Friday, February 8, 2013

The Mayan Ruins at Palenque

The Mayan Ruins at Palenque



The ruins of Palenque, in the State of Chiapas, are situated at the base of the picturesque foothills of Tumbala, which border upon Guatemala, in a true tropical environment of luxuriant forest and brimming streams. From this setting the ruined temples and pyramids stand forth like a vision of a charmed or fabled story. Dense tropical undergrowth covers them, and grows again as soon as explorers, who have removed portions of Nature's persistent covering, leave the place. The main structures take the form of great truncated pyramids built up of earth, stones, and masonry, with temples and palaces of masonry upon their summits. Twelve of these pyramids have been discovered so far, and eight are crowned by buildings, the principal of which are known respectively as, the "Temple of the Sun," the "Temple of the Cross," "Temple of the Inscriptions," and the extensive group of ruins termed "The Palace." These temples and palaces consist of massive masonry walls, partly of roughly-shaped blocks, and partly of cut-and-carved stone, and stucco sculpture, with numerous doorways or openings on to the platform of the pyramid-summit. The interior of the buildings is a singular vault-like construction, covered with roofs of masonry carried by the vaulting. These vaults, however, do not embody the principle of the arch, but rather of the off-set, or lean-to, and are very high in proportion to their width. From the palace group arises a square tower of four storeys, about 40 feet in height, forming the centre of the group of extensive courts, buildings, and façades which surround it, all built upon the summit of a pyramid some 200 feet square. As in the Yucatan structures, the lintels over the doorway-openings in the walls were of wood, and their decay has largely been the cause of the façades having fallen into ruins, in many places. There are various interior staircases to these buildings, and the huge and unique reliefs of human figures are a remarkable feature of the interior. The beautiful figure known as the Beau Relief is compared to the relief sculptures of Babylon and Egypt. The material of construction was limestone, generally in unshaped blocks, not laid in regular courses, but with large quantities of mortar and stucco. The walls were lavishly painted and coloured. Indeed, the nature of the building has doubtless obeyed the character of the stone, which does not lend itself to careful cutting and carving like the easily-worked trachyte of Mitla. A very noteworthy structure of this prehistoric city, is the subterranean passage-way for the stream, which passes down the valley upon whose slopes the ruins of Palenque are situated. This, of stone-vaulted construction, after the manner before described, is somewhat less than 1,000 feet long, and the stream still flows through a portion of it. On every hand the extraordinary vigour of the tropical forest is evident, and the dense growth of trees, vines, and herbs which cover valley, pyramid, walls, and roofs, attest the power of the vegetable world.