By Lowri Gilbert
Mayan Ruins of Copan
Copan Ruins Archaeology Park
Honduras was home to the Mayan People, who are thought to have arrived
in Honduras as early as 1000 BC. This society of people settled in
North Western Honduras on the beautiful plains of the Copan River,
and built the city of Copan. Honduras has a variety of attractions
to offer travelers, and one of the main attractions is the remains
of the ancient Mayan city of Copan.
There is archeological evidence that the Copan Valley has been inhabited
since as early as 1200 BC. However it was not until AD 426 that Copan
was ruled by a royal family. The first King Mah K'ina K'uk' Mo' (
Great Sun Lord Quetzal Macaw ) was praised by later leaders as the
founder of the kingdom. It was in AD 628 that Copan began to develop
significantly when King Smoke Imix ( Smoke Jaguar ) came to the throne.
He was responsible for developing Copan's military and commercial
sector. This led to an increase in population and at its peak Copan
is thought to have been home to more than 20,000 people. Copan is
not the biggest Mayan City in Central America, however it was the
predominant cultural centre during the Mayan period. It mounted to
be highly advanced in its evolvement of sculptures, astronomy and
In AD 749 the most famous monument the city ever saw was erected,
the spectacular Hieroglyphic Stairway, by King Smoky Shell. The stairway
was created in order to perpetuate the success of the kingdom. The
inscription found on the hieroglyphic staircase is the longest inscription
found in the Mayan world. Initially it was thought that the hieroglyphs
found in Copan were firmly rooted in astronomical and calendaric calculations.
Through recent investigations it has been discovered that the script
actually refers to the life and times of the Mayan rulers. There are
more than 1250 glyph blocks in its inscription. The stairway is important
because many monuments of previous rulers had been destroyed by their
successors, and the stairway provides the names and dates of the rulers
and furthermore it narrates battles and conquests of these leaders.
Copan Mayan Stela
The final ruler of Copan, U Cit Tok', came to power in AD 822, it
is still unknown when he died. It was during the reign of U Cit Tok'
that the kingdom began to diminish. A symbol of this tragic downfall
is Altar L which in AD 822 the king commissioned a monument to represent
his time in power, however it was never completed.
It is only recently that archeologists are beginning to comprehend
the reasons behind the collapse of Copan. Amid the last few decades
the city saw and immense population growth, and this was a huge strain
for the land, which the people of Copan were being agriculturally
active on, leading to environmental degradation. The civilization
began to migrate to other areas of the valley which were not designed
for settlement. Many areas were deforested, and during the monsoon
season the land would subsequently flood as there was an increased
lack of vegetation to absorb the water. The society not only had to
cope with floods during a period climatic fluctuations, but also intense
droughts. Scientists have found evidence of malnutrition in the remains
they have discovered, and during this period life expectancy decreased
dramatically. The valley was not abandoned by the society instantly,
it is thought that it was still inhabited for another one or two hundred
The first recorded discovery of the ruins was by Diego Garcia de
Palacios on March 8th, 1576. It was not until three hundred years
later that the history of the ruins was investigated. Archeologists
are continuing to make new discoveries in the site. They have divided
the site into five phases and it is the fifth phase that is visible
to people today. However layers of the other phases are buried underneath
the standing ruins. These remains are beginning to be explored today
through the means of underground tunnels, two of which are now open
to the public.
Copan Museum of Sculpture
The ruins can be reached on foot from the town of Copan Ruinas, only
approximately 1 km outside of the town. The walk is a pleasant one
taking about 15 minutes. The Copan Ruins and the Museum of Sculpture
are open from 8am to 4pm daily. The cost of entry to the ruins is
US$10 for foreigners and 20 lps for nationals. Additionally it costs
US$5 for foreigners and 20 lps for nationals to enter the Museum of
Sculpture, which is located next to the Copan Ruins Park. Also visitors
are now able to enter two tunnels, which have been opened to the public,
for an additional US$10 for foreigners and 20 lps for nationals.
The Copan Guide Association offers informative tours of the Copan
Ruins, which can be organized at the park entrance. Guided tours start
at $20 for a group of 1 to 10 people, which is an exceptional value.
Tours are available in English, French, Italian, German and Spanish.
You can also book a tour ahead of time if you like by calling the
Guide Association in Copan on (504) 651-4018 or by email Click
Here.The Copan Guide Association also offers horse riding tours,
city, hot spring, cave, cultural and birding tours in and throughout
the Copan Valley and area.
By Lowri Gilbert
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