Rosalila Temple, Copan

Rosalila Temple, Copan


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Rosalila Temple, Copan - History

​​​​ ​welcome to the mayan ruins website .

stela H c.1840 frederick catherwood

cemetery group frans-banja mulder

​ball court adalberto hernandez vega

hieroglyphic stairway peter andersen

detail ballcourt temple gustavo jeronimo

stela N aldaberto hernandez vega

hieroglyphic stairway ​ elmaki

temple 11 detail adalberto hernandez vega

temple 11 plaza view hjpd

​stela B detail talk2winik

temple 11 west court view hjpd

​COPAN-Copan, Honduras

DESCRIPTION
Copan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was one of the premier ancient Maya kingdoms, and lies on the southeastern frontier of the Maya area. The artistic expression achieved in its rendering of sculptured stelae in the Classic Period (200-600 A.D.) is unsurpassed anywhere in the Americas.

Copan is set in a tropical rainforest along a river and valley of the same name. The Copan river is a tributary of the mighty Motagua River which was an important trade route that linked the Highlands to the Gulf of Honduras, and from there to Belize and on up to the Yucatan Peninsula.

Hurricane Mitch proved the resilience of Maya engineering when it devastated Honduras in March of 1998. A survey of the site in the hurricane’s aftermath showed the effectiveness of the heretofore unknown ancient drainage system which performed admirably and prevented any damage from the massive amount of rainfall that fell on the site.

The site once encompassed 15 sq miles/25 kms. Today, the Copan Archaeological Park covers about 210 acres/84 hectares. It is located in western Honduras about 100 miles/160 kms southwest from the city of San Pedro Sula, and about 16 miles/21kms from the Guatemalan border. Take highway 15 from San Pedro Sula to La Entrada, and then Highway 20 to Copan Ruinas. The site can also be reached from the Capital on a well paved road from San Salvador and from Guatemala.

HOURS: 8 A.M-4 P.M.
ENTRANCE FEE: U.S. $15 extra fees for museum and tunnels.
GUIDES: Available onsite
SERVICES: Bathrooms
ON-SITE MUSEUM: Yes, with one in the town of Copan Ruinas as well
ACCOMODATIONS: Food and lodging can be found close by in Copan Ruinas

GPS: 14d 51' 20: N, 89d 09' 33" W
MISC:

HISTORY AND EXPLORATION
Copan has a settlement history extending back to the Early Pre Classic (1000-800 B.C.). There is archaeological evidence that support links to the Olmec centers on the Gulf Coast. By the late Pre Classic (300 B.C.-200 A.D), monumental architecture commences with calendrical inscriptions recorded on altars, temples, and funerary items. Little, however, is known about the rulers and related history of this time period.

A new dynasty was founded in 426 A.D by K’inich Yax Kuk Mo (Great Sun First/Resplendent Quetzal Macaw ). This started a nearly 400 year long reign of 17 successive rulers. It is thought that K’inich Yax Kuk Mo was born in Tikal and installed at Copan by that cities ruler, Siyaj Chan K’awill II, and became an important trade partner and ally.

Copan than began to expand in population, and economic and political importance. It controlled a wide area with a number of its own vassal states. The most notable of these was the city of Quirigua 30 miles/48kms to the west and situated at the confluence of the Copan and Motagua rivers. This city was greatly expanded under the legendary Copan ruler Uaxaclajuun Ub’aah K’awill (18 Rabbit). He installed Kak Tiliw Chan Yopaat as his vassal in 724 A.D. In an act of treachery Yopaat subsequently captured and sacrificed 18 Rabbit in 738 A.D. This event probably took place under the direction of the great city/state of Calakmul, the bitter rival of Tikal, the two super powers at the time that dominated much of the Maya area.

This catastrophe greatly weakened the political and economic position of Copan, and in turn elevated Quirigua into a prominent and independent entity. Copan continued on, albeit in a much diminished capacity, eventually recovering and expanding building constructions, but its greatest days were behind it. The last recorded ruler was Ukit Took who ascended to the throne in 822 A.D. The site experienced the same collapse syndrome as at other Maya lowland sites, and after a long, slow decline was abandoned in the 10th century.

In the Late Classic Period (600-900 A.D.) a ceramic style was developed that closely links Copan to the site of San Andres in El Salvador. These pieces are widely found at both sites. Many contain a glyphic rim inscription Ox Wi'il, "abundance". The name given to this style is known as “Copador”. What the exact relationship was that existed between these two sites has not been fully examined or determined.

An interesting observation by researchers has been made regarding the historical record of the site. As opposed to most Maya sites, few inscriptions or monument carvings depict scenes of warfare, sacrifice, prisoners, or victory commemorations.

The first reports concerning Copan were made in 1576 by Diego Garcia de Palacio. The next reports come in the early part of the 19th century from Jean-Frederic Waldeck, and Juan Galindo, the military commander of Flores in Guatemala. Colonel Galindo (John Gallagher) was instrumental in capturing the last Spanish stronghold in Central America at the city of Omoa, Honduras. There followed those intrepid explorers John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood in 1841. They produced the first site map and accurate drawings of the ruins and monuments. The site so impressed Stephens that he purchased it for the grand sum of U.S. $50.Their books are a delightful read.

The next notable investigations and contributions were made by Alfred Maudslay (1880’s-90’s), the Peabody Museum of Harvard (1890’s), and the Carnegie Institution (1935-46). Excavation, restoration and consolidation continue at the site to this day.

STRUCTURES
Copan consists of several structural groups arranged around plazas and courtyards on a north/south axis. There are numerous carved stelae and altars throughout the core site and surrounding environs. The stelae produced here are magnificent examples of the artistic beauty of Maya art. They are unlike any other produced in the Maya World. The carvings of the figures are nearly in the round, with exquisite detail throughout. The facial expressions of these stelae produce an aurora of majesty and serenity. They are carved on the other three sides with extensive, historical glyphic texts.

The Great Plaza encompasses the greater part of the core site. It is surrounded on three sides by a low, stepped platform that gives the impression of walking down into the plaza. It is anchored on the north end by Structure 2, and forms a sub plaza which terminates on the south side by Structure 4. This sub plaza has been known by different names such as the Main Plaza, The Sun Plaza, the Monument Plaza, and the Stelae Plaza.

The sub plaza contains the largest group of stelae and monuments at the site. This group consists of 7 stelae and their accompanying altars, as well as 3 other monuments. Many of the stelae at the site also were found to have a small vault below the support platform that contained offerings of ceramics, stalactites, jade and shell.

Stelae A & B contain a Katun ending date of 9.15.0.0.0, August 20, 731 A.D., which has helped to date the dedication of the plaza. They both depict the 13th ruler of Copan, Uaxaclajuun Ub’aah K’awill (18 Rabbit). There are also 4 other stelae that were erected by this ruler in the sub plaza.

Structure 4 is centrally located and is a four tiered truncated pyramid with stairs on each side. It has been suggested that it was designed for astronomical purposes in conjunction with a few of the stelae in the group. At both the northeast and northwest corners of the sub plaza are two small complexes containing low platforms, courtyards, and temple structures.

