On the southern edge of the central plaza of Palenque, set against a steep limestone hill, the Temple of the Inscriptions held a remarkable secret for centuries.
In 1948, Alberto Ruz investigated four curious stone plugs in the floor of the temple and discovered a secret passage filled with rubble. It took four long seasons to remove the rubble from the steep and slippery stairway that came to a landing then changed directions and continued on for 80 feet below the temple floor and 5 feet beneath the level of the central plaza.
Behind a triangular slab door, Ruz made a discovery that would change the world's view of Maya pyramids -- an amazing stone chamber that housed an elaborately carved sarcophagus and the remains of a royal person along with a multitude of jade and other artifacts. It was not until epigraphers learned to decipher the glyphs on the sarcophagus and the inscriptions in the temple above that these remains could be identified as Hanab Pacal.
It was Pacal himself who had this magnificent pyramid built and his heir, Chan Bahlum who completed it. The temple rises 75 feet high and the roofcomb would have added an additional 40 feet. This must have been an impressive sight from the northern plains, visible from miles away.
There are eight stepped terraces to the base of the temple, each banded with a molding that lends a horizontal line to the structure. A narrow stairway leads up to the temple.
The front of the temple is composed of five doorways separated by 5 piers. Chan Bahlum used these surfaces for stucco illustrations of his divine legacy. Each bas-relief carving depicts an adult presenting the young heir, who is shown with both human characteristics (with six fingers and toes that also appear elsewhere on adult portraits of Chan Bahlum) and divine attributes - such as the snake-like appendage in lieu of one leg and foot.
Inside the temple, two large vaulted chambers house three glyphic panels which are the second longest known inscription by the ancient Maya. Here is recounted the dynastic history of Pacal's ancestors.
A curious feature to this structure is a duct that runs from the tomb, up the sides of the interior stairs to the temple floor. Many theories have been proposed as to the purpose of this duct, such as being a channel for Pacal's spirit to communicate with his descendants during bloodletting rituals on the temple above. Based on the observation that during the winter solstice the sun appears to set into the temple, following the path of the interior staircase, I suggest that this duct provided a path for the setting sun to take directly to Pacal's remains.