For the uninitiated, Palenque is an archaeological site located in the state of Chiapas, just outside the contemporary town of the same name.
In antiquity, Palenque was known as Lakamha, meaning “big water.” The site was first settled in the 3rd century BC but did not reach its peak in the 5th century under the rule of K’inich Janaab Pakal, more commonly known as Pakal the Great. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
The archaeological site of Palenque is so large that modest and incredible finds seem to happen on almost a routine basis.
A remarkably preserved incense vessel of a high priest or ajk’uhuuhn with traces of its original paint adorning its delicate features. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
Since July and up until November 2023, several artifacts from Palenque have been put on display at Mérida’s Palacio Cantón Museum in the heart of Paseo de Montejo.
Exquisite stone carving of the head of what is likely an unidentified deity found in Palenque. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
Among the ancient artifacts on display are ceramic pieces, several of which are adorned with richly colored birds.
In closeup, a ceramic artifact found in Palenque’s temple of the foliated cross, complete with the figure of what is likely a heavenly blue Macaw. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
The deity known as K´awiil makes several appearances in the collection, which makes sense as it is believed that this being was the great city’s chief god.
K’awiil is heavily featured in Maya art, dating back to the classic period, and is worshiped in part for his role in meteorological and celestial events. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
Another important deity of Palenque known simply as Gi, who in myth was responsible for defeating and draining the blood of a sacred crocodile, thus creating the crust of the earth.
The deity Gi is almost always depicted as elaborately adorned and is recognizable by small dots underneath his eyes. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
Also featured in the exhibit is a collection of beautiful jade artifacts found in the tombs of the city’s elite.
A funerary jade mask likely represents the image of the deity simply known as ‘D’, who was worshiped with particular fervor during the great Janaab dynasty, of which Pakal the Great was a member. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
The exhibit also includes several stone reliefs of hieroglyphics, dating from roughly the 3rd to the 6th century.
Although several Mayan languages were spoken across Mesoamerica, hieroglyphic writing remains intelligible across regions for reasons likely to do both with the projection of power and to simplify doing business. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
Though a replica, at the Palacio Cantón it is possible to see the beauty of the famous K’an Tok tableau, which depicts several famous figures throughout Palenque’s long and illustrious history.
A closeup of two central figures depicted on the K’an Tok tableau, likely K’inich Ahkal Mo’Nahb and Pakal the Great. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
Aside from the extraordinary artifacts, the exhibit also features a good deal of history dealing with the discovery and reconstruction of Palenque.
One of the greatest discoveries ever unearthed in the Maya world was the uncovering of the tomb belonging to Pakal the Great, by the Archaeologist, Alberto Ruz Lhuillier.
From 1949 to 1951, Ruz and his team spent three seasons digging and removing stones that led to Pakal’s tomb. Photo: INAH
One thing to keep in mind is that the exhibit is entirely in Spanish, so the use of a smartphone translation tool, or hiring a guide may be a good idea.
If you go
The Palenque exhibit is on display on the second floor of the Palacio Canton. The entry fee is 55 pesos and is open every day except Monday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Aerial view of Palacio Cantón on Paseo de Montejo with Mérida’s hotel zone in the background. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
The Museum is air conditioned making it a perfect alternative to exploring archaeological sites during the hottest months of the year.
The Palacio Cantón is quite an architectural gem worth visiting in and of itself. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine
The museum has great facilities including clean bathrooms and a gift shop, as well as a special kids area — making it a perfect activity for the entire family.
The kid’s area at the Palacio Cantón has a drawing station and an exhibit on the Maya especially tailored for children. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine