque. While work has continued at a rapid pace since then, experts estimate that the ancient city has only been 5% excavated, and there is still a great deal more to learn about the culture, temples, and great pyramids of the Mayan people.

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