The Mayans lived here before the spaniards came to america, when they got here Copan was already abandoned by it's people and their culture almost gone from this lands. You need to visit the park, see it by yourself, and feel it by yoursel. be sure to hire a guide, they speak english and will explain you the meanig of every stone, piramid and temple or sculture in the main plaza and around the park. Then go back and visit it just you alone and climb to the top of a piramid and stay there a while.... silence.... pay atention to the sounds of nature,... , that can be one real special moment in your life.
It's a bit confusing, the ancient site with the ruins is called Copan and the town is named Copan Ruinas. It's a lovely small town with cobblestone paved streets lined with colourful houses. When you walk from the Parque Central down into one of the declining streets, you will have nice views at the surrounding landscape and mountains.
I liked the atmosphere in the town of Copan Ruinas, being a perfect mix of a lifely and easygoing, of a touristy and authentic ambiance. Some streets have lots of touristy shops, restaurants and bars, but after walking one block you can be in a totally other world of local shops and adobe houses.
Like in most towns and villages in the region you find a central square or Parque Central in the centre of the village. The church, townhall and museum are situated at this square. And almost all shops, bars, resataurants and hotels are within two blocks from the square.
The Parque Central has a fountain, benches, a lot of flowering green, arcades protecting against sun and rain. Several times a day I visited or crossed the Parque Central. I saw lots of people of the local community gathering at the central plaza. Children play, men meet and chat, so do women and young couples, streetvendors are selling sweets, snacks and drinks. It's nice to sit or hang around for a while at the square to experience the daily life.
Your visit to the ruins of the ancient city Copan will start in the visitorscentre. Here you have to buy your ticket. In the visitorscentre (Centro de Visitantes) is a small exhibition of the site and its excavations. This exhibition gives the first impression of the impressive site.
Within 24sq km remains of 3450 structures have been found in the forest. The central archaeological site can be divided in five zones: the main plaza, the ball court, the hieroglyph stairs, the acropolis and the tunnels.
The admission to the site is 15 dollar. For visiting the tunnels you have to buy a separate ticket. In the visitorscentre you can also hire a guide. The site is open from 8am till 3.30pm
This is not the place for a history lesson. Suffice to say that Copán was once a Mayan community with a population of 24,000, "the Athens of the new World." The prime of Copán lasted 400 years, from 700 A.D. to 1100 A.D. give or take.
The ruins open at 8:00 a.m. sharp, and this is the perfect time to visit, before the (few) buses arrive from Guatemala and elsewhere. Be sure to carry a bottle of water, a cereal bar or something else to munch on, and to wear sun screen and insect repellent.
Unless you are exhausted or blistered, the walk from the town to the ruins is perfectly manageable. The ruins are on the right side of the road, after the turnoff to the Guatemala border.
A good schematic map is essential, as you will not find numbers, arrows, or such on the monuments to cue you to where to go next.
The Sculpture Museum has two goals, and it is cleverly designed to fulfill both within one structure. It is basically a very large square atrium, with a gigantic open skylight. Everything close to the edge (on two levels) is protected from the rain. Yet the center of the room is subjected to the same rain and sunshine as the archeological site itself.
Follow the logic: The sculptures, stelae and other details which were removed form the site are exposed at the sheltered periphery, often within a reconstructed context. And then - that's the revolutionary part - a brand new temple was built in the middle, which is ever so gradually fading, being pelted with rain and bird poop, and so on. The "new" temple is finished in bright, almost gaudy colors, as was the whole city originally, and it is surrounded by landscaping.
The museum helps considerably with understanding the site. It is a marvel, and I hope a similar museum will be built at Tikal some day. I don't mean to be flip, but this museum is as exciting and spectacular as a James Bond villain's "secret lair."
Copán has a very friendly atmosphere. It is small but it does feel like a town.
After spending a few hours here you have seen the whole place and that makes it so pitturesque. The locals are used to tourists but it's luckily not so bad it thrives on it.
Next in the hierarchy of great archeological findings at Copan is the hieroglyphic stairway, which is located on the west slope of structure 26, and which was completed in AD757. The protective canopy is the largest as Copan, so the stairway is easy to recognize. The 2,000 glyphs on the 63 steps is the longest Mayan text that survived Spanish conquest, and it tells the life achievements of the first 15 rulers shown on Altar Q. Thus, this stairway was built by K'ahk'Yipyaj Chan K'awlil, the fifteenth ruler who also erected an image of himself in the superb, but poor preserved, Stella M, which shows him in full military uniform. In front of Stella M, are the remains of an altar that normally accompanies a stella. This ruler also commissioned Stella N, which is at the base of nearby Structure 11, showing himself on the south side and ruler 14 on the north side.
The hieroglyphic stairway is also significant for a parallel presentation of two styles of Mayan writing, the full figured and the Teotihuacan iconography, the latter emphasizing the connection of the Copan dynasty to the great Mexican city to the north.
The stairway features five seated figures along its axis, that are symbolic of military and ancestor worship. The staircase and stella are roped off from close examination of the glyphs.