The north side of Structure 4 opens up to The Grand Plaza proper. This plaza extends significantly to the east where a series of low platforms and structures form the eastern perimeter. There are 5 stelae, 4 altars and 2 other monuments situated in this plaza. The south east portion of the plaza is occupied by the Ball Court Plaza and the Hieroglyphic Stairway Plaza.

The Ball Court Plaza consists of the ball court with its incorporated temples, and a smaller platform structure that extends from the east side of the ball court, forms a right angle, and encloses the ball court in the classic “I” formation. The ball court as seen today is the third incarnation, and is one of the largest in the Maya World. The slanted walls of the ball court are decorated with the sculptured heads of 6 macaws, three on each side. There is a dedication inscription that took place in 738 A.D.

The Hieroglyphic Plaza is formed by the ball court on the north, Temple 26 on the East, and The Acropolis on the south. Temple 26 is an imposing pyramid whose sub structure contains two tombs of important personages. One of the tombs was covered by a carved stone slab known as the Motmot Capstone, and contains the oldest text from Copan. Exotic funerary offerings from the tombs have been recovered including mercury, jade, obsidian, jaguar pelts, ceramics, decorative incense burners, and at least one rare codex since disintegrated. The structure went through seven construction phases beginning in the 5th century. The temple at the summit has mostly disappeared with only the substructure remaining. Portions of a beautiful frieze that once adorned the temple have been recovered and are now on display in the on-site museum.

What has brought world renown to this temple however is the magnificent Hieroglyphic Stairway that ascends 86 feet/26m from the plaza to the summit. It has a width of 30 feet/10 meters. This extraordinary stairway consists of over 2,000 individual stone glyphs arranged on 63 steps, and relates the history of the ruling dynasty. It is by far the longest glyphic inscription in the Maya World. The stairway was constructed by 18 Rabbit in 710 A.D., and the entire structure was later expanded, with the stairway reinstalled, by Smoke Squirrel in 755 A.D.

There are five beautifully carved sculptures that are centrally interspersed on the steps from bottom to top. All but one is still in place. That one sculpture was removed a hundred years ago and is now in the Peabody Museum, along with a portion of the glyphic stairway. A sixth sculpture once graced the top of the stairway in front of Temple 26.The majestic Stela M of Smoke Squirrel with its associated altar are found in the plaza in front of the stairway.

The Acropolis anchors the south end of the Hieroglyphic Stairway Plaza with Temple 11 at its base. It is the ceremonial center and probable residential area of the ruling class. It is a massive platform that consists of two complexes containing temples, pyramids, palaces, tombs, and monuments. The complexes are known as the East Group and the West Group.

The East Group backs onto the Copan River. It has a large, bulky wall that extends down to the old river bed as the current river had been diverted to protect the ruins. Parts of this complex have been lost to the erosive forces of the river which include Structures 19- 21, and the east side of structure 18.

Temple 22 forms the northern side of the East Court and backs onto Temple 26. It is also known as the Temple of the Sculptured Doorway, and as the Temple of Meditation. It is a multi-level structure and has a remarkable sculptured doorway representing the Earth Monster, very reminiscent of Chenes style architecture. It was constructed by the ruler, 18 Rabbit, to commemorate his first Katun (20 years) as king in 715 A.D.

On the west side of the East Court is the Jaguar Stairway which leads up to the Venus Altar. The Jaguar Stairway is flanked by sculptured jaguars on hind legs in an animated pose. There are indentations on their bodies that once held obsidian discs. The Venus Altar is centrally set in the wall of a long, temple structure. It depicts a large mask of the Sun God, K’inich Ahau.

Temple 18 is located on the southeast side of the East Court. Its eastern wall has vanished into the Copan River. Steps on the south side extend down to the vaulted tomb of ruler Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat (ruled 763-c.810 A.D.). Ornate pilasters frame the upper temple entrances with depictions of the deceased ruler engaged in a war dance.

Temple 16 sits in between the East Court and the West Court. It is the largest structure in the Acropolis, and faces the West Court. This structure is the last of several built one over the other as was common practice among the Maya, and was the funerary complex of the founder of Copan, K’inich Yax K’uk Mo. The outstanding feature of this pyramid is not what one sees, but what lies buried beneath it the Rosalila Temple.

The Rosalila Temple is a very well preserved structure with an early 6th century date, and was dedicated to Copan’s founder Yax Kuk Mo. It contains intricately molded stucco decorations, and is painted a brilliant red. It was carefully buried by 18 Rabbit when he enlarged the Acropolis. There is a full scale replica of this stunning temple in the on-site museum.

Temple 11, Temple of the Inscriptions, is the other notable structure in the West Court and forms the south side of the Great Plaza. This structure was dedicated on September 26, 776 A.D. by the last great king of Copan, Yax Pak. It has a majestic stairway that leads 33 feet/10 meters to an upper platform. A long palace type structure runs the length of the platform.

On the other side of the structure another stairway leads down into the West Court, and is flanked by a pair of simian creatures holding torches. Through the interior of this structure runs two passageways aligned along the cardinal points. At the intersection of these passageways is located an altar bench. Flanking the bench are interior stairways that lead to a now destroyed second level. The altar contained a beautiful decorative panel 16 feet/5 meters long depicting a series of seated kings much like those shown on Altar Q. These seated kings represent Yax Pak’s royal ancestors, and depicts his accession on July 2, 763 A.D. in their presence. The panel is now housed in the British Museum.

The most impressive and famous monument in the West Court is Altar Q. The altar is made from a huge stone block about 5 feet/1.3 meters square, and 3 feet/1 meter in height. It was remarked upon by both Galindo and Stephens in the early 1800’s. The top of the altar has a panel containing 36 well executed and preserved glyphs. Along the side are 16 seated rulers who have been identified as the kings of Copan, past and present, in an accession ceremony. There is a dedication date of 9.17.5.0.0, December 27, 775 A.D.

Numerous tunnels dug under the Acropolis have revealed five main construction phases that spanned a time frame of two centuries and which are attributed to five different rulers. Besides the Rosalila Temple, other constructions included the Margarita structure containing the intricately carved, and still undeciphered, Xukpi Stone.

Behind the Acropolis is a small complex known as the Cemetery Group. This is a bit of a misnomer as the complex has been identified as a royal residential area. It consists of a number of nicely restored structures arranged around a central plaza.

The Sepulturas Group is located a short distance northeast of the Grand Plaza and was once connected by a sacbe (white stone road) from the Great Plaza. This complex contains the earliest settlement history at the site, and a number of platforms and burials have been dated to the Late Pre Classic. During the heyday of Copan in the Classic era the complex expanded into a privileged residential group. There are numerous structures situated around several plazas. Some of these structures have been restored, the most notable being The House of the Scribe.​

​There are other residential groups surrounding the core area as well. The modern town of Copan Ruinas is built over an important group. Altars and stelae have been recovered there. To the south is another group, El Bosque, which contains a ballcourt, Ballcourt B.


