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The Temple of the Inscriptions, Mayan ruins of Palenque, Mexico.
         Vast, mysterious and enchanting, the ruined city of Palenque is considered to be the
         most beautifully conceived of the Mayan city-states and one of the loveliest
         archaeological sites in the world. Its geographic setting is splendid beyond words.
         Nestled amidst steep and thickly forested hills, the ruins are frequently shrouded in
         lacy mists. A rushing brook meanders through the city center and from the temple
         summits there are stupendous views over an immense coastal plain. Here and there,
         piercing the dark green forests, soar great pyramids, towers and sprawling temple
         complexes. In its period of cultural florescence however, Palenque was even more
         beautiful, for then its limestone buildings were coated with white plaster and painted in
         a rainbow of pastel hues. These fabulous ruins were so hidden in the jungles that their
         existence was unknown until 1773. Even then, Palenque was discovered and lost
         several times until 1841 when the explorers Stephens and Catherwood arrived and
         described it in detail.
         Scattered pottery shards show that the site was occupied from as early as 300 BC, but
         most of the buildings were constructed between the 7th and 10th centuries AD. Then,
         mysteriously, the great city was abandoned and reclaimed by the inexorable claws of
         the jungle. Even the Mayan name of the city was lost, and the ruins received their
         current name from the nearby village of Santo Domingo de Palenque. While the ruins
         have received some of the most extensive excavation and reconstruction efforts of any
         of the Mayan sites, only 34 structures have been opened of an estimated 500 that are
         scattered around the area. As one wanders through the ruins or gazes from atop the tall
         buildings, small hills are seen everywhere about the site. These are not hills however,
         but Mayan structures long overgrown with jungle.
         The photograph shows the so-called Temple of the Inscriptions. Erected in 692 AD, it
         was originally an eight storey platform later converted into a three-tier pyramid. In 1952
         an amazing discovery was made inside this pyramid. Beneath the slab floor of an inner
         room was found a stairway leading down to a funerary crypt 80 feet (24 m) below. The
         crypt contained a coffin with a skeleton covered with jade ornaments and other
         precious jewels. Inscriptions reveal the burial to have been of the great priest/king
         Pacal Votan who ruled the city from 615-683 AD. It is interesting to note that since the
         coffin is too large to maneuver down the staircase, the crypt must have been
         constructed prior to the pyramid that now covers it. This fascinating structure, both
         temple and tomb, was the primary sacred site in Palenque and one of the most visited
         pilgrimage shrines in the vast Mayan territories.