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Temple of the Inscriptions
The modern town of Palenque is about 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Villahermosa and 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of the Gulf of Mexico in the southern Mexican state of Tabasco. The ruins of the ancient Maya city are a little to the south, perched in dense forests on a shelf carved from the Sierra Oriental de Chiapas and overlooking the basin of the Usamacinta River. The Spanish conquistadors named it Palenque because of the surrounding wooden palisade, but its Mayan appellation remains unknown. The city reached its greatest glory between a.d. 600 and 800, and Mayan stone architecture found its highest expression there in such imposing buildings as the several pyramidal temples, the palace, and of course the towering Temple of the Inscriptions.
In December 1784 the mayor of Palenque, Jose Antonio Calderon, accompanied by an Italian architect named Antonio Bernaconi, found the ruins of the rumored lost city. The first serious investigation of the ancient site was made eighteen months later by Don Antonio del Rio, whose Mayan laborers cleared the jungle around the palace. Having demolished its interiors in search of gold, he found none. But his accurate report, published in 1822, motivated further study of Mayan civilization. Meanwhile, in 1807 the Spanish commissioned, one Guillermo Dupaix to investigate ancient Mexican sites, and his draftsman, Jose Luciano Castaneda, made drawings of Palenque that remained unpublished until 1834.
The Mayan civilization dates from 700 b.c.; within a millennium it extended from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador through the lowlands south of Oaxaca into the Yucatan Peninsula. Architecture and all the arts flourished between a.d. 300 and 800. In this Classic Period their great cities were built upon the remains of earlier settlements. Their civilization began to collapse around 750, and after about 830 construction and development had come to a halt. In another 120 years the cities south of Oaxaca were suddenly abandoned. Many reasons have been given: climatic change, food shortages caused by overpopulation, epidemic disease, invasion, or a peasant revolution. In 1542 the Spanish conquest completed its demise.
Because of the Mayas highly developed agricultural technology and the fertility of the region, an estimated five months a year were free from farm-work. The ruling classes shrewdly used this social surplus to build cities, pyramids, and temples, without resort to draft animals or the wheel. They could also support a separate class of specialist artists and craftsmen. The architecture of Palenque epitomizes the Classic Periods Western regional variant. The city became an important population center under Pacal (reigned 615 683). In 647 he built the so-called Forgotten Temple,