Rosalila Temple, Copan - History

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

A new royal Maya tomb emerges from the tunnels beneath Copán's Acropolis

The kings of Copán built their temples one on top of the other, leaving parts of the old buildings inside the new structures. For 20 years, archaeologist Ricardo Agurcia has tunneled into these temples, where he recently discovered a king's tomb. (Ken Garrett)

The Maya kings of Copán were not interested in moving mountains. They preferred to build their own, like the pyramid now known as Temple 16. Rising 100 feet above the city's Great Plaza, it is the highest point among a group of holy buildings that archaeologists have dubbed "the Acropolis." Inside an excavation tunnel deep beneath the pyramid's surface, the face of the sun-king scowls at me from the wall of his temple. The city's ancient rulers built their temples--one on top of the next--to suit the needs of the moment. The moment I am visiting occurred shortly after A.D. 540 when the first of four temples was built around a small plaza at the top of the Acropolis.

The sun-king's face adorns the first floor of Rosalila, a temple that was once painted a brilliant, bloody shade of red. His image wears a headdress of red, yellow, and green plumage--the feathers of a quetzal and a macaw--and curving lines in his eyes associate him with depictions of the sun god. The Maya words for each of these sculptural elements spells his name, K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo', which translates as "Sun-Eyed Resplendent Quetzal Macaw," the first king of Copán. Forty-three feet below the floor of the temple, the sun-king's tomb was found inside one of the first buildings to be constructed on the Acropolis. Beginning around A.D. 426, the time that K'inich Yax K'uk' Mo' came to power, Temple 16 underwent seven major phases of construction, as well as dozens of smaller renovations and additions. The last phase took place in A.D. 775 shortly before the city, which encompassed 520 acres and held a population of about 28,000 people at its peak, was largely abandoned.

Ricardo Agurcia, the director of a research and sustainable tourism organization called the Copán Association, discovered Rosalila in 1989. Copán lies in north-central Honduras at what was the southern edge of the Maya region. Finding Rosalila revolutionized what was known of the city's early history and the Maya's southern frontier. Now he has uncovered an adjacent temple called Oropéndola, and discovered the king who was laid to rest beneath it.

Agurcia invited me here to see the finds, and we have stopped at Rosalila for a little orientation in Maya iconography. The building facade soars three stories into the darkness overhead. Standing in the narrow space separating the temple from the tunnel wall, I see another face staring from the second floor. Agurcia tells me it is the mountain monster, Witz, symbolizing the temple's role as a ceremonial mountain. The Maya understood mountains to be powerful places they believed the rain god stored water in them and the caves that penetrated them were portals to the underworld. Rosalila was buried around A.D. 700. The temple was coated with white plaster, which Agurcia interprets as a symbolic embalming of the building. Construction fill was carefully placed against the temple preserving it almost perfectly.

The pyramid called Temple 16 rises 100 feet above the ground. Beneath its outer layer lie the remnants of dozens of holy buildings dating back to the earliest days of Maya rule, A.D. 426. Two temples remain mostly intact within the pyramid. (Courtesy Proyecto Oropéndola)

Agurcia and his field director, Molly Fierer-Donaldson, take me to a low, narrow tunnel that leads to Oropéndola. We leave the sun-king, now pallid and lighted only by a string of naked incandescent bulbs.

From a biological standpoint, Agurcia seems poorly adapted to his chosen environment. Agurcia stands six feet, four inches tall, and has to bend like a question mark as we move through the tunnels. On his first trip into the tunnels, he learned that he suffers from claustrophobia. "When I started, I told [friend and colleague William Fash] that I would go down there, but that I reserved the right to come running out of the tunnel screaming," he told me later.

Archaeologists have dug more than two miles of tunnels through the Acropolis, every foot of space paid for with hours of labor and at the cost of destabilizing the stones above it. Understandably, Agurcia's tunnels tend to be a little larger than those dug by others. He also makes sure there are two or three ways out of wherever he is working. Over time, his tunnels have become a familiar space that no longer triggers his phobia, and he feels he has good reason to face his fear day after day. "The stuff I've found has been outrageous, totally off the wall," he says. "The work has been fascinating. Who would have dreamed I would find two almost complete buildings."

This jade monkey head was part of a necklace buried with the king. It symbolizes the noble title Ahau, which means "Lord." Exporting jade was a major source of wealth for Cop´n's rulers. (Courtesy Proyecto Oropéndola)

Agurcia folds himself into a tunnel and the three of us head deeper into the pyramid, turning on our flashlights as we enter a newly excavated section of tunnel. A gradual incline leads to Oropéndola's second story, where I am unwittingly looking at another image of the mountain monster, Witz. Its face nearly stretches across the width of the entire temple.

Oropéndola was not as carefully preserved as Rosalila. The entire third floor and about one-third of the rest of the structure was destroyed during later construction. The two buildings were also designed differently. Instead of decorations made entirely from plaster, allowing the sculptors to create fluid lines and intricate details, Oropéndola's decorations were made of stone blocks covered by a thin layer of painted plaster. The blocks make the artwork look like it was assembled out of Legos, and the plaster is almost completely gone. The image of Witz is 17 feet wide but only a few feet high, so the face is squat and stretched out. It is a radical change from the monster's portrayal on Rosalila.

I wonder why the differences in artwork between two temples that were built just a few years apart are so striking. "It could have just been a whim," says Agurcia, "but I think it had to do with access to plaster." Whether it was getting enough limestone or firewood to heat the stone to produce lime is a subject of debate, but after Rosalila was completed, Copán's temple-builders used much less plaster. If firewood did become scarce, the change in artwork may also mark an episode of environmental degradation. In the 200 years or so after Rosalila was built, stone carving became much more prevalent and Copán became known for its unique sculptures and architectural decorations. "I think [Oropéndola] really was the beginning of a sculptural revolution at Copán that gives way to the great sculptures that come later on," Agurcia says.

In the Maya belief system, night is the time that the sun spends in the underworld. It travels through a watery place inhabited by gods and the dead. The jaguar, a nocturnal predator and one of the few cats that swims and spends time in the water, represents the sun at night. Oropéndola is covered with jaguar icons. On the northern facade's second floor, a large image of a mythical bird spreads across the building, flanked by feline heads with curving stone fangs. On the north face's first floor, a jaguar looks out from the mouth of the mountain monster. Rosalila appears to be the temple of the sun during the day. Oropéndola, on the other hand, is the temple of the sun at night, a ceremonial mountain of the jaguar, and perhaps a passage to the underworld.

This spiny oyster shell found in a king's tomb contains a large jade bead. The Maya associated shells with the underworld and jade with the human soul. The two together may represent the king's soul in the underworld. (Courtesy Proyecto Oropéndola)

Unlike the sculptural decorations on Rosalila, Oropéndola's do not spell out the name of any known king. "Rosalila has a huge sun-bird on the side of it because the sun-king is buried beneath it," says Agurcia. "So, I've been thinking that the iconography [in Oropéndola] reflects the identity of the guy we found just below but I can't make it add up just yet. We don't have the names of the early rulers," he says. "If his name was Bird-Jaguar, I'd be really happy, but we can't make that connection."

