Copán in what is now Honduras was one of the most important Mayan city-states from 250 to 800 AD. The city had more than 25,000 residents. The most famous building is the hieroglyphic staircase, which describes the history of the city on over 2,200 hieroglyphic blocks. In the 9th century, Copán probably went under for economic reasons. The surrounding area had become cleared and barren, the people could no longer be fed.
Copan Mayan Ruins: Facts
|Official title:||Copan Mayan Ruins|
|Cultural monument:||Ruined city with two temple districts with a two-story temple complex decorated with 6,000 individual sculptures and a staircase temple covered with 1,400 characters, the Great Square and the ball playground|
|Location:||Copán, across the Sierra del Gallinero in western Honduras, on the border with Guatemala|
|Meaning:||one of the most important sites of the Mayan culture|
Copan Mayan Ruins: History
|9.9.426||Yax Kuk Mo (“Blue Quetzal Macaw”) founder of the Copán dynasty|
|2.7.763||Yax Pak (“First Light of Spring”) takes control of the city located in a 24 km² valley|
|26.9.773||Inauguration of the two-story temple|
|775||last redesign of the ball playground|
|1570||Report on Copán by Diego García de Palacio|
|1839||Purchase of the Copán ruins by explorer John Lloyd Stephens|
|1891-95||Excavations, including the temple of the stairs of the ruler »Rauch-Muschel« (749–63)|
|1982||National Monument of the Republic of Honduras|
Hieroglyphics and steles in Mayan Athens
Stone skulls and grimacing masks stare at the visitor in front of the temples. In a picture stele, snakes twist and hold their prey – a human head – tightly between their jaws. A few steps further rise, taller than a man and in rich regalia, rulers in their relief pillars, to whom one looks humbly and suddenly feels observed; downright monitored and followed by suspicious looks. One suddenly feels like an unwanted intruder into the world of the mysterious Mayan dynasty of Copán.
In what is now western Honduras’ Yax Kuk Mo founded the Copán family in the early 5th century. He was followed by 15 potentates who clung to Copán as the center of their secular and ceremonial power. The city-state grew to 20,000 people and was supposedly the largest cultural center of its era – the “Athens of the Maya”. Architectural wealth represented this flourishing high culture, including palaces, temples, altars and the acropolis, criss-crossed by paths and tunnels. Under Uaxac Lahun Ubac Ćauil – also called “Eighteen Rabbits” – the “King of the Arts”, the masters set out in the 7th and 8th centuries to develop fully sculpted steles from low-relief figures. They were decorated with hieroglyphics of individual dynasties, bearing witness to birth and rites, battles and victories, accession to the throne and death.
According to philosophynearby, the monumental Escalinata de los Jeroglíficos, the »Hieroglyphic Staircase«, unites blocks of inscriptions with thousands of characters. It is the longest known pictorial writing of the Maya, who had the most developed writing system in all of America. While archaeologists used prophecies of the priest-astronomers in earlier interpretations of the staircase, today’s guild of experts is now certain of their interpretation: Humo Caracol (“smoke shell”), who ascended the throne in 749 as the penultimate sovereign of Copán leave us a look back at the entire dynasty through the perfection of his sculptors. So you stand in front of an open stone history book spread over 64 levels.
In the core of the Copán Archaeological Park, you step onto two large open spaces that formed the framework for Mayan cults. There, countless indigenous peoples gave their lives on specially hewn sacrificial stones and bled – lying sideways directly – into small channels. The games on the ball field, the boundaries of which are marked by stone parrot heads on the ramps, also had a fatal and, for us, macabre end. In the stands, the upper class delighted in the athletic competition between the players, who, covered in masks and animal skins, held a rubber ball in the game without grabbing it with their hands or letting it jump on the ground. It is believed that the leader of the winning team had the “honor” of sacrificing his life.
There are puzzles surrounding Copán that may never be cleared. Was the city-state temporarily the center of a much larger political entity? In the ninth, tenth or even in the twelfth century, did sudden climatic changes with periods of drought and flooding in the rainy season lead to Copán’s abandonment? Or was the entire valley of the Río Copán hopelessly emaciated by relocation? What is certain is that John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood (* 1799, † 1854) rediscovered the jungle overgrown area after centuries of oblivion and bought it from the indigenous peoples for 50 dollars in 1839. Especially in the last decades of the 20th century finds of burial chambers caused a sensation in the professional world. So put archaeologists in 1995, several meters under the earth and in the midst of Jadebeigaben, a stately tomb free and they wrote Kinich Ah Pop to the son of the dynasty founder Yax Kuk Mo.