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.
In the 1920’s, Villa Epecuén and its delightful salt lake were a popular tourist retreat for Buenos Aires vacationers.
Arriving by train, as many as 5,000 visitors at a time could relax in lavish quarters after taking advantage of the therapeutic waters of Lago Epecuén.
The mountain lake was usual in that its waters were saltier than any ocean—in fact, it was second only to the Dead Sea in salt content, and people suffering from depression, diabetes, and everything in-between came to soak in its healing waters—the very waters that would eventually harbor the village’s ruin.
In what can only be described as a freak occurrence, a rare weather pattern developed over Villa Epecuen in 1985, causing a seiche in the lake.
The seiche broke a dam, and then shoved its way through the dike. While the devastation was slow, it was thorough—the inevitable flood gradually devoured the entire village, submerging it under more than 30 ft. of briny waters. 280 businesses and countless personal dwellings disappeared under the surface like a modern-day Atlantis.
It wasn’t until 2009 that drier weather allowed the waters to retreat enough for the town to reemerge.
The damage total, the village was deemed a disaster area offering no incentive to rebuild.
What remains now is an eerie ghost town with rows and rows of dead, naked trees, decrepit buildings, and an entire landscape seemingly bleached out and stripped to bone by the once-healing salt waters that ravaged everything in sight.