Although it underwent as many as four renovations, the Macaw BallCourt is one of the oldest structures not buried at Copan. It seems obvious that this ball court, the second largest and architecturally most recognized in the Mayan world, would be of such popular value in the ancient world that no ruler would dare bury it with his tomb or temple. Yet, Ruler 13, Waxaklajun Ubaah K'awiil, who may have been a ball player himself, and who certainly displayed tremendous pride in Copan by calling it one of the four greatest Mayan city-states (along with Tikal, Calakmul and Palenque), restored the original ball court, then removed it and built the current one in it's place in 738AD. The Macaw Ballcourt was restored in 1936 by the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C.
This ballcourt is unique for having player dressing rooms or residential rooms in a balanced manner on both sides of the playing field. Above the sloped benches are extraordinary stone macaw heads, which were used for scoring purposes, three on each side of the field. During restoration, one macaw head was sculpted, and the original placed in the museum, but the rest are still a the ball court.
The sloped benches were the actually playing field for the heavy rubber ball, while the players scrambled to keep the ball in motion using their padded hips, thighs, and shoulders. They did not use their heads, feet, or hands to move the ball. Given the skill required to play the game, and the personal prestige the best ball players must acquired, it's difficult to imagine either winners or losers being decapitated as is commonly believed. However, some have suggested that Ruler 13, Waxaklajun Ubaah K'awiil, being a player himself, may have been the unwitting loser in such as game as he was killed by a vassal in same year as the dedication of the newly completed Macaw Ballcourt.
The hieroglyphic stairway or Escalinata de los Jeroglificos is the most famous monument of the ancient site of Copan. On the 63 stairs the longest hieroglyphic text in Maya civilization is written in several thousands glyphs. It is like a genealogy tree. The stairway being the the entire western face of the pyramid Temple 26 is erected in 743 under King Smoke Shell. The stairway was initiated to record the dynastic history of the city.
When the stairway was discovered at the end of the 19th century there were only 15 stairs intact. During the reconstruction works in the 1930s, the blocks were mixed up, which makes it unlikely that the true meaning of the glyphs will ever be known. Nowadays the stairway is covered with a roof to be protected against the elelements. It's not allowed to climb the stairs except for archaeological survey.
Above the stairs are five sculptures representing 5 rulers. In the base of the stairway are stela M and an altar.
The ball game was the center of life in the city. The Ball Court or Juego de Pelota in Copan is completed in 738AD. It is the second largest ball court in Central America and even the richest in decoration. The beautifully sculpted markers, three atop each sloping walls, have the shape of macaw heads. The central marker in the court is the work of King 18 Rabbit.
The Gran Plaza is dotted with huge magnificently carved stelae depicting the rulers of Copan. Most of the stelae represent Eighteen Rabbit, Copan´s ´King of the Arts´(stela A, B, C, D, F, H and 4).
Stela A (731AD) has very deep carvings. Its sides has 52 glyphs including the emblem glyphs of the four great Mayan cities Copan, Palenque, Tikal and Calakmul which shows that Eighteen Rabbit saw his city as a pivotal power in the Mayan world.
Stela C has figures on both sides. One side is representing the young Eighteen Rabbit or the day. The other side is representing the old Eighteen Rabbit or the night. Stela H (730AD) looks to depict a queen rather than a king.
At the Gran Plaza are not only stelae representing the rulers of Copan, but also some altars.
In front of stela 4 is a round altar, surrounded by a sculpted rope which represent problably the balgame, related with sacrifice. On the upperpart is a hole where the blood was flowing (picture 1 and 2).
Altars G and G1 are nicily sculpted. Altar G (800AD), showing twin serpent heads, is one of the last sculpted monuments of Copan (pictures 3 and 4). Stela C has a turtle shaped altar in front.
If you have a close look you see many details in almost every corner of the Copan site. Usually I don't take a guide and like to walk around on my own, but this time I was happy to have listened to the advise of hiring a guide at the visitorscentre. He showed us many details and could give a lot of interesting explanations.
At the south side of temple 11 were many inscriptions and sculptures. At the first picture you can see the Monkey God of Xibalda, the underworld. On the floor in front of temple 11 one of the two markers is maybe used for celebrating ceremonies related to the aquatic underworld. The marker was covered with plastic, but our guide was allowed to remove it shortly to show us the sculptures (picture 2 and 3).
Handsome red parrots will great you near the ticket control area. Over the years, some of the most detailed and valuable sculptures have been replaced by replicas in situ. The originals can be seen in the remarkable Sculpture Museum (the cost of the entrance includes entrance to the Sculpture Museum).
One of the largest structures is a huge hieroglyphic stairway, which is unfortunately protected from the elements by a hideous tarpaulin. (The lowest eleven rows of hieroglyphics on the stairway were re-cemented by early archeologists in a random pattern, which was discovered once the language was deciphered).
To hire or not to hire a guide in such a site is a matter of preference. I tend to go at it alone, so that I can take as many photos as I please, and visit at my own pace. And if I happened to mix up the throne of Smoke Imix (the 12th Ruler), and the chambers of 18 Rabbit (the 13th Ruler), so be it.