Sunday, May 3, 2009

Maya Ruins

Edzna: Temple of the Five Stories


Also known as The Palace, the Temple of Five Stories "faces west and is aligned so that on May 1st and August 13 -- when the sun reaches its zenith at this location -- the setting sun blazes directly into its rooms. This alignment is probably related to planting times."
-- Coe, Andrew, "Archaeological Mexico", p. 302

A central stairway, which has been restored only on the left side, ascends the west face to the fifth level temple below the tall, partly ruined roof comb. The small temple at the top contains three rooms; the back wall of the central room contained a stela, now removed, which was illuminated by the rays of the setting sun at its zenith.


"Upon gazing at these gigantic menacing jaws we can recall one of the invocations of Itzamná as Hapaycán: "the serpent that imbibes or swallows." And if, to our Western eyes, this recalls some Dantean vision of hell, it must have been for the Mayas of the time a poetic and stimulating sign of life and hope. George Kubler speaks of the possible "descent of the celestial monster into the interior of the temple, bringing with it benefits from the beyond...

The composition is complemented in its lower extremities by a vertical line of plain profile masks, apparently assoicated with the worship of Chac, the god of rain, a cult widely diffused in peninsular iconography as we shall see later. Thus, under this monstrous appearance, which goes far beyond the merely three-dimensional -- the earthly -- to reach a sphere of mythical surrealism, the multiple facets of the creator deity unfold simultaneously before our eyes, with its powerful collection of symbols both celestial and terrestrial -- stars, rain, new vegetation, life and death -- which fuse here in an especially subduing apparition."
-- Paul Gendrop, Rio Bec, Chenes, And Puuc Styles in Maya Architecture, p. 72


Kohunlich: Pyramid of the Masks

Kohunlich is a corruption of the name "Cohune Ridge". Cohune is a species of fruiting palm common to the area. Kohunlich used to be known as Clarksville, which is how it is referred to in old maps and reports.
The site is best known for its Temple of the Masks, an Early Classic pyramid whose central stairway is flanked by huge humanized stucco masks.


Built around 500 A.D., this is one of the oldest constructions at the site. After 700 A.D., this temple was covered over with a Terminal Classic construction, which protected the masks and accounts for the marvelous state of their preservation today. The only standing remains of the later temple are some steps in the lower portion of the stair.

"The masks that serve as ornaments look towards the sunset and represent the members of the ruling lineage of Kohunlich, all gathered beneath the form of Kinich Ahau, Face of the Sun, one of the most important Mayan dieties."
-- INAH sign in front of Pyramid of the Masks

Palenque: Temple of the Cross

Two Palenque kings, Pacal, whose name means "shield," and his oldest son, Chan-Bahlum, "snake-jaguar," stand out as primary contributors to the history of their city. They are both members of that class of remarkable people who are responsible for creating what we call a civilization's "golden age."

Not only did they make their kingdom into a power among the many Maya royal houses of the seventh century; they also inspired and nurtured the exceptional beauty of Palenque's art, the innovative quality of its architecture, and the eloquence of the political and theological visions displayed in its inscriptions and imagery. The royal literature commanded by these men represents the most detailed dynastic history to survive from Classic times. Their vision wove it into the most beautiful and far-reaching expression of the religious and mythological rationale of Maya kingship left to modern contemplation."
-- Linda Schele and David Freidel,
A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story
of the Ancient Maya, p. 217, 221


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