An artistic rendering of what Copan may have looked like during the peak of its civilization
Copán is exotic and fascinating in a beautiful semi-tropical forest setting yet small enough not to be overwhelming. I will never forget the day we explored this amazing archaeological complex especially since we had it almost all to ourselves. What a delight! Please join me in my introduction to Copán.
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.
Located at the entrance of Copán, the Copán Mayan Sculpture Museum includes many sculptures and replicas from the site. The entrance to the museum is made in the form of a snake’s mouth representing the Mayan belief that snakes represent a journey into the underworld. The museum’s most notable attraction is the full-size replica of the Rosalila Temple which is complete with the bright red colors and ornate designs that once composed this structure. Also in the museum is Altar Q, the incredible carved square stone that depicts the 16 rulers of the Copán Dynasty.
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. 900–1521).
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.
The stunning carved stonework of Copán is some of the most impressive found at any of the many Mayan archaeological sites throughout Latin America.
“Copán with its temples, plazas and terraces, comprises a type of architectural complex among the most characteristic of the Mayan civilization. The lengthy inscription on the Hieroglyphic Stairway Plaza is of considerable historical significance."
The Hieroglyphic Stairway: This is the most famous of Copan’s monuments. The stairway is located on Temple 26 and it contains 63 steps completely carved with hieroglyphs that tell the history of the royal house of Copan. It is the longest known text of ancient Mayan civilization. Archaeologists are still studying and deciphering the whole meaning of the hieroglyphic text.
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."
One of two simian sculptures on Temple 11 which possibly represent Howler Monkey Gods.
"The Mayan city of Copán as it exists today is composed of a main complex of ruins with several secondary complexes encircling it. The main complex consists of the Acropolis and important plazas. Among the five plazas are the Ceremonial Plaza, with an impressive stadium opening onto a mound with numerous richly sculptured monoliths and altars; the Hieroglyphic Stairway Plaza, with a monumental stairway at its eastern end that is one of the outstanding structures of Mayan culture. On the risers of this 100 m wide stairway are more than 1,800 individual glyphs which constitute the longest known Mayan inscription. The Easter Plaza rises a considerable height above the valley floor. On its western side is a stairway sculptured with figures of jaguars originally inlaid with black obsidian."
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 LOVELY NEARBY TOWN of COPAN RUINAS:
Getting around Copán Ruinas is fun, convenient, and colorful in the local tuk-tuks!
Come back again soon and bring some peanuts, por favor!
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