We descend through more tunnels, contorting ourselves into narrow spaces and climbing down ladder rungs set into the walls. Ten feet below the floor of Oropéndola, Agurcia points out some long, flat stones laid side-by-side, the kind that are typically used to cover a tomb. His team found the capstones at the end of a field season when their grant money was about to run out and most of the crew had committed to working on other jobs. So he had to wait three months for new funding and a new crew of excavators.

Fierer-Donaldson was brought in to be the crew's field director. She had to dig another tunnel hoping to come in below the capstones and through the sidewall of the tomb. But instead she had to excavate six-feet of loose soil before reaching the three layers of capstones that actually cover the tomb. "We were looking for a vault," Agurcia tells me. "All of the early tombs have vaults." That wasn't the only strange thing about the tomb. "We didn't find any offerings on top of the capstones like you might expect," says Fierer-Donaldson.

"We realized by the elevation and stratigraphy that we were in the earliest levels of the Acropolis," Agurcia says. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the king was buried sometime between A.D. 450 and 550. The artifacts and decorations point to a date prior to A.D. 500. Agurcia believes the tomb belonged to the second king, the son of Yax K'uk' Mo', but acknowledges that it could be any king between the second and fifth rulers in the dynasty. Although the king's name is still unknown, the tomb provides some clues about Copán's growing prosperity at the time, as well as the role the king played in creating it.

The tomb is empty when I visit. We are about 16 feet below the first floor of Oropéndola and almost 60 feet below the top of the pyramid, deep enough that the air is noticeably cooler and drier. The excavation team has spent the past year recording, cataloguing, and removing everything from the tomb so that the objects can be analyzed in their laboratory nearby. There isn't much to see, but I am surprised at the size of the tomb. Even though Fierer-Donaldson is slender and five feet, eight inches tall, it seems cramped as she climbs inside to point out where different objects were found.

Archaeologists Molly Fierer-Donaldson and Nereyda Alonso perch on a wooden platform as they lift artifacts from the tomb of the early Maya king discovered beneath the Oropéndola temple. (Courtesy Proyecto Oropéndola)

Agurcia and I sit in the tunnel outside the tomb as he explains some of the surprises it held. "In many ways, this is an intermediate tomb," he says, "they try to do capstones, but they don't really know how to do it. They haven't really learned to make the flat roof. The walls of the tomb aren't very good, they are more like a stone facing."

Although we are sitting next to the tomb, Agurcia can't actually point out the roof because it collapsed some time after Oropéndola was built and crushed everything inside. "The bones were in terrible shape," says Fierer-Donaldson, pointing out that they can't get basic information, such as age, from the skeleton. They can't even be certain that the remains belonged to a male. But the roof collapse had one important benefit--it seems to have helped preserve some of the fragile organic remains, such as the very fine fabric of the king's clothing. Lynn Grant of the University of Pennsylvania is conserving the textiles. Further analysis may reveal the color and type of garment the king wore.

His body had been laid out on a platform, probably made of wood, that has completely rotted away along with the woven mats that covered the floor. A layer of powdered cinnabar (mercury oxide) was scattered over the body. The cinnabar shows up inside some of the skeleton's joints, revealing that the vibrant red pigment was added after the flesh and most of the tendons had rotted away.

A small number of scallop shells lay on the floor near his right shoulder. Two piles of spiny oyster shells were at his feet. Seashells were luxury items associated with the watery underworld. Three scallop shells and one spiny oyster shell contained a jade bead, Agurcia believes the jade may have symbolized the soul, and placing the bead inside the shell represented the soul in the underworld.

The king wore a necklace made of 20 jade beads and 40 shell beads. A large chunk of jade carved into the symbol for the Maya word "K'inich," meaning "Eye of the Sun" or "Embodiment of the Sun," had been placed in the corpse's mouth. A second necklace containing a large piece of jade, carved in the likeness of a monkey head, symbolizing the word Ahau meaning "Lord," was draped across his pelvis. According to Agurcia, these two emblems are clear indicators that the tomb's occupant was a king. But the mass of wealth and exotic goods also reveal something about the king's role in making Copán a major center of trade.

"The city was kind of a gateway for stuff like jade and obsidian going out of the Maya areas. What was coming in is still less documented," Robert Sharer of the University of Pennsylvania and the excavator of Yax K'uk' Mo's tomb, told me in a phone interview. When the dynasty was established, the economic situation in the area around Copán underwent a profound change. "The economy is one manifestation of a more centralized organization in the Copán Valley," he continues. "Tying people in by the economy is just one way that they become more dependent upon and available to manipulation by these centralized rulers."

The stylized face of Yax K'uk' Mo', the founder of Copán's Maya dynasty, adorns the wall of the Rosalila temple. The markings in his eyes, and the quetzal bird headdress, connect him to the sun god. (Ken Garrett) The curving fangs of a jaguar protrude from a corner of the Oropéndola temple. The stone-block sculptures were once covered with a thin layer of brightly painted plaster, which may have been a scarce resource when the temple was built. (Ken Garrett)

Copán lies near the Motagua River, a major source of jade, which was an important luxury item--not just because it was beautiful, but also because it had ritual associations with rainfall and maize. Being able to control access to jade may have presented a big opportunity for the person in this tomb. "The trade here was very important," says Agurcia. "They were plugged into a network, and had access to these very exotic goods."

Agurcia interprets the large number of shell artifacts as an indicator that the kings of Copán may have increased their trade with settlements on the coasts. Sharer thinks that the shell artifacts may only indicate that the king liked shells.

Items such as four pyrite mirrors and hundreds of tiny green-obsidian beads show that the Maya of Copán were in contact with city-state of Teotihuacán, more than 700 miles north in central Mexico. "Trade with Teotihuacán became very important," says Agurcia. "It was like the Wall Street of its time." Gaining access to trade goods from all over the Maya areas would have drastically increased Copán's prosperity. "So, this guy is showing splendorous wealth that shows major success," Agurcia tells me. "This is the guy who nails the state of Copán into place."

Completing the story of how the early kings of Copán established their state is likely to require many more trips into the tunnels. There were two other temples that sat around the courtyard next to Rosalila and Oropéndola, nicknamed Jiquilite and Peach-Colorado. Their foundations are still intact and they may also have tombs beneath them. Agurcia estimates that finding and excavating these tombs might take another 10 years and he still has a lot of work to do on Oropéndola. "There could be tombs under the other temples," Agurcia says with a smile, "but I'm not going to look for them."


The Configuration of Rosalila Temple

Rosalila Temple is a three-story building rising to a height to 42.3 feet (12.9 meters), with a base measuring 60.7 feet by 41.0 feet (18.5 meters by 12.5 meters). Archaeologists discovered that Rosalila Temple was built directly on top of the remains of another temple, which they called Azul.

The two upper stories serve as a “giant pre-Columbian billboard”, as they display artwork that reflects the religious belief of Copan’s population at that time. The first floor, on the other hand, contains four rooms, each being long and narrow.

The central room, which is also the most intimate one, can only be reached by traversing the first three. It is believed that elaborate rituals were performed in this sacred space when the temple was in operation.

In terms of orientation, Rosalila Temple, like all other temples built on the central axis of the Acropolis, has its principal façade facing west. This direction is significant for the Maya, as they associate it with the entrance to the underworld. It is also from the western side of the temple that archaeologists were able to determine when Rosalila Temple was built.

