From Tegucigalpa I took another long bus to the small town of Copan ruinas. They are located right next to the amazing Mayan ruins here. The ruins are an amazing glimpse into an ancient civilisation, they are surrounded by a rain forest. There are symbols of many different types of animals, which each had a special meaning to Mayan people. Scarlet maccaws were considered sacred, and there are some domesticated ones that are fed at the entrance to the site, and fly around between the sculptures.
There are sculptures built in honor of the Mayan Kings, in particular one king, Rabbit 18 -my guide even showed me the symbol for his name in Mayan hieroglyphics.
The park is full of sculptures to the Kings, and in front of them are alterpieces, some of these are for burning incense, which would be burned in elaborate containers, others were for animal sacrifices, and others were for human sacrifices! Three human sacrifices, of the best athletes would be made each year. This was considered a great honour, where the athlete would go on to a great life in the next world.
The site also holds a huge ball court where players would play a game where they would hit a rubber ball with their hips and legs (but not their hands). The ball court, changing rooms, goals (the carved stone heads of scarlet macaws) and a large stadium for seating are all still there, over one and a half thousand years since they were built.
There is also a huge carved scarlet Mccaw overlooking the ball court. When it was used, it was partly painted red, as were many of the sculptures on the site. Traces of the red paint still remain.
The site also has other buildings, an observatory, the Kings quarters, where decisions were made, an area for festivals, the hieroglyphic stairway that details the history of the Kings of Copan. There are symbols everywhere that represent the Mayan view of the world, encompassing the different worlds of the living and dead. Animal symbols played a huge part of the tradition, and each had different meanings. My guide also noted that women had many powerful positions in the Mayan world, and had many roles including as astronomers, high shamans, physicians, mathematicians. I am sure this ancient society would have thought it strange and silly for Western society to turn us ladies away from work in these fields, even as recently as less than a hundred years ago! Ancient Mayan society wasn't an egalitarian paradise though, these amazing stone structures were largely built by slaves. Not only that, but the ones we can see actually are several cities deep. As each King died, part of this city would be covered over, and other buildings would have to be built by the poor slaves. This also means that currently archaeologists are digging tunnel after tunnel beneath the ruins and finding more and more!
As we walked around there were some great displays of what the site would have looked like in Mayan times. Almost all of the buildings would have looked red, the trees that now largely cover the site were cleared, and the ground was white. The royals sat drinking a delicious cup of hot cocoa and watching the game. Although Mayan society definitely had its dark sides, it is fascinating to have a glimpse into this ancient and sophisticated world nonetheless. I am so glad I went with my guide, Obed, as he was very knowledgeable and talking with him really brought the place to life.