Palenque is an archaeological and UNESCO World Heritage site close to the Usumacinta River in the Mexican state of Chiapas. The buildings date from the 3rd century BCE until the 8th century CE, when the Mayan city state it ruled, B’aakal, is believed to have fallen. Although the rulers had left, there continued to be a strong farming community around the area for the next 400 years.
The ruins were re-discovered in 1567, by Spanish priest Pedro Lorenzo, who actually gave it the name Palenque. The locals called the place Otolum meaning “Land with strong houses”; Fr Lorenzo roughly translated this into “fortification”, or “Palenque” in Spanish. In Mayan it was called Lakam Ha, or “Big Water”.
When Fr Lorenzo first saw Palenque the jungle had overrun the stone buildings. Modern archaeologists still fight jungle intrusion. It is estimated that only 5-10% of the city has been so far recovered. For this reason, much of the early history is as yet unknown, and we may one day discover that Palenque is far older than currently dated. Translations of Mayan glyphs elude to a long and complex history, possibly as far back as 1000 years BCE.
There are several important structures and groupings within Palenque: The Palace, Temple of the Inscriptions, Temples of the Cross group, and The Aqueduct, which diverted the Otulum River so that it would flow under the main plaza. This is the earliest known pressurized aqueduct in the New World, and it was just discovered in 2010.
Cie McCullough Buschle | Cie McCullough Buschle lives with her dog Einstein and a cat named Burton Guster. She is a lifelong traveler and enjoys researching history through holidays, toys, and everyday objects. Cie is a sculptor and co-owns The Creative Chameleon, a place where kids and adults can create, paint, celebrate, and just have a lot of fun. Sometimes you can find her time traveling back to the Middle Ages as part of the Society for Creative Anachronism.