The Mystery of Palenque and Pacal Brought to the Web

PalenqueGood news for Maya fans feeling the pinch of recession – Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology (INA) has brought the enigmatic 7th century AD city of Palenque into everyone’s homes with an exciting new online virtual experience.

Located in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, Palenque has long been a place of mystery; its majestic buildings, wrapped in a harlequin layer of vines and other flora, evoking dreams of adventure and romance. You almost want to slap on a fedora and crack a whip when you look at the unhinged magnitude of the Temple of Inscriptions, or the crumbling beauty of the Temple of the Skull.

You almost want to slap on a fedora and crack a whip when you lay eyes on the wild beauty of Palenque

Yet one of the ancient city’s most famous sites, the tomb of K’inich Janaab’ Pakal – or Pacal the Great – has been kept under lock and key by the Mexican government for the past five years, in a bid to prolong its posterity. A heartbreaker for those travelling to the tropical climes of one of Mexico’s top tourist attractions, but for those behind a computer screen. The new tour allows 360-degree panoramic views of all the Maya buildings, allowing online enthusiasts the chance to see Pacal’s funerary chamber for the first time in over half a decade.

Each building has its own pop-up information box (in Spanish, mind) – with particular objects of interest available to see in closer detail. The tour doesn’t stop there, either: the foreboding lost Maya city of Yaxchiln is equally surveyed by the excellent project, demures of each city by showing their partial reclamation by nature.

It follows the emergence of the US University of Berkeley’s virtual tour of the 7th century Khmer city of Sambor Prei Kuk, the Virtual Qumran project – and of course, Heritage Key’s very own Virtual King Tut, which takes your avatar to the pulsing heart of the Valley of the Kings. The INA’s model may not be what the other two would consider a virtual world, but it does provide some spectacular views of one of the planet’s great ancient cities.

Images by Steve Bridger andNational Institute of Anthropology.