As of the summer of 1996, Copán  has had a museum befitting the ruins’ importance in the world of the ancient Maya. Designed by Honduran architect Angela Stassano, the Museo de Escultura Maya (Mayan Sculpture Museum, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. daily, US$7) is built into a hillside and illuminated by a massive, open-air skylight. Apart from the full-scale reconstruction of a buried temple, which is the centerpiece of the building, the Museo de Escultura Maya contains some of the finest examples of Mayan sculptures ever found.
The Museo de Escultura Maya’s architecture was designed to depict different aspects of Mayan cosmology. The four sides of the building are aligned with the cardinal points of the compass, which were fundamental to the Maya, and also represent the four sides of a cornfield. The two-story design symbolizes the Mayan concept of a lower underworld and the aboveground reality. The first floor contains sculptures of skulls, bats, and other images of death and violence, while the upper floor displays facades from buildings and many of the original stelae commemorating Copán’s leaders.
Visitors enter the Museo de Escultura Maya through the gaping jaws of a serpent, used by the Maya to communicate with their deceased ancestors, and a tunnel, similar to those used by archaeologists in uncovering the buried temples, tombs, and buildings at Copán, and meant to evoke a journey to the past.
Dominating the center of the museum is a full-scale replica of the Rosalila Temple found under Structure 16  in 1989; the temple was built in 571. The bright colors may be a bit of a shock at first, but all Mayan buildings were once covered with plaster and brightly painted. It will certainly change your attitude toward the Mayan aesthetic—not one of somber elegance but a more exuberant, Technicolor style. With time, exposed to the elements from above, the temple’s colors are expected to fade somewhat, replicating the process that must have taken place at the original temple.
A visit to the Museo de Escultura Maya is a must to admire the dazzling sculpture of Copán . Apart from displaying the originals of some of the best-known stelae and sculpture in the Mayan world, the Museo de Escultura Maya contains many pieces never before seen by the public. These pieces give a full view of the prodigious abilities of the Mayan craftsmen. The informative signs are in English and Spanish. Take the time to read them all, or hire a guide (US$10) to draw out the highlights—it’s a short course in Mayan history and archaeology.