Seen in the ancient Maya ruins of Cobá, Quintana Roo, Mexico:
The more I read about Maya sites, the more complex I find the ball courts to be — or at least, the myriad forms they often take. If you’re curious, this ball court was built in an older, somewhat classic form — the side walls are mostly sloped, and the ends of the court are open. To take in this scene, though, you’re standing with a modern structure to your back — a covering for some pieces of sculpture. This calls for a wide lens, and a stitched multi-image panorama on top of it.
In Palenque‘s Cross Group ruins, the Temple of the Sun is definitely the “cover girl” of the group’s three structures. This is a bit ironic since it’s the shortest of the three temples, as it was dedicated to the most minor of Palenque’s triad of patron deities. But for one reason or another, it has weathered the intervening years more gracefully than have its siblings. So, its relatively good condition makes it the most photogenic member of the group.
This image was made from the steps of the tallest group member, the Temple of the Cross.
A compact string of five ruins, the North group sits at the north side of the cleared part of Palenque. You can walk around all of the group’s structures, but you can’t really get a good frontal shot of the five together due to a few pesky trees. I took this photo from the front steps of the Temple of the Count, probably the best vantage point if you want to photograph them together.
It took me considerably longer than I’d hoped — but A Photographer’s Guide to Palenque is now out and available for purchase! Â It’s a brute of a guide book at 65 pages in length (if you printed it on regular 8.5″ x 11″ / A4 paper), has a dozen maps and one or two images for every structure open to visitors — a steal at $4.99.
And of course, don’t forget that a purchase also gains you access to a host of online material — an editable shot list, wallpaper for your computer or tablet, bigger maps than I can pack into an eBook, etc.
Probably one of the most-photographed sights at the ancient Maya ruins of Palenque, it’s the Palace’s tower:
On the days we visited Palenque, we had to deal with pretty persistent clouds — not a huge deal, if you have a few ways to handle them. Â In this case, I used NIK HDR Efex Pro 2 to avoid losing the shadowed parts of the tower and get a little drama in the otherwise-featureless clouds. Â It’s on the edge of looking “over-cooked,” but I think it works for this image.
The funny thing in retrospect is that in order to get this shot, I had to stand on what once were the Palace’s toilets. Â Good thing they haven’t been used for a thousand years.
If you’re planning on travel to Palenque in the near future, I’m doing final edits to myÂ “Photographer’s Guide” eBook forÂ the ruins at Palenque. Â Should hit the (metaphorical) streets by Wednesday. Â Stay tuned…
On the south end of the Maya ruins of Sayil, Mexico (along the “Puuc Route“):
Did I mention this is down on the south end of Sayil? It’s a good kilometer south of the bulk of the ruins, but a pretty easy walk (carry water, naturally). This was originally a 2-storey structure, but the top floor has completely collapsed. The Puuc Classic Mosaic false columns (they’re limestone veneer) on its faÃ§ade are pretty impressive, though.
At Sayil (one of the larger sites along the Maya “Puuc Route“), the Palace is the marquis attraction, but about 350 meters (1300 feet) southeast of it along a marked path is this interesting structure:
It was dubbed El Mirador (“The Lookout”), but was once a 5-room temple on a low pyramid. This shot is from the north (rear) and shows the 2 surviving rooms, and the surviving half of the once much-wider roof comb.
A.K.A. the Temple of the Skull, from the stucco carving of a rabbit’s skull at the base of one of the temple’s pillars.
In the 1990s, archaeologists found a passageway leading from the temple to a burial chamber for a person of some importance (likely local royalty) and his attendants. This is one of the first structures you see when you enter the ruins of Palenque.
Likely the best surviving example of Puuc-style architecture, at the ancient Maya ruins of Uxmal, Mexico:
Many Maya structures still bear the nicknames given whimsically to them by their re-discoverers in the 19th and 20th centuries. Whether by luck or prescience, the name of this structure fits it surprisingly well — archaeological work here indicates that it was once used by the rulers of Uxmal in its heyday.
The largest (by volume) structure at Calakmul, Campeche, Mexico:
From this spot, the pyramid actually looks much smaller than it really is. The part you see from the base here is actually a later addition (more accurately, collection of three additions) to the original pyramid, which then rises even further behind this bit in the front. In all, Structure II has a base covering 120 x 120 meters (394 x 394 feet), and stands 45 meters (148 feet) tall.