The temple’s principal stairway has seven steps, and on the fifth one is a dedication date in hieroglyphs. This date is equivalent to the 21st of February 571 AD, which is around the end of the reign of Tzi-B’alam (known also as Moon Jaguar), the 10th ruler of Copan.

Rosalila Temple at the Copan site – here pictured Stela M and the hieroglyphic stairway. (Peter Andersen / CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Rosalila Temple served as Copan’s main religious sanctuary during the late 6th century AD, but eventually ceased functioning during the reign of Uaxaclajuun Ubʼaah Kʼawiil (known also as 18 Rabbit), the 13th ruler of Copan, in the early 8th century AD. Uaxaclajuun Ubʼaah Kʼawiil replaced Rosalila Temple with a larger monument, which has been dubbed by archaeologists as Purpura.


Exploring the Mayan Tunnels in Copan

The kings of Copan built their temples one on top of the other, leaving parts of the old buildings inside the new structures. For 20 years, archaeologist Ricardo Agurcia has tunneled into these temples, where he recently discovered a king’s tomb.

The Maya kings of Copan were not interested in moving mountains. They preferred to build their own, like the pyramid now known as Temple 16. Rising 100 feet above the city’s Great Plaza, it is the highest point among a group of holy buildings that archaeologists have dubbed “the Acropolis.” Inside an excavation tunnel deep beneath the pyramid’s surface, the face of the sun-king scowls at me from the wall of his temple. The city’s ancient rulers built their temples–one on top of the next–to suit the needs of the moment. The moment I am visiting occurred shortly after A.D. 540 when the first of four temples was built around a small plaza at the top of the Acropolis.

The sun-king’s face adorns the first floor of Rosalila, a temple that was once painted a brilliant, bloody shade of red. His image wears a headdress of red, yellow, and green plumage–the feathers of a quetzal and a macaw–and curving lines in his eyes associate him with depictions of the sun god. The Maya words for each of these sculptural elements spells his name, K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’, which translates as “Sun-Eyed Resplendent Quetzal Macaw,” the first king of Copan.

Forty-three feet below the floor of the temple, the sun-king’s tomb was found inside one of the first buildings to be constructed on the Acropolis. Beginning around A.D. 426, the time that K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ came to power, Temple 16 underwent seven major phases of construction, as well as dozens of smaller renovations and additions. The last phase took place in A.D. 775 shortly before the city, which encompassed 520 acres and held a population of about 28,000 people at its peak, was largely abandoned.

Ricardo Agurcia, the director of a research and sustainable tourism organization called the Copan Association, discovered Rosalila in 1989. Copan lies in north-central Honduras at what was the southern edge of the Maya region. Finding Rosalila revolutionized what was known of the city’s early history and the Maya’s southern frontier. Now he has uncovered an adjacent temple called Oropendola, and discovered the king who was laid to rest beneath it.

The pyramid called Temple 16 rises 100 feet above the ground. Beneath its outer layer lie the remnants of dozens of holy buildings dating back to the earliest days of Maya rule, A.D. 426. Two temples remain mostly intact within the pyramid.

Agurcia invited me here to see the finds, and we have stopped at Rosalila for a little orientation in Maya iconography. The building facade soars three stories into the darkness overhead. Standing in the narrow space separating the temple from the tunnel wall, I see another face staring from the second floor. Agurcia tells me it is the mountain monster, Witz, symbolizing the temple’s role as a ceremonial mountain. The Maya understood mountains to be powerful places they believed the rain god stored water in them and the caves that penetrated them were portals to the underworld. Rosalila was buried around A.D. 700. The temple was coated with white plaster, which Agurcia interprets as a symbolic embalming of the building. Construction fill was carefully placed against the temple preserving it almost perfectly.

Agurcia and his field director, Molly Fierer-Donaldson, take me to a low, narrow tunnel that leads to Oropendola. We leave the sun-king, now pallid and lighted only by a string of naked incandescent bulbs.

From a biological standpoint, Agurcia seems poorly adapted to his chosen environment. Agurcia stands six feet, four inches tall, and has to bend like a question mark as we move through the tunnels. On his first trip into the tunnels, he learned that he suffers from claustrophobia. “When I started, I told [friend and colleague William Fash] that I would go down there, but that I reserved the right to come running out of the tunnel screaming,” he told me later.

Archaeologists have dug more than two miles of tunnels through the Acropolis, every foot of space paid for with hours of labor and at the cost of destabilizing the stones above it. Understandably, Agurcia’s tunnels tend to be a little larger than those dug by others. He also makes sure there are two or three ways out of wherever he is working. Over time, his tunnels have become a familiar space that no longer triggers his phobia, and he feels he has good reason to face his fear day after day. “The stuff I’ve found has been outrageous, totally off the wall,” he says. “The work has been fascinating. Who would have dreamed I would find two almost complete buildings.”

Agurcia folds himself into a tunnel and the three of us head deeper into the pyramid, turning on our flashlights as we enter a newly excavated section of tunnel. A gradual incline leads to Oropendola’s second story, where I am unwittingly looking at another image of the mountain monster, Witz. Its face nearly stretches across the width of the entire temple.

A jade monkey head was part of a necklace buried with the king. It symbolizes the noble title Ahau, which means “Lord.” Exporting jade was a major source of wealth for Copan’s rulers.
Oropendola was not as carefully preserved as Rosalila. The entire third floor and about one-third of the rest of the structure was destroyed during later construction. The two buildings were also designed differently. Instead of decorations made entirely from plaster, allowing the sculptors to create fluid lines and intricate details, Oropendola’s decorations were made of stone blocks covered by a thin layer of painted plaster. The blocks make the artwork look like it was assembled out of Legos, and the plaster is almost completely gone. The image of Witz is 17 feet wide but only a few feet high, so the face is squat and stretched out. It is a radical change from the monster’s portrayal on Rosalila.

I wonder why the differences in artwork between two temples that were built just a few years apart are so striking. “It could have just been a whim,” says Agurcia, “but I think it had to do with access to plaster.” Whether it was getting enough limestone or firewood to heat the stone to produce lime is a subject of debate, but after Rosalila was completed, Copan’s temple-builders used much less plaster. If firewood did become scarce, the change in artwork may also mark an episode of environmental degradation. In the 200 years or so after Rosalila was built, stone carving became much more prevalent and Copan became known for its unique sculptures and architectural decorations. “I think [Oropendola] really was the beginning of a sculptural revolution at Copan that gives way to the great sculptures that come later on,” Agurcia says.

In the Maya belief system, night is the time that the sun spends in the underworld. It travels through a watery place inhabited by gods and the dead. The jaguar, a nocturnal predator and one of the few cats that swims and spends time in the water, represents the sun at night. Oropendola is covered with jaguar icons. On the northern facade’s second floor, a large image of a mythical bird spreads across the building, flanked by feline heads with curving stone fangs. On the north face’s first floor, a jaguar looks out from the mouth of the mountain monster. Rosalila appears to be the temple of the sun during the day. Oropendola, on the other hand, is the temple of the sun at night, a ceremonial mountain of the jaguar, and perhaps a passage to the underworld.

