After a couple of days at Palenque we drove the 100 miles on to the ruins at Bonampak, until very recently accessible only by small plane as there was no road at all to the ruins.  Even its ‘discovery’ by Westerners is an interesting story.  It lay hidden in the Lacandon jungle from the Spanish conquerers, even from Stevens and Catherwood who explored, identified and brought back wonderful drawings of Mayan ruins from all over the Yucatan and Chiapas in the middle of the 19th century.  Only in 1946 were Charles Frey, a young American conscientious objector from WWII, and John Bourne who was the heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune, taken to the ruins by a Lacandon named Chan Bor.  Later that year he took Giles Healey, an American photographer, to the ruins as well and it was he who first photographed the paintings within the Templo de las Pinturas, the source of Bonampak’s fame.

As an ancient community Bonampak was relatively small and devoid of what we today would call interesting structures.   Most of the site is on an elevated platform with three buildings, the most important being the Templo de las Pinturas.

We have been to ruins all over Mexico but no where are there still preserved the original frescoes which decorate the interior rooms of this structure.  Depicted are ceremonies of celebration of one sort or another including the consecration of an infant son of a ruler, victorious battle scenes, the torture and ultimate sacrifice of captives, and celebratory dancing and tongue piercings as blood sacrifice on the part of women.

Here are some photos, and finally a video as Bonnie swept the walls of one of the rooms.  Note that the scenes described above are only part of what covers the walls, and indeed the paintings extend all the way to the classic Mayan false vault rooftops.

Warrior with captive

Warrior with captive

 

Even the false vault roof is painted

Even the false vault roof is painted

 

Elders of the community in celebration

Elders of the community in celebration

 

These are the best preserved pre-Hispanic paintings in all of the Americas, and the color, the wonder of seeing paintings that are 1300 years old and still so vivid, far outweigh what we would probably think of as rather distasteful subject matter.