Standing in the Copan Department of western Honduras near the border with Guatemala, Copan is an excavated Maya site. It was once the capital city of a Classic kingdom during 5th to 9th centuries A.D. Although a Maya site, it was mostly inhabited by non-Mayan people in the southeast of the Mesoamerican region.
Copan’s history extends over 2000 years right from the Early Preclassic to the Postclassic era. It is found that the city was an extensive controlling kingdom in the southern Maya region. Talking about the architectural style, it is quite different that highlights the Maya traditions.
The most famous attraction is a noteworthy array of portrait stelae mostly found in the city’s central plaza and in the acropolis of step-pyramids, plazas, and palaces. They exhibit some of the most superb ancient Mesoamerica art works.
There is also a big court for the Mesoamerican ballgame. Speaking about the structures, they are intricately stone sculptures made from a mosaic of carved stones. A unique archaeological feature is the vast cross-section of the acropolis that is due to the erosion of the Copan River, which has damaged most of the eastern acropolis. However, the route of the river has been diverted to save many buildings here.
The overall site is split into various groups, the Main Group, the Cemetary Group, the North Group, and the Sepulturas Group.
The Main Group
This is the hub of the ancient city that holds the Acropolis – an elevated royal complex in south and smaller structures and plazas at north. Among them are the Hieroglyphic Stairway, ball court, and the Monument Plaza comprising of the maximum sculpted monuments.
In the Acropolis, there are two plazas named the West Court and the East Court, vast tunnels, and many hieroglyphic texts of the Early Classic period. Some structures that I visited were Structure 10L-4 – a platform of four stairways near the Monument Plaza and Structure 10L-11 on west built on many other structures holding part Hieroglyphic Stairway accessed by a monumental stairway. A small tunnel takes you to the buried tomb on which the current structure stands. Next, the Structure 10L-16 (Temple 16) is a temple pyramid facing the West Court placed upon the original palace and tomb. It still has some bright murals within. Here, do visit the Rosalila temple here standing on the remains of five previous older temples. It is in really good state of preservation along with its elaborate painted stucco adornments. It is the home of K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ in the centre of a mythological tableau joining the founder of the kingdom with the sky deity Itzamna. The scene displays mountains, skeletons, and crocodiles.
The Hieroglyphic Stairway ascends to the west of Structure 10L-26 with 62 steps. Stela M and its associated altar are at the foot with a large sculpture in the mid of every 12th step. They signify the most important rulers. The name of the stairway comes from the 2200 glyphs that form the longest Maya hieroglyphic text.
The Sepulturas Group
Linked by a causeway, the Sepulturas Group is at the southwest to the Monument Plaza. There are many restored structures, residences with stone benches, carved decorations, and many tombs. One of the houses dates back to the Early Preclassic period. The main attraction is the ‘House of the Bakabs’, the palace with a high quality exterior and a carved hieroglyphic bench.
Stela 2 and 3 of 652 A.D. are seen in the Great Plaza. Stela 7 was erected to mark the K’atun-ending ceremony and is found in the western complex with a long hieroglyphic text.
Stela 9 in the modern village of Copan Ruinas outside of the site core devoted by Moon Jaguar in 564 A.D. Stela 11 portrays the Yax Pasaj Chan Yopaat king as the elderly Maya maize god. The text of the column seems to tell us about the decline of the Copán dynasty.
Stela 15 of 524 AD is decorated full with hieroglyphic text stating that king B’alam Nehn at time was ruling the city until 504 A.D, while Stela 17 belonging to the reign of Moon Jaguar is seen in the nearby village of Copán Ruinas.
Ensure that you visit this place with an authorised guide.