A spiny oyster shell found in a king’s tomb contains a large jade bead. The Maya associated shells with the underworld and jade with the human soul. The two together may represent the king’s soul in the underworld.
Unlike the sculptural decorations on Rosalila, Oropendola’s do not spell out the name of any known king. “Rosalila has a huge sun-bird on the side of it because the sun-king is buried beneath it,” says Agurcia. “So, I’ve been thinking that the iconography [in Oropendola] reflects the identity of the guy we found just below but I can’t make it add up just yet. We don’t have the names of the early rulers,” he says. “If his name was Bird-Jaguar, I’d be really happy, but we can’t make that connection.”

We descend through more tunnels, contorting ourselves into narrow spaces and climbing down ladder rungs set into the walls. Ten feet below the floor of Oropendola, Agurcia points out some long, flat stones laid side-by-side, the kind that are typically used to cover a tomb. His team found the capstones at the end of a field season when their grant money was about to run out and most of the crew had committed to working on other jobs. So he had to wait three months for new funding and a new crew of excavators.

Fierer-Donaldson was brought in to be the crew’s field director. She had to dig another tunnel hoping to come in below the capstones and through the sidewall of the tomb. But instead she had to excavate six-feet of loose soil before reaching the three layers of capstones that actually cover the tomb. “We were looking for a vault,” Agurcia tells me. “All of the early tombs have vaults.” That wasn’t the only strange thing about the tomb. “We didn’t find any offerings on top of the capstones like you might expect,” says Fierer-Donaldson.

“We realized by the elevation and stratigraphy that we were in the earliest levels of the Acropolis,” Agurcia says. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the king was buried sometime between A.D. 450 and 550. The artifacts and decorations point to a date prior to A.D. 500. Agurcia believes the tomb belonged to the second king, the son of Yax K’uk’ Mo’, but acknowledges that it could be any king between the second and fifth rulers in the dynasty. Although the king’s name is still unknown, the tomb provides some clues about Copan’s growing prosperity at the time, as well as the role the king played in creating it.

The tomb is empty when I visit. We are about 16 feet below the first floor of Oropendola and almost 60 feet below the top of the pyramid, deep enough that the air is noticeably cooler and drier. The excavation team has spent the past year recording, cataloguing, and removing everything from the tomb so that the objects can be analyzed in their laboratory nearby. There isn’t much to see, but I am surprised at the size of the tomb. Even though Fierer-Donaldson is slender and five feet, eight inches tall, it seems cramped as she climbs inside to point out where different objects were found.
Archaeologists Molly Fierer-Donaldson and Nereyda Alonso perch on a wooden platform as they lift artifacts from the tomb of the early Maya king discovered beneath the Oropendola temple.
Agurcia and I sit in the tunnel outside the tomb as he explains some of the surprises it held. “In many ways, this is an intermediate tomb,” he says, “they try to do capstones, but they don’t really know how to do it. They haven’t really learned to make the flat roof. The walls of the tomb aren’t very good, they are more like a stone facing.”

Although we are sitting next to the tomb, Agurcia can’t actually point out the roof because it collapsed some time after Oropendola was built and crushed everything inside. “The bones were in terrible shape,” says Fierer-Donaldson, pointing out that they can’t get basic information, such as age, from the skeleton. They can’t even be certain that the remains belonged to a male. But the roof collapse had one important benefit–it seems to have helped preserve some of the fragile organic remains, such as the very fine fabric of the king’s clothing. Lynn Grant of the University of Pennsylvania is conserving the textiles. Further analysis may reveal the color and type of garment the king wore.

His body had been laid out on a platform, probably made of wood, that has completely rotted away along with the woven mats that covered the floor. A layer of powdered cinnabar (mercury oxide) was scattered over the body. The cinnabar shows up inside some of the skeleton’s joints, revealing that the vibrant red pigment was added after the flesh and most of the tendons had rotted away.

A small number of scallop shells lay on the floor near his right shoulder. Two piles of spiny oyster shells were at his feet. Seashells were luxury items associated with the watery underworld. Three scallop shells and one spiny oyster shell contained a jade bead, Agurcia believes the jade may have symbolized the soul, and placing the bead inside the shell represented the soul in the underworld.

The king wore a necklace made of 20 jade beads and 40 shell beads. A large chunk of jade carved into the symbol for the Maya word “K’inich,” meaning “Eye of the Sun” or “Embodiment of the Sun,” had been placed in the corpse’s mouth. A second necklace containing a large piece of jade, carved in the likeness of a monkey head, symbolizing the word Ahau meaning “Lord,” was draped across his pelvis. According to Agurcia, these two emblems are clear indicators that the tomb’s occupant was a king. But the mass of wealth and exotic goods also reveal something about the king’s role in making Copan a major center of trade.

“The city was kind of a gateway for stuff like jade and obsidian going out of the Maya areas. What was coming in is still less documented,” Robert Sharer of the University of Pennsylvania and the excavator of Yax K’uk’ Mo’s tomb, told me in a phone interview. When the dynasty was established, the economic situation in the area around Copan underwent a profound change. “The economy is one manifestation of a more centralized organization in the Copan Valley,” he continues. “Tying people in by the economy is just one way that they become more dependent upon and available to manipulation by these centralized rulers.”
The stylized face of Yax K’uk’ Mo’, the founder of Copan’s Maya dynasty, adorns the wall of the Rosalila temple. The markings in his eyes, and the quetzal bird headdress, connect him to the sun god.
Copan lies near the Motagua River, a major source of jade, which was an important luxury item–not just because it was beautiful, but also because it had ritual associations with rainfall and maize. Being able to control access to jade may have presented a big opportunity for the person in this tomb. “The trade here was very important,” says Agurcia. “They were plugged into a network, and had access to these very exotic goods.”
The curving fangs of a jaguar protrude from a corner of the Oropendola temple. The stone-block sculptures were once covered with a thin layer of brightly painted plaster, which may have been a scarce resource when the temple was built.
Agurcia interprets the large number of shell artifacts as an indicator that the kings of Copan may have increased their trade with settlements on the coasts. Sharer thinks that the shell artifacts may only indicate that the king liked shells.

Items such as four pyrite mirrors and hundreds of tiny green-obsidian beads show that the Maya of Copan were in contact with city-state of Teotihuacan, more than 700 miles north in central Mexico. “Trade with Teotihuacan became very important,” says Agurcia. “It was like the Wall Street of its time.” Gaining access to trade goods from all over the Maya areas would have drastically increased Copan’s prosperity. “So, this guy is showing splendorous wealth that shows major success,” Agurcia tells me. “This is the guy who nails the state of Copan into place.”

Completing the story of how the early kings of Copan established their state is likely to require many more trips into the tunnels. There were two other temples that sat around the courtyard next to Rosalila and Oropendola, nicknamed Jiquilite and Peach-Colorado. Their foundations are still intact and they may also have tombs beneath them. Agurcia estimates that finding and excavating these tombs might take another 10 years and he still has a lot of work to do on Oropendola. “There could be tombs under the other temples,” Agurcia says with a smile, “but I’m not going to look for them.”


