Palenque (Spanish: [pa’leŋke] (meaning “fortification”); Yucatec Mayan: Bàakʼ /ɓàːkʼ/) was a Maya city state in what is now Chiapas, Mexico that dates from circa 226 BCE to c. 799 CE. After its decline, the site was re-absorbed into the jungle, but has since been extensively excavated and restored. Much of Palenque’s history has been pieced together from a deciphering of the hieroglyphic inscriptions on the many monuments, and historians now have in-depth understanding of the city-state’s interplay with other rival city states.
Here photographed whilst on assignment for National Geographic Magazine, El Palacio (the Palace), which comprises a complex of interconnected buildings and courtyards, constructed over a 400-year period. The buildings were used by the Maya elite for ritual, administrative functions and entertainment. The complex was equipped with numerous saunas and large baths, which were supplied with fresh water by an intricate water system.
When the Spanish arrived in Chiapas in the 16th century, Palenque had been largely abandoned and the region was very sparsely populated. Fr. Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada was the first European to present a description of the ruins which he named Palenque, and according to his early accounts, the stone structures were still stucco-rendered and painted blue and red.
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