Brutal sun blazed down on the Mayan ruins of Palenque, Mexico. Heat penetrated the thick rubber soles of my boots and crept up my pant legs as I climbed steep stone stairs of the Palacio – the Palace. At the top, I ineffectually dabbed my beaded brow with a too-wet tissue and blinked away sweat that stung my eyes. Beneath me lay the powerful city that once ruled over a large part of the states of Chiapas and Tabasco in southern Mexico. For miles in every direction, ancient temples poked through dense vegetation. The wonder of this place is not how it grew to be such a powerhouse of Mayan culture. The wonder is how it existed at all.
Seeking respite from the suffocating heat and humidity, I descended into the Palacio’s inner chambers and wound through narrow passageways to ancient living areas kept blissfully cool by stone walls. Slabs of the same stone served as royal beds; keyhole windows in the thick block provided vistas of the funerary complex. Life and death. Eternity inextricably intermingled with everyday existence.
Back outside I circuited the upper walls of this structure that was both royal residence and political-administrative center. One side of the Palace looked down upon the ball court, a swath of lush green grass bracketed by ancient stone bleachers, where Mayans gathered to watch their favorite sport. The other side overlooked tombs where members of the royal family were interred: the Temple of Inscriptions, Temple of Continue reading