Idea #714 – Exploring the remains of the Mayan city of Copan in Honduras
Discovered in 1570 by Diego García de Palacio, the Mayan site of Copán is one of the major sites of the Mayan civilization. It was the political, civil and religious center of the Copán Valley. It was also the political center and cultural reference of a larger territory that covered the southeastern part of the area where the Mayans lived, as well as its periphery.
The first trace of population in the Copán Valley dates back to 1500 BC, but the first Mayan-Cholan immigration from the highlands of Guatemala dates back to 100 AD. Maya chief Yax Kuk Mo, from the Tikal region, arrived in the Copán Valley in 427 AD and was at the origin of a dynasty of 16 rulers who made Copán one of the largest Mayan cities during the Mayan classical period. The great era of Copán, like that of other great Mayan cities, dates back to the classical period, from 300 to 900 AD This period was marked by important cultural advances, with significant results in mathematics, astronomy and hieroglyphic writing. The archaeological remains and monumental squares testify to the three major stages of its development – during which temples, squares, altar ensembles and ball playgrounds still visible today – evolved before the abandonment of the site at the beginning of the tenth century.
The Mayan city of Copán, as it exists today, is composed of a major ensemble of ruins surrounded by several secondary complexes. The largest ensemble is an Acropolis and large squares. There are five of these, including the Place des Ceremonies, with its impressive stadium opening onto a hill where there are numerous monoliths and altars richly carved, and the Stairway Place with petroglyphs, with its monumental staircase to East end of which is certainly one of the most remarkable achievements of Mayan architecture. The risers of this 100m wide staircase carry more than 1,800 individual glyphs that form the longest known Maya inscription. The eastern square rises to a considerable height above the valley floor. Its west side is occupied by a staircase carved with figures of jaguars that were originally encrusted with black obsidian.
According to our current knowledge, Copán’s sculptures seem to have reached a high degree of perfection. The magnificent architectural complex of the Acropolis is nowadays an enormous mass of rubble that emerges from successive additions of pyramids, terraces and temples. The largest archaeological trench in the world crosses the Acropolis. We can distinguish in its walls the ground levels of the previous places, as well as pipes. The construction of the Great Square and the Acropolis shows tremendous efforts: more than three hectares and a level ground and originally paved for the first, and for the second, the elevation of its huge mass that stands at about 30 meters from the ground.
Where is it ?