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Honduras: Copán

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Copán | Honduras | Americas

[Visited: January 2005]

The best know site of Honduras, the ruins of Copan are a must-see for any visitor to the country, tucked away in the wilderness near the border with Guatemala. I planned an entire day for them, and needed it. Opening times are a little unfortunate, it is not possible to be there at sunrise or sunset, but I was anyway very early to make sure I could enter as the first visitor of the day. Entering through the main gate, with screaming, colourful macaws above my head, I soon came to the Great Plaza. While originally the ruins were all stone, and coloured, now the floor is deliberately covered with grass to protect it from the impact of visitors, and the colour has mostly disappeared. On some of the stelae on the Great Plaza, it can still be seen though. Walking through the complex all alone, enjoying the views of the morning clouds lifting off the temples and the canopy of the trees, talking here and there to caretakers who meticulously removed leaves and other things that didn't belong to the ruins themselves, was an experience in itself.

Picture of Copán (Honduras): Copán: structure 9 and part of the Great Plaza and Ball Court

Copán consists of the Great Plaza, containing mostly stelae, temples, the Ball Court, the Hieroglyphic Staircase, the West Court and East Court with more temples and stelae. While the latter seem to lie on a hill, they actually were built on top of other temples and tombs, still hidden below a green layer of vegetation that has grown to cover it over the many years. On top, you can find some of the most interesting sights of Copán, notably the so-called Altar Q which is a square sculpture, depicting the 16 rulers of the Copán dynasty, 4 rulers on each side of it. The rulers had names relating to astronomy and animals, like Moon Jaguar, or 18 Rabbit. Somehow, Yax Pac, the last ruler, who ordered the altar sculpted, must have known he was going to be the last ruler of the Maya empire. His successor's reign ended abruptly, and marked the end of Copán's centuries of prosperity.

Picture of Copán (Honduras): Copán: detail of Stela H

Back the Ball Court, looking at the elegant temples and the well-kept lawn in between, I tried to imagine the games that were played here to please the ruling elite. A heavy ball was used, and the winner of the game was sacrificed on a special altar. For the players, it was an honour to die, so they tried to win despite the dire consequences. Copán might have declined and disappeared suddenly, probably due to overextended use of the surrounding valley. Still, the ruins have a magnetic attraction on whoever visits Honduras, and after a day exploring the ruins - the museum was unfortunately closed for reconstruction - I returned to Copán Ruinas, the small town in its neighbourhood, with satisfaction.

Picture of Copán (Honduras): Copán: detail of sculpture
Picture of Copán (Honduras): Copán: looking at structure 9 through the trees
Picture of Copán (Honduras): Copán: stairs leading to thew temple of the inscriptions
Picture of Copán (Honduras): Copán: macaw giving colour to one of the stelae
Picture of Copán (Honduras): Copán: one of the stelae
Picture of Copán (Honduras): Copán: detail of altar Q with one of the rulers of the Maya empire
Picture of Copán (Honduras): Copán: one of the stone macaw heads of structure 10, used in the ball game
Picture of Copán (Honduras): Copán: stela M in front of the famous Hieroglyphic Stairway
Picture of Copán (Honduras): Copán: he Hieroglyphic Stairway, telling Copán's story in stone

Around the World in 80 Clicks

Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Copán (Honduras). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Copán.
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