This is my last stop. This is the last Maya archaeological site I visit. Not because I don´t want to keep exploring the Maya world but because this is the most southern Ruin. I reached the border of the Maya empire and I am thrilled I decided Copán should be the final destination.
No more than 10 miles from the border with Guatemala, this archaelogical site turned to be my favorite among all the Maya ruins I visited – and believe me, I´ve had my fair share of ruins – and I am convinced that this was due to three factors: The alignment between nature and man-made constructions, the rock preservation of the buildings but most importantly, the desolation the place presented made me feel like I got transported back in time to 800 BC when this city, the most important in the Sout East part of the Maya empire, was at its peak.
Getting here was simple. After hitchhiking through the border from Guatemala to Honduras I decided spend the night in the town called Copán Ruins – yeah, a very original name for the nearest town to the ruins of Copán, huh? – in a small hostel that charged me six dollars for a private room. The morning I left very early and hiked the highway and in less than half an hour I was already facing the gates to enter this sacred city. After attempting to convince the cashier I had Honduran origins and paying the local entry fee – a strategy that failed miserably because of my blatant mexican accent – and then showing my school card pursuing a discount – a tactic that made no avail – I had to pay 15 dollars to get inside, crushing my $10 dollar per day budget.
Right at the entrance I made a new friend. Of course it is a dog, what did you expected? You already know I only make friends with dogs! And yeah, nasty habit, I´ve been trying to ditch it for a while now – quit smoking that it, not making friends with canines around the globe.
Once inside the facilities, in order to reach the ruins you have to walk a mile through a small scarlet Macaw haven dedicated to get these birds back to its natural habitat. Taken from a nearby animal sanctuary these friends are all over the place inside the ruins.
The scarlet macaw appear everywhere in ancient Maya monuments. It is also found as a glyph in the writing system and as decorative accesories in the elite´s clothing. The feathers were also traded with other Maya cities and it is quite probable that they were held as highly valued pets.
And then I reached the central Plaza. A vast green plain with 8 pyramids dispersed all over the place. I got there early in the morning so there was no one around to bother me. I was able to take around 200 photographs from every angle coming to my mind.
Principle Group: The Royal Precint
This is the epicenter of Copán: a vast architectural complex that was the focus of ceremony and gathering. It includes the most extensive hieroglyphic writings and elaborate sculpture in the Maya world. The inscriptions on the ancient stone stelae, altars, and buildings carved from volcanic tuff, describe royal genealogy and history, dates, and rituals of sixteen rulers over a period of almost 400 years (AD 400-800). The ancient Maya of Copán, as elsewhere, used architectural relationships to mirror their cosmos, often building repeatedly on the same spot, using similar patterns and rituals. What you see today has been excavated and restored over many decades, an ongoing process to fit together a puzzle made of stone.
I was able to walk around as I pleased. My main goal was to stand in front of the most famous stairway in the whole Maya world.
This is the longest pre-Columbian hieroglyphic inscription in America and one of the most remarkable monuments built by the Maya during the classic period. Most inscriptions at Copán are very short, relating specific ritual and dedicatory information on the monuments. The exception is this stairway. In over two thousand hieroglyphs on 63 steps, the text recounts much dynastic history, beginning with references to the dynasty founder.
This is the best picture I was able to take because right now it is below a retractable canvas roof made to protect the stairway from being corrupted by the sun and rain.
After spending an hour here just meditating in silence and admiring this architecture piece of art I moved on the great Plaza.
The Mayan urban centers were designed to represent a sacred landscape of land, water and mountains. One of the interpretations given to Copán is that towards the north there is a “sun plaza”, the center of the world and the universe, represented by the ball game. The Acropolis, a place reserved and mysterious, suggests the underworld.
This plaza, the largest public space in Copán, was once paved with white lime. Two elevated causeways led to the Plaza from the residential areas to the east and west. The Great Plaza was host to impressive public events with as many as 6,000 people. The three stepped platforms framing the north end may have served as seating at ceremonies and rituals.
I had to keep moving, I was only 30% through the extension of this marvelous ancient city and it was already 11 am.
I explored every inch backstage from the Main Plaza.
At some point I felt in a Tomb Raider video game going through the parts where curators and archaeologists spend most of their time. This area is covered in moss and surrounded by trees and vegetation. The vibes you get to feel around this part of the ruins is simply magical. At some point I decided to just sit around and listen to the silence. No animals, no wind, no touristic noise, no nothing. It felt so strange because 1,000 years ago this place was crowded with people living there and doing their daily chores.
Patterns in time
Buried here are structures dating back to the first ruler of Copán and his son and royal successor. Many of the earlier buildings faced west, just as the present structure does. A stela found buried here might be the first one made at Copán. This restored structure is the latest version of three older substructures on the same location.
Every corner had a surprise for me. It was an out this world experience to be able to see carvings on stone on every pyramid and in every building no matter its size.
Now you can understand why Copán is my favorite Maya ruin in this ancient civilization. I hope you enjoyed walking around this place with me. I would love to share every picture I took but this post would be longer than what any human being can stand, so I leave you with the best photos I could take. All of these photos were taken with my Canon Rebel T5.