2012 has arrived and something is about to happen. Beyond that everyone seems a bit fuzzy on just what significance 2012 and the end of the Mayan calendar have. There is one thing I do know, the round thing that everyone keeps calling a Mayan calendar is an Aztec carving done 500 years after the Classic Mayan civilization had collapsed. Here is the wiki on it.
Based on this, any time I see an article, book or website dealing with the Mayan calendar that uses this image,
Photo By Monique Vreeken, D'noz restaurant, San Pedro La Laguna.
I feel I have gained valuable insight into the credibility of the author.
The month of December is my favorite time of year in San Cristobal de las Casas. The weather can be a bit chilly, but we have had a lot of warm sunny days this month which have helped make it extra good.
Folklorico Dancers for the festival of Guadalupe.
For me the very best thing about December is the Festival of Guadalupe that goes from the end of November and culminates on December 12th. There are almost daily parades of various sizes coming from around town venerating the virgin by passing in front of the Church of Guadalupe.
The start of the fiesta is marked with fireworks in the form of a line of explosives being lain down the street and exploding up to the church of Guadalupe.
Along with parades there are groups of runners that come in to town from all over Chiapas, I’ve seen them from as far away as Oaxaca and Mexico City.
The street below the church of is blocked off for a variety of food stands and rides that really get going on the last week of the fiesta.
The final night of the fiesta, on December 12th, the crowd is packed in so tight it is almost impossible to move.
View from the Church of Guadalupe over San Crsitobal de las Casas on December 12th.
The fiesta attracts people from all over the countryside who can not afford hotels, so on the last few busy nights of the party they camp out on the sidewalks. All of them very polite.
On the last few nights of the festival, people from the countryside camp on the sidewalks near the church. They cause no trouble and clean up when they go, a very nice bunch of people.
The last few nights of the fiesta they shoot off some very professional looking fireworks randomly starting at about 10pm.
Here is a time condensed video of the fireworks…
By the end of the fiesta Christmas almost seems like an afterthought. Another of my favorite things around here in December is the lack of commercialism surrounding Christmas. Traditionally families gather on Christmas eve for good food and libations while the kids shoot off a variety of firecrackers and bottle rockets. Christmas is pretty much over at midnight on Christmas eve when everyone in the town shoots off all of their best fireworks simultaneously.
So a belated Merry Christmas and an early Happy New years to all of you, I can’t wait to see what 2012 has in store.
The Mayan ruins of Palenque sitting in the jungles of southern Mexico’s Chiapas state are a fantastic destination. These ruins on the edge of the Yucatan Peninsula have been luring explorers, tomb raiders and archaeologists since the 1770′s.
Palenque panorama, click on any photo to enlarge it.
In the late 1800′s Alfred Maudsley made several trips to Mexico and Guatemala to do archaeological work at a number of Mayan sites. I have posted 3 photos that were taken on his expedition in 1890 and matched them with photos I have taken in the last year from similar viewpoints.
The first known report of Palenque’s discovery was by the Spanish explorer Ramon de Ordonez y Aguilar in 1773. It wasn’t until 1952 that a Mexican archaeologist named Alberto Ruz Lhulllier realized why there were holes in floor of the Temple of the Inscriptions. Up until that point no one had figured out that the holes were actually a way to access a door that had remained secret for almost 1500 years.
Temple of the Inscriptions as photographed by Alfred Maudsley in 1890, resting place of Pakal II.
Temple of the Inscriptions now.
This door led to a tunnel and stairway that descended into the bottom of the temple. It ended at a chamber where the sarcophagus of K’inich Janaab’ Pakal was resting. Known as Pakal II, his tomb was undisturbed. He had ruled Palenque for 68 years and died in the year 683 AD. Inside his sarcophagus he was found with a jade death mask and jade jewelry. He was holding a cube in one hand and a sphere in the other. The reason why he was holding a cube and sphere fascinates me. The best explanation I have heard is that when those 2 forms are combined they help create the Divine Proportion or Golden Ratio. A ratio which is found in nature and used not only in Mayan, Greek and Roman architecture, but also in Davinci’s art.
