Copán is one of the three major Maya centers (besides Tikal in Guatemala and Chich'én Itzá in México). It has numerous structures and temples, much is in the surrounding forests, waiting to be excavated.

The main site of Copán is shown in the image map. Another site is at Las Sepulturas.

The Copán Stelae and the Maya ruler genealogy are described on separate pages.

All pictures are © Dr. Günther Eichhorn, unless otherwise noted.

Click on a temple to go to pictures for that temple.
Copan Map Temple 2 Temple 1 Stelae Temple 4 Stela 3 Temple 9 Ball Court Ball Court Temple 10 Temple 8 Temple 26 Temple 11 Temple 22 Temple 16 Temple 18 Temple 29 Temples

Temple 1

Temple 1 is at the west side of the Plaza de las Estellas. It is not excavated. Stele E is located on Structure 1.

Temple 1 Background Temple
Temple 1 is in the background, with Temple 9 in the foreground, and Temple 4 center right. (1059k)

Temple 2

Temple 2 is at the north side of the Plaza de las Estellas. It is not excavated. Stele D is located on Structure 2.

Temple 2 Background Stelae
Temple 2 is in the background, with the Stelae of the Plaza de las Estellas in the center. (925k)

Temple 4

Temple 4 is located in the Great Plaza at Copán. It is a single radial temple with 4 stairways, flat summit, and 4 terraced levels. It occupies the very center of the primary public space at Copán (dividing it in two somewhat smaller spaces) where the east and west causeways enter the Great Plaza - thus it is at the center of ritual space. Also at this place are two rows of stelae marking the end of the 15th k'atun of Maya history. All the monuments, Structure 4 and the associated stelae are the work of Waxaklajuun Ub'aah K'awiil (18 Rabbit), 13th ruler of Copán.

The dates on the stelae at Temple 4 countdown to the time of the end of the 15th k'atun. The Maya viewed a 4-fold structure for the temple cycle starting at a Long Count of (the 5-year quarter k'atun wasn't marked here). Stele F marks the half k'atun cycle date; Stele 4 has the ¾ k'atun cycle. The other 3 stelae mark the final countdown. Stelae H, A, B, are dedicated within 260 days of each other and span the internal tzolk'in cycle that culminates on Long Count - Aug. 18, 731 CE, the final day of time the stelae commemorate.

Stele H was dedicated on Long Count - Dec. 1, 730 CE. The last stelae in this small group is Stele B; it marks the ending of the k'atun. The intermediate Stele A falls just before the middle of the k'atun ending period. This is the next to last monument dedicated by 18 Rabbit, dating to Long Count - Jan. 30, 731 CE. It was dedicated 3 winals (=60 days) after Stele H and some 200 days before the cycle ending marked by Stele B. It has the longest text of the group and is the most revealing of rituals marking the k'atun ending. The 4 Ahaw ending dates for these monuments are similar to the day of creation itself. The Maya, as most other Mesoamerican civilizations, believed in a series of worlds created and destroyed by the Gods, beginning on Calendar Round 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk'u and this is mirrored by these stelae dates at Copán. 18 Rabbit seized on these cycles to make his monument grouping a symbolic recreation of the world where a ritual process could happen recreating the creation of the world by the Gods.

Stele A is adjacent to Temple 4, its cruciform foundation overlapping the temples northern foundation that is associated with 18 Rabbit. He added 2 stairways, making it 4 directional in plan in anticipation of the 15 k'atun ending. In all probability, the Stelae and Temple 4 were closely related The inscription on Stele A outlines the erection of the monument on the date of Calendar Round 12 Ajaw 18 Kumk'u, the month period is also 1 day before the end of the solar year. It represents the convergence of several cycles at that time with the iconography predominantly a solar theme. The inscription continues on the west side, with the erection of the monument, its name - The Great Sun (solar deity), then a distance number of 60 days (3 winals). It continues with the dedication date of Stelae H (Calendar Round 4 Ajaw 18 Muwan') which began the tzolk'in cycle. It then gives us the name of Stele H, then launches into a very interesting passage. This passage tells what rituals 18 Rabbit performed in the 60 day tzolk'in division between Stelae H and A. It concerns the death, afterlife, and rites of veneration of an ancestral ruler - Cauc Chan or Fire Serpent.

South Side Temple 4
South side of Temple 4 with Stele 3 in the foreground. (990k)
North Side Temple 4
North side of Temple 4 with Stele 4 and Stele A in the foreground. (1039k)
West Side Temple 4
West side of Temple 4. (1231k)

Temple 8

Temple 8 is located on the north-west corner of the Acropolis area.

Wall Hieroglyphs Top Structure
Wall with hieroglyphs on top of structure 8. (1209k)
Wall Hieroglyphs Top Structure
Wall with hieroglyphs on top of structure 8. (1160k)

Temple 9

Temple 9 is the west part of the Ball Court.

Temple 9 Center Platform
Temple 9 in the center with the platform at the north side of the Ball Court to the left and Stele 3 in the foreground. (871k)
South-east Corner Temple 9
South-east corner of Temple 9, seen from Temple 22A. Note the three Macaw heads at the top of the west terrace of the Ball Court. (1007k)
South-west Corner Temple 9
South-west corner of Temple 9, seen from Temple 8. (1240k)
South-west Corner Temple 9
South-west corner of Temple 9, with the Ball Court and Temple 10 in the background. (1047k)

Temple 10

Structure 10 is the east part of the Ball Court.

View Temple 10 Temple
View of Temple 10 from Temple 9, across the Ball Court. (1297k)
Temple 10 Corbeled Arch
Temple 10 with the corbeled arch (a false arch), and the Macaw head sculpture. (1157k)
Closer View Macaw Head
Closer view of the macaw head sculpture on Temple 10, with one of the macaw heads of the Ball Court at the bottom. (1134k)
Closeup Corbeled Arch
Closeup of the corbeled arch. (936k)
Top Temple 10 Corbeled
Top of Temple 10 with corbeled arch. (1292k)
Macaw Head Sculpture Temple
Macaw head sculpture on Temple 10. