Right up the hill from out hotel and just a short drive from the main Maya ruins at Copán, a forested hillside holds a cluster of mounds that Peabody Museum archaeologists date from near the end of the great Maya civilization that once dominated the region.
According to interpretations of the researchers, Rastrojon was a military defense site. There are sculptures with symbolism alluding to jaguars, snakes and mythological figures of war in Mayan culture.
After breakfast this morning, we set out to explore one of the crown jewels of the Mayan endeavors: Xukpi (to the Maya), now known as the ruins of Copán. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980, Copán is Honduras’ most significant pre-Columbian site and the most elaborate of all Mayan cities, earning it the title “Athens of the Mayan World.”
We spent a full morning exploring its sprawling ball court adorned with markers resembling macaw heads; the Great Plaza is scattered with altars and lined with carved stone columns called stelae, which represent powerful Mayan rulers and date from AD 711-736.
Among the ruins here that have helped to unveil Mayan history is Altar Q, a rectangular stone altar with carved portraits of all of Copán’s rulers, from the founder, Yax Kuk Mo, to the last ruler, Yax Pac.
The most impressive remnant is the Hieroglyphic Stairway—63 steps with 2,500 glyphs, or symbols, carved into the stone, transforming the pyramid’s steps into the Mayans’ longest historical record. The ancient Mayan belief system gave extraordinary importance to precisely measuring and recording the dates of events, such as the reigns of rulers, and many of Copán’s monuments, and those of other Mayan centers, are elaborate sacred calendars. And the Maya were far from the only residents of the rain forest of Honduras. During our visit—in addition to examining the ruins—keep an eye out for the fascinating birds that inhabit the surrounding jungle.
We depart the ruins for lunch at a local restaurant on a side street in the little town of Copan.
After lunch in Copán some folks loaded into yuk tuks for a visit to La Pintada, a village with descendants of the Maya and where women make traditional dolls out of corn husks. We chose to explore Copán’s cobblestone streets and quaint colonial charm. We return in the evening for dinner at Twisted Tanya’s – never did find out the story behind the name.