Alfred Maudsley and crew in the Palace at Palenque 1890.
The reconstructed Palace tower today.
Many of the largest Mayan temples are made up of a number of temples built one on top of the other over hundreds of years. The lid of Pakal’s sarcophagus weighs 7 tons. The dimensions of the stairway and passage in the Temple of the Inscriptions indicate that it could not have fit through. This makes the temple of the Inscriptions quite unique, it means the temple was built around the sarcophagus, specifically as the final resting place of Lord Pakal.
Temple of the Sun on the left and the Palace is on the right. Maudsley 1890.
The Palenque archaeological park is large with a variety of temple complexes in various stages of excavation and repair. You can easily see it and the parks museum all in one day if you start early. Two days if you like to look, sit, ponder and take your time. Much of the site is still under active excavation or conservation and is off limits to visitors. In its day, Palenque was a huge metropolis extending out in many directions and built over centuries.
Stucco mask on the back wall of the Palace.
I found an interesting chart showing how Mayan linguistics had evolved over the last 3000 years. The Chol Maya group lives in the area around Palenque now and apparently did 1500 years ago. Based on the chart, the language spoken at Palenque in its heyday was also Chol. For some reason I think it’s cool that the people who lived there in Pakal’s time would be able to speak to their descendants who are still living there today. Indigenous languages are disappearing around the world, I love that so many Mayan dialects are still in use and existence, though they are all under stress from an ever homogenizing world.
Mayan ball court at Palenque. The Mayan ball game used rubber balls, the Maya had mastered the art of rubber making 2000 years before the first tire was ever made.
First thing in the morning the vendors outnumbered the tourists in the park.
At the entrance to the site there are a large variety of vendors selling everything from straw hats to traditional tamales. If you don’t already carry a water bottle with you, you should get one before going into the park. I think allowing local vendors to sell their wares at the parks entrance is a very good thing. Spreading the tourist dollars into the local communities is important. I was saddened to see they allow vendors to sell their wares inside the site. Instead of being able to take in the amazing ancient ruins in relative peace, my wonder was disturbed repeatedly by people selling the same junk available from every vendor between Mexico City and Lake Atitlan. Tacky tourist junk and sacred Mayan temples do not mix well in my book. No, I do not want a coconut carved to resemble Pakal’s head!
Wall panels on display at the museum in Palenque.
Graceful masterwork from the 8th century classic Mayan era.
The museum at Palenque is a very good one, don’t visit the ruins without stopping to check it out. Inside the museum they have one air conditioned room, it holds the sarcophagus from Pacal’s tomb, well actually just a reproduction of it.
The climate controlled fake Pakals tomb in the Palenque museum
Sculpture on display at the Palenque museum.
When we were there they would open the room every half hour or so and allow only a small number of people inside, as if it was some big special deal. Most of the people with us believed that it was actually Pakal’s sarcophagus, which the staff did nothing to discourage. The real one is still safely at the bottom of the Temple of the Inscriptions.
Pakal II actual tomb at the bottom of the temple of the Inscriptions.
Intricate funerary urn from inside the museum at Palenque.
Up until about 2004 it was possible to descend the stairs and see Pakal’s tomb, but due to deterioration caused by too many visitors, it has been closed to the public. I never got to see the real thing. If they ever open back up to the public I will be as close to first in line as possible. If anyone out there reading this has any kind of special access to anything at Palenque (or any archaeological site), I will gladly donate my photographic skills in exchange for accompanying you.
When visiting Palenque there is more to do than just visiting the ruins, there are waterfalls and day hikes worth checking out as well, but those are for another post.
Here is an excellent video showing the discovery of Pakals tomb, it is part of a longer video that I have not been able to find the rest of. It mentions astronaut in the title, but ignore that, there is no Mayan astronaut involved in Pakals tomb.