Palenque Palace Grand Stairway

Grand Ceremonial Entrance, House D of the Palace

The palace was built on a 3 meter high terrace. The earliest building of the complex are referred to as the subterraneos, and consisted of a group of at least three long parallel structures.

The open space between these early buildings was later filled in, forming an upper terrace which we now refer to as the palace. Some of the subterraneos structures are still accessible today, and some were used by the Maya as underground rooms. Some of these rooms were filled with rubble to stabilize the construction weight of the buildings above on the terrace.

The first structure built on the upper terrace was House E (654 AD), built by Pakal's Great-Grandmother, Lady Kanal Ikal, and served as a throne room and Popol Nah or place where the councils of nobles and other leaders met.


Palace viewed from Temple of the Inscriptions, Palenque

View of the Palace Complex from the Temple of the Inscriptions

The grand ceremonial stairway is on the left of the photo with House D at the top of the stair. House C is behind House D to the right.

House E, Pakal's throne room, lacks a roofcomb and is behind and to the right of the Tower.

House B and House A zigzag behind House E in the upper right of the photo.

Schele, Linda. FAMSI: Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. The Linda Schele Photo Collection Number 4022


"The Palenque artists excelled in stucco work, and the exteriors of the pilasters ranged along the galleries of the Palace are marvellously embellished in that medium with Maya lords in relief, carrying the symbols of their power.

All these stuccoes were once painted, and the noted Palenque authority Merle Green Robertson has found a definite color code: for instance, the exposed skin of humans was painted red, while that of gods was covered in blue."

Michael Coe, The Maya p.107

NOTE: Click on green-ish arrows to zoom in on stucco work


"These figures [on the piers] were all painted in reds, blues, and yellows. In applying color, every change of color required a change of plane. Palenque sculpture is linear in style, even when it acquires a three-dimensional quality. The outline requires the eye to follow the form, and cannot be detached from it.

Palenque's iconographic sculpture was the visual content of the spoken word. Color, through the medium of stucco sculpture, developed into an iconographic language. Painted stucco sculpture was not just a work of art, but it was a speaking work of art, one bound by a rigid framework of specifications.

Background areas of piers, buildings both inside and out, bodies of humans including their hair and major portions of their clothing, and human like parts of serpent bodies were all painted red, albeit different shades. Red was the color of the living world.

Blue was designated the color of things divine, motifs pertaining to the rights of kings, to things precious such as jade and quetzal feathers, divine beings such as serpent-footed babies (God K), and dwarfs.

Yellow was reserved for motifs pertaining to the underworld such as jaguar tails, crosshatched areas, underwater plants, and the portions of serpents (dead scales)."

Merle Greene Robertson, Sculpture and Murals of the Usumacinta Region, in MAYA [Palazzo Grassi, Venice 1999] p.300


PierC PierD PierF