Copan Ruins ~ Honduras
After having visited Monte Alban (Oaxaca) on our way down, we were told that the Mayan Ruins of Copan were a must see. And those who did the telling were exactly correct.
We drove to Copan…and we figured out that those in the “biz” were feeding us a line about the roads being bad….they weren’t the best, but the roads were all paved and just fine (although there were many rockfalls, but I believe that’s par for the course here during rainy season). On our commute across Honduras, we stayed in La Entrada, which was about 45 minutes from Copans. When we left Copan, the border into Guatemala was a mere fifteen minutes (and one of the easiest border crossings we made). So we suspect that all of the noise we were hearing about the bad roads was intended to ensure we bought some sort of package tour. Driving is the way to go.
Before I get started, I think if I were to do this again, I’d plan on staying in Copan for at least three or four days, and do it this way: Day 1, take the guided tour of the ruins and the Sculpture Museum (if you go, ask for Marcel, he’s the guide with the walking stick topped by a plethora of parrot feathers….he’s a professional guide, speaks excellent English, and has quite a flair….plus he’s most interested in ensuring his guests have a great experience). The next day, return to the ruins on your own. And do some research on the internet. Third day, spend some time locally…we bought a guide book and there are horsebackriding tours, hiking, waterfalls, etc. And to digress (but importantly, I think)…..I much prefer “rainy season”. The day we were there it was absolutely gorgeous, barely a cloud in the sky. But during rainy season, the flora and fauna is simply spectacular. And even though it’s our “summer”…it’s not nearly as hot as it is during dry season.
The Copan complex is easily found, and we had a quite delicous breakfast at the restaurant there. We bought our tickets (about a hundred bucks, all said and done, including the guide….but money well spent as it all goes toward the site itself). The entrance, restaurant, and museum are about a half a mile walk from the ruins. Here is a site model of what has been excavated to date (35% IIRC). It is HUGE!
Our tour started in the Sculpture Museum, a two story open air facility, with a reproduction of one of the grand temples in the center. This temple has been recreated as it appeared, plastered and painted. The red dye is from an adjacent mountain, and is made of mercury oxide or sulfide….the painters didn’t live long! Marcel told us the culture of death was used to intimidate the population…and if you look at this temple, just one building amongst thousands, you can see why. At a certain point in time, the Mayans quit painting their temples (it required constant upkeep)….and proceeded to more intricate stone carving (more later).
However, try to imagine walking into the city and seeing this building (I’ve only captured two sides). Searching for images on Rosalila Temple Copan….yields these results.
Some of the most intriguing original sculptures have been relocated to the Sculpture Museum (remember, Copan is a work in progress, and is barely 1/3 explored/excavated), and replicas have been placed in their actual location in the ruins. What follows are the best photos I have (again, I’m missing my own camera….the HD video functions flawlessly, but I kept having problems when I’d shoot stills with it, as I could get an object in focus and then as I pushed the button the focus would change). I did take many videos as well, but we’re working on the “transformative software” right now to get it into a format that can be posted here….so hang in there. I hope the videos will have some of Marcel’s explanations, but for now, I’m going with my memory.
In the Sculpture Museum, was a placque in memory of Linda Schele, an American scholar who was dedicated (an artist who spent a lifetime after a serindiptious visit to a Mayan ruin) to the deciphering and recording of the MesoAmerican story. The following photo is a recreation of a royal portrait, perhaps based upon upon one of Dr. Shele’s drawings.
Before I leave the topic of Dr. Schele, the Foundation for the Advancement of MesoAmerican Studies site has some absolutely terrific information about the history and culture of the MesoAmericans. Take a while (or bookmark it). Oddly, it is located in Florida….hmm….perhaps a visit on our return trip is in order.
In the next photo, Marcel was describing some of the differences between royalty and non-connected (politically) important people….note on the right, the two sculptures of women. The one on top was a high ranking individual, although not politically connected (plain in decoration)….in detail further down, you can see the superior decoration, as well as the cross-hatched brick-like symbology, which indicated someone with high political power. NOTE: The photos look somewhat flat to me, like a picture hung on the wall…but these were the actual stones from the buildings.
Note also the difference in decorative detail (jewelry):
The best sculpture (and incidentally, the best photo I took) in the Museum:
Once we left the Museum, we walked to the ruins themselves. On the way, we saw some interesting wildlife, wild Scarlett Macaws, which one of the site staff saw fit to attract (on his own) by feeding them. Our guide informed us that there is now a whole colony of wild parrots there. We also saw a pecary feeding (I have video, I think) on the parrot spillage.
The walk to the ruins was beautiful…with a lovely picnic ground on the way. Startling, too, was finding pieces of the ruin just off the trail, a part of the site’s acqueduct, abandoned (in process) altars, as well as small temples covered by vegetation and destroyed by trees…remember, the site is not yet half uncovered.
One thing we wondered about…the size of the stairs. The Mayans were tiny people, and our suspicion is that the size of these stairs required them to more or less crawl up in subservience to the rulers.