a view of the exterior of bonampak site, an ancient and majestic temple is visible

Bonampak – Temple of Murals

Bonampak is the temple of murals. It is an ancient Maya archaeological site in Chiapas, Mexico. The Bonampak was dependent on the Yaxchilan which is only 30 kilometers away. The site is not a unique site regarding architecture, but it has claimed its place through the murals in the three rooms of the Bonampak.

The site’s construction occurred in the late classic period (500 AD – 800 AD). It is home to the Maya murals that have high-quality preservation. The Bonampak murals set the record straight on the assumption that the Maya were a peaceful culture. The paintings depict war and human sacrifice among the Maya.

The first non-Mayans to see the site saw it in 1946. No accurate information on who was the first there. Speculations dominate on who was. First, some of the most know speculations are that it was two American travelers or photographers. The Americans got to the site through the guidance of a Mayan who paid visits to the ancient temples to pray. The photographer was the first to see the paintings that cover the walls on one of the rooms. The murals show war and victory.

a view of the bonampak murals looking at ceiling area of temple room

History of Bonampak

Bonampak and Yaxchilan leaders fought for supremacy. Bird Jaguar from Bonampak and K’inich Skull from Yaxchilan were in a battle in the 5th century that Bird lost. By 600 CE Bonampak was a part of Yaxchilan. During this time that Yaxchilan had Bonampak in its wraps, the commissioning of the murals took place. The king of Yaxchilan has Yaxchilan artists put up the structure in 790 CE. In the 9th century, Bonampak broke free from Yaxchilan.

The structures at Bonampak

Structure one at Bonampak was at the end of the eight century. It is 16 meters long, four meters thick and seven meters tall. It is on a T-shape platform, and speculations state that it had a roof comb. The structure has three rooms that each has murals with details on the ascension to power of Chooj, the son of the Bonampak ruler Yajaw Muwan.

There have been disputes as to the order of events, but most people just opt to view it in chronological order. You begin in the first room and end with the third room. The first room contains a sense of tribute, dressing, dance and musical performances. The second room depicts conflict, torture in the company of great members of court and echelons of the victorious. The third room has dance scenes, observers, and performance of rituals.

There are 281 human representations in the rooms. Most of them have captions, 1/3 have names while most the rest of them contain no titles. Theories are trying to explain why more than half have no captions while others have.

a view of the walls in the bonampak temple, figures are visible painted on the walls

One of the theories is deaths or due to change in politics. The Bonampak murals are not from one mind but a team of experts who put to work to realize these murals. Every person involved possessing a unique set of skills that brought about the realization of the walls in structure one.

The outside of the structure does not enjoy as much preservation as the rooms. It once had great color, hues of Maya blue, red and green. In 1996, a team of Yale University students led by their lecturer Mary Miller made the Bonampak Documentation where they studied the Bonampak murals even more.

Each of the rooms is a unique story that is rich in detail for those keen in observing. To understand the Bonampak murals, one needs to take the time to study each one in the believed chronological order. The history of Maya is extensively on the walls. They must have taken a chance to put up, but the expertise has seen to their presence centuries later.

intricate carvings into the wall adorn the bonampak temple

Room 1

The first room is where the opening scene is. There is an ongoing event acknowledging the right of Chooj to rule. There are visitors’ present and influential people in the land. The representation of the meeting is 77 human figures who are all carrying their particular functions in the event. The ruling class is clearly shown with the dressing that they have on and where they sit.

There is evidence of dancers and instrumentalists on the south wall towards the east wall. There is an assortment of entertainers visible and one of the figures depicts that of a modern day smoker. He holds a cigarette and shows a lack of interest or boredom in the event at hand. There are extensive details on the meeting in the first room.

Room 2

The second room shows the greatest battle ever shown in Maya art. It is the largest room and has 139 human figure, more than any other room. At first glance, you meet the south wall that has soldiers in battle. There are blasting trumpets as the actions pick pace. The wall brings to perspective one of the great Maya beliefs that is, being left hand is a sign of weakness. The warriors who loose are left hand users, and others stripped naked.

Every inch of the wall has a recap of the battle in detail and shows the power of the right hand as the ruler holds up a spear covered in jaguar skin with his right hand to show authority and victory. Some of the defeated soldiers are even shown to have two left hands.

Room 3

Here, in this room, there is a kind of celebration. It is a ritual celebration of being victorious in battle. There is blood spilling by the nobles. There are 65 human figures in this room. The first and most noticeable figures are the three individuals standing together.

The ruler’s son is seen kneeling, holding an ax in his right hand and what the heart of the sacrificial victim on his left hand. The heart is said to have been a still beating heart. The ritual ceremony also has dancers.

The Bonampak is the temple of murals that detail the lives of the Mayas and show an extended form of war, victory and human sacrifice among the Maya. To understand the details on the art, there have been publications on the murals that explain more detail the contents.