A fairly recently discovered ruined city lying in the protective embrace of the Mexican jungles, Palenque is one of the most breathtaking of all Mayan ruins. Known for its intricate carvings and as the resting place of Pakal the Great, the city was once a thriving metropolis between 500 and 700 AD and was home to somewhere around 6,000 people at its height.
The site was only uncovered in the 1950s, and since then it’s been opened to tourists. Now, visitors can get a look for themselves at the massive stone structures, decorated with beautiful carvings, that were once the stomping grounds for one of the Maya’s greatest kings.
So intricate – and so cryptic – are the carvings that some people look at them as proof that the builders had help from a rather questionable source – extraterrestrials.
Carvings depicting bizarre symbols have alternately been interpreted as astrological or religious symbols, or symbolism implying the use of a space ship by the deceased on his way to the next world.
Now a World Heritage Site, only a portion of Palenque’s estimated 1,500 structures have been excavated. Among those that have been thoroughly explored include Pakal the Great’s tomb, and the Temple of the Red Queen.
The latter yielded the knowledge that the Maya painted the bodies of their deceased nobility a bright red – the same red that would have been used to paint many of the buildings. For the Maya, red was the color of blood and the color of life.
Palenque was abandoned by 1000, left to be enveloped by the jungle and preserved by the same wilds that were once cut back from it. There’s plenty of theories about why people left the city, from famine caused by drought to a shift in political power.
The last date that we know the city was occupied was November 17, 799 – the date carved on a vase.