Completed Projects – Investigation and Consolidation of Temple 10L-16 & Rosalila (1990-1997)

Discovering Rosalila
On June 23, 1989, Honduran archaeologist Ricardo Agurcia Fasquelle (now the Executive Director of the Copán Association) discovered a unique and remarkable ancient temple. While exploring under Temple 16, he found the best-preserved example of monumental architecture at Copan. He named it “Rosalila” (rosalila means rose-lilac color in Spanish), in keeping with the accepted system of naming temple after colors.

Rosalila was not destroyed by the ancient Maya, like other buildings archaeologists have found. It was carefully buried with much ceremony. Its rooms, moldings, and niches were carefully filled with mud and stones, while its elaborate stucco panels were covered with a thick layer of white plaster. This plaster still protects Rosalila’s many layers of original paint.



Rosalila’s Facts & Figures
Rosalila is 12.9 meters tall and has three stories. The upper two levels serve as a giant pre-Columbian billboard and display complex religious artwork from the Early Classic. The lower level has four rooms each room is long and narrow and only by walking through the first three can you reach the central and most intimate room. Within these sacred spaces the Maya carried out elaborate ceremonies while the building was in use, and later, as they carefully buried it, these rooms were where the Maya cached beautiful offerings.

The building’s base measures 18.5 by 12.5 meters, and the principal facade faces west. The temple is located over a three-meter tall terraced pyramid, named “Azul.” It is small compared to others in Copán, which can reach up to 20 meters. Like all other temples constructed over the Acropolis’ central axis, the principal steps face west, the direction the Maya associated with the entrance to the other world, the world of the dead, the place where the sun died daily. There are seven steps on the principal stairway and the fifth step has a hieroglyphic dedication date: February 21, 571 A.D. This date is close to the end of the reign of Moon Jaguar, the tenth ruler of Copan.

Function of Rosalila

The internal walls of the temple were covered with soot from the burning of incense and torches, not unlike the walls of many old churches. Inside the temple were numerous artifacts that reflect ancient religious practices. Agurcia found seven ceramic incense burners with charcoal still inside two of these lay upon sculpted, stone jaguar pedestals. He also found offerings of flint knives (for sacrificing), nine elaborate eccentric flints (ceremonial scepters) wrapped in the remnants of a deep blue bag or cloth, carved jade jewelry, conch shells, stingray spines (perforators for blood-letting rites), shark vertebrae, jaguar claws, and remains of flower petals and pine needles. Some of these remains (particularly the incense burners and the flowers) recall religious practices still in use among the modern Maya.

Rosalila was the principal religious sanctuary at Copán in the late 6th century AD. It is the most completely preserved example of the art and architecture of this period discovered to date. Like the cover of an illuminated manuscript, the facades are elaborately decorated with complex religious messages. The themes are cosmological, and emphasize the Sun God, K’inich Ahau – divine patron for Maya kings, and the spiritual namesake of the founder of the dynasty, K’inich Yax K’uk Mo’.

Project Support
The Copán Association sponsored much of the investigation, conservation, and presentation of Rosalila to the public. It helped create the Rosalila visitor’s tunnel and the Copan Sculpture Museum. Without the hard work and funds contributed by the Association, the impressive Rosalila temple would not be the icon of national identity and pride that it is today.


La Pintada

Higher up in the mountains beyond Los Sapos is another site, known as La Pintada, a single glyph-covered stela perched on the top of a mountain peak, still showing vestiges of its original red paint. The views out over the Río Copán valley and into the surrounding mountains are fantastic, particularly in the early morning. The site is near the village of the same name. Handicrafts are the specialty of the indigenous women here, who do backstrap weaving and make the corn husk dolls that are sold in town. By foot or horseback, La Pintada is about 2–3 hours from Copán Ruinas. Take the same road to Los Sapos, but stay left along the river instead of turning up to Rancho San Carlos. The road winds steadily up into the mountains, arriving at a gate. From here, it’s a 25-minute walk to the hilltop stela. It’s best to hire one of the many guides for a negotiable fee in Copán Ruinas to take you there either by foot or on horseback to ensure you don’t take a wrong turn. The Asociación de Guías Copán also offers tours to the site, and Yaragua offers combination tours to La Pintada and Los Sapos.


THE MAYAN RUINS OF COPAN, HONDURAS

Copán is known for a series of sculptured stelae most of which were placed along processional ways in the central plaza of the city and the adjoining acropolis, a large complex of overlapping step-pyramids, plazas, and palaces.

Located in the far west of Honduras, the Mayan ruins of Copán have to be one of the most breathtaking archaeological sites I can imagine visiting. Located in a semi-tropical forest setting, Copán is populated by vibrant macaws and is truly exotic, fascinating, and captivating. Copán stands out because of its massive and intricate sculptures which decorated the faces of the structures as well as the number of hieroglyphic texts which suggest the existence of an extensively literate culture. Copán flourished during the 7th century of our era and is representative today of what Athens was to the old world: the cradle of its civilization. Because of this and other reasons, UNESCO declared it a world heritage site in 1980.



The area of the Acropolis consists of both the western and eastern court. The western court includes Temple 11 which was built as a gateway to the underworld. Temple 16 was built on top of a previous temple (the Rosalila Temple) without damaging the remains. You can climb to the top of Temple 16, approximately 100 feet high, where you can see the overall layout of the Copán ruin complex. The Tunnels: archaeologists have dug 4km of tunnels under the acropolis to view earlier stages of Copan civilization. Two of the tunnels are open to the public for an additional fee.


Stelae became closely associated with the concept of divine kingship and declined at the same time as this institution. The production of stelae by the Maya had its origin around 400 BC and continued through to the end of the Classic Period around 900 although some monuments were reused in the Post Classic period (c. 900�).

The majority of archaeologists agree that Copán formed part of the three largest and most lavish cultural centers of the New World. The Maya of Copán developed a civilization based on a complex sociopolitical foundation with an advance knowledge in the fields of science, mathematics and astronomy. They also developed a writing system based on hieroglyphs. Equally impressive was their architecture which was based on the construction of scaled graded pyramids. The carved sculptures of Copán are without doubt some of the most spectacular found in the archaeological ruins of the Maya. The altars and historical monuments in Copán were often covered with painted murals which were stunning in red pigmented paint. And if this was not enough, their work in jade, ceramic, and stone was also amazing.


The two-headed monster is one of three structures that make up Altar G and is located at La Acropolis. A human figure can be seen emerging from the mouth of the east-facing head of the two headed-monster.

ALTAR G is the most famous monument at Copán. It was dedicated by king Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat in AD 776 and has each of the first 16 kings of the Copán dynasty carved around its side. Each figure is depicted seated on his name glyph.

Taking a break with the incredible Mayan remains of Copán. If only these stones could speak!

"There is evidence that Copán was inhabited during the American Formative period (2000 BC-AD 300), although few remains exist today which attest to this occupation. The great period of Copán, paralleling that of other major Mayan cities, occurred during the Classical period, AD 300-900. Major cultural developments took place with significant achievements in mathematics, astronomy and hieroglyphic writing."



