Bonampak - Mayan ruins near the Usumacinta river in Chiapas, Mexico
Arriving at Bonampak
After a wild bus ride piloted by a local Lacandon Maya we arrive at the Bonampak ruins in Chiapas, Mexico. The archaeological zone is small but Bonampak has some very significant relics—it is famous for its monolithic limestone stela and story-telling murals which gave archaeologists their first clues to the Maya's darker, more violent past.
The jungle is massive and towering trees circle the site. Perhaps the height of the trees were the inspiration for the tall stela and high pyramid of the archaeological zone. The Usumacinta river is nearby but from the looks of it someone (possibly the archaeologists?) used to brave the perils to land on this jungle airstrip, zero room for error here (photos below).
The historical significance of the stela is better described by others but their towering power is easily felt by anyone who visits here. It's a easy stretch of imagination to contemplate how the ruling class could impose their will on those who served and fought for this Maya urban center.
Bonampak traded and fought with other Maya tribes centered in equal or greater cities like Yaxchilan and Piedras Negras, which also front on Usumacinta river. More distant Palenque also used the river for commerce. The river bound the various tribes together for trade and at the same time pitted them against each other in battles for territory and dominance.
Murals of Bonampak
"Edificio de Las Pinturas" (right photo below) houses the famed murals in three separate chambers. They were first shown by local Lacandon to a modern outsider, photographer Giles Healey, in 1946. The well preserved murals cover the walls and ceilings and are believed to have been painted around 800 AD, near the height of Maya civilization. They depict in great detail the rituals of the royal court including human sacrifice, costumes, musical instruments, and the weapons of war.