Copán’s dominating architectural feature is the massive Acropolis, which rises about 30 meters above the ground south of the Great Plaza. It is here that some of the more interesting archaeological finds have been unearthed in recent years by digging tunnels under existing structures to reveal what was originally beneath them.
South of the Hieroglyphic Stairway is a flight of steps running along the Temple of the Inscriptions. Walls atop the stairway are carved with various glyphs. Toward the top of the hieroglyphic stairway is a temple curiously adorned with engravings resembling woven mats and appropriately named the Mat House, also known as Structure 22A.
It was built in A.D. 746 by Smoke Monkey shortly after the death of his predecessor, 18 Rabbit, and provides further evidence of the new power-sharing arrangement with the city’s nobility after the shocking defeat at the hands of Quiriguá. It was thought to have operated as a council house, the mats being a symbol for authority and community.
South of here is the East Court, the city’s original plaza, underneath which were found the tombs of Yax K’uk’Mo’ and his wife. It is also known as the “Patio de los Jaguares.” Also buried in the East Court, below Structure 18, was Yax Pac, though it was unfortunately discovered and looted long before the arrival of archaeologists.
Between the East Court and nearby West Court lies Structure 16, which was dedicated to the themes of death, war, and veneration of past rulers. The well-preserved Rosalila Temple was found buried underneath here in 1989.
In the West Court at the base of Structure 16 is a replica of the magnificently carved square monument known as Altar Q, depicting Yax Pac receiving the baton of rulership from Yax K’uk’Mo’ himself. The altar is adorned with four kings on each side, giving us a complete line of succession for Copán’s ruling dynasty of 16 kings from Yax K’uk’Mo’ to Yax Pac, who commissioned its carving in A.D. 776.
It was once thought to have portrayed a gathering of astronomers, but recent advances in glyph decipherment have shed light on its true meaning. The original can be seen in the Sculpture Museum. Behind the altar is a sacrificial vault, which contained the remains of 15 jaguars and several macaws sacrificed in honor of Yax Pac and his royal lineage.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com