Stela H detail depicting king Uaxaclajuun Ub'aah K'awiil



A return visit to Copán would be at the top of my wish list!




Simply fantastic and awe-inspiring sculptures at the ruins of Copán


"Architectural activity, as well, made strides during this period. The site of Copán went through three principal stages of development during which evolved the temples, plazas, altar complexes and ball courts that can be seen today. Shortly after 900, the site was abandoned. Although Copán was discovered in 1570 by Diego Garcia de Palacio, its existence did not receive worldwide attention until the work of John Lloyd Stephens from 1839 to 1841. Since then, numerous archaeological expeditions have explored and excavated various parts of the site."





So much more to be explored and absorbed at the incredible Copán ruins in Honduras!

"From what is known today, the sculpture of Copán appears to have attained a high degree of perfection. The Acropolis, a magnificent architectural complex, appears today as a large mass of rubble which came about through successive additions of pyramids, terraces and temples. The world's largest archaeological cut runs through the Acropolis. In the walls of the cut, it is possible to distinguish floor levels of previous plazas and covered water outlets. During the period when Mayan civilization spread across Central America, Copán was the largest and most influential city in the south-eastern sector.”


THE MAYAN RUINS OF COPAN, HONDURAS

Copán is known for a series of sculptured stelae most of which were placed along processional ways in the central plaza of the city and the adjoining acropolis, a large complex of overlapping step-pyramids, plazas, and palaces.

Located in the far west of Honduras, the Mayan ruins of Copán have to be one of the most breathtaking archaeological sites I can imagine visiting. Located in a semi-tropical forest setting, Copán is populated by vibrant macaws and is truly exotic, fascinating, and captivating. Copán stands out because of its massive and intricate sculptures which decorated the faces of the structures as well as the number of hieroglyphic texts which suggest the existence of an extensively literate culture. Copán flourished during the 7th century of our era and is representative today of what Athens was to the old world: the cradle of its civilization. Because of this and other reasons, UNESCO declared it a world heritage site in 1980.



The area of the Acropolis consists of both the western and eastern court. The western court includes Temple 11 which was built as a gateway to the underworld. Temple 16 was built on top of a previous temple (the Rosalila Temple) without damaging the remains. You can climb to the top of Temple 16, approximately 100 feet high, where you can see the overall layout of the Copán ruin complex. The Tunnels: archaeologists have dug 4km of tunnels under the acropolis to view earlier stages of Copan civilization. Two of the tunnels are open to the public for an additional fee.


Stelae became closely associated with the concept of divine kingship and declined at the same time as this institution. The production of stelae by the Maya had its origin around 400 BC and continued through to the end of the Classic Period around 900 although some monuments were reused in the Post Classic period (c. 900�).

The majority of archaeologists agree that Copán formed part of the three largest and most lavish cultural centers of the New World. The Maya of Copán developed a civilization based on a complex sociopolitical foundation with an advance knowledge in the fields of science, mathematics and astronomy. They also developed a writing system based on hieroglyphs. Equally impressive was their architecture which was based on the construction of scaled graded pyramids. The carved sculptures of Copán are without doubt some of the most spectacular found in the archaeological ruins of the Maya. The altars and historical monuments in Copán were often covered with painted murals which were stunning in red pigmented paint. And if this was not enough, their work in jade, ceramic, and stone was also amazing.


The two-headed monster is one of three structures that make up Altar G and is located at La Acropolis. A human figure can be seen emerging from the mouth of the east-facing head of the two headed-monster.

ALTAR G is the most famous monument at Copán. It was dedicated by king Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat in AD 776 and has each of the first 16 kings of the Copán dynasty carved around its side. Each figure is depicted seated on his name glyph.

Taking a break with the incredible Mayan remains of Copán. If only these stones could speak!

"There is evidence that Copán was inhabited during the American Formative period (2000 BC-AD 300), although few remains exist today which attest to this occupation. The great period of Copán, paralleling that of other major Mayan cities, occurred during the Classical period, AD 300-900. Major cultural developments took place with significant achievements in mathematics, astronomy and hieroglyphic writing."



Stela H detail depicting king Uaxaclajuun Ub'aah K'awiil



A return visit to Copán would be at the top of my wish list!




Simply fantastic and awe-inspiring sculptures at the ruins of Copán


"Architectural activity, as well, made strides during this period. The site of Copán went through three principal stages of development during which evolved the temples, plazas, altar complexes and ball courts that can be seen today. Shortly after 900, the site was abandoned. Although Copán was discovered in 1570 by Diego Garcia de Palacio, its existence did not receive worldwide attention until the work of John Lloyd Stephens from 1839 to 1841. Since then, numerous archaeological expeditions have explored and excavated various parts of the site."





So much more to be explored and absorbed at the incredible Copán ruins in Honduras!

"From what is known today, the sculpture of Copán appears to have attained a high degree of perfection. The Acropolis, a magnificent architectural complex, appears today as a large mass of rubble which came about through successive additions of pyramids, terraces and temples. The world's largest archaeological cut runs through the Acropolis. In the walls of the cut, it is possible to distinguish floor levels of previous plazas and covered water outlets. During the period when Mayan civilization spread across Central America, Copán was the largest and most influential city in the south-eastern sector.”


Frequently Asked Questions About The Mayan Temples

What were Mayan temples used for?

These were the venues for many ceremonies such as sacrificial rituals and were temples for gods. Apart from this, they served other important functions such as being used as landmarks to help in navigation.

What were Mayan temples made of?

Architects of the Mayan civilization used readily available local materials, such as limestone at Palenque and Tikal, sandstone at Quiriguá, and volcanic tuff at Copan. Burnt-lime cement was used to create a form of concrete and was occasionally used as mortar, as was simple mud. They decorated their buildings with intricate stone carvings, stucco statues, and paint.

What are the names of the Mayan temples?

There are some of the Mesoamerican pyramids and they are Copán Honduras, Bonampak Mexico in Temple of Murals, Calakmul Mexico in the Great Pyramid, Chichen Itza Mexico in El Castillo.

What were Mayan temples used for?

Apart from the religious ceremonies, these Maya pyramids were used as basic landmarks to aid in navigation.

What is the biggest Mayan temple?

Calakmul is the biggest Mayan temple and it was the most powerful ancient city that was uncovered in the Maya lowlands.

When was the Mayan temple built?

The Mayan pyramids were built by the people of Southern Mexico and Northern Central America. Guatemala, Belize, western Honduras, and El Salvador and have more than 3,000 years of history.

What is the oldest Mayan city?

Tikal is the Maya Civilization and the ancient city which is now modern-day Guatemala flourished between 600 B.C. and A.D. 900.

What is the oldest Mayan temple?

Maya Pyramids are the oldest and one of the most famous and the oldest is the funerary monument to the seventh-century king Hanab Pakal. The tallest Maya pyramid, which was located in Tikal, now Guatemala, dates to the eighth century A.D., before the civilization’s mysterious decline.

What does Chichen Itza mean?

It means that this is an archeological site in Yucatan and this is the most visited location in Mexico. It means the mouth at the well of Itza.


Watch the video: The rise and fall of Teotihuacan with David Carballo