In the heart of Ocosingo, Chiapas, the archaeological site of Bonampak gives us a striking view of the social organization and daily lives of the Mayan people. Embedded in the Lacandona Jungle, Bonampak – “painted walls in the Mayan language – stands out from surrounding temple complexes because of its famous Temple of Murals. The murals lining the walls of this temple depict with astonishing realism and vivid colours the actions of a battle, its sequels and a final celebration of victory. Discovered in 1946 by archaeologists – though descendants of the Mayan people have worshipped at the site for centuries – these murals are considered one of the most impressive of pre-Hispanic Mexico's many treasures. Spanning over four thousand hectares, to date, this ancient city has only been explored in two buildings: the Great Plaza and the Acropolis, which together make up a rectangular space of 110 meters in length and 87 meters in width.
Surrounded by the jungle vegetation so typical of the Mexican south-east, the Acropolis at Bonampak is a stunning building whose contours follow the irregularities of the ground. Venturing inside, you will find three rooms whose walls are covered in the vivid frescoes for which Bonampak is renowned world-wide. The frescoes, now partially restored by an expert team, have been dated to the year 790 AD.
On entering the first of the temple's rooms, you'll be struck by a vivid representation of a coronation or accession ceremony, complete with elegantly-robed nobles and a Mayan orchestra. The frescoes on the walls of the second room depict a battle scene and what are presumed to be prisoners awaiting sacrifice. The victory scene is narrated on the walls of the third room, and dominated by the figure of Chaan Muan II, the last sovereign of Bonampak. The sovereign and his family perform a ritual of bloodletting by sticking needles into their tongues. Chaan Muan II can also be seen in the Great Plaza complex, dressed luxuriously and with a prisoner at his feet. Fascinating as they are, the murals at Bonampak are certainly not for the faint hearted!
The compelling truth about Bonampak is that there is still a lot to be discovered and decoded: its murals and temple buildings – many not yet excavated – hold innumerable well-kept secrets about the Mayan World.
If the archaeological interest of this astounding place leaves you wanting something more, unusual animal species such as anteaters, spider and howler monkeys, temazate deers, tapirs, wildcats and even the sacred jaguar will capture your imagination as you roam among the temple ruins, in the heart of the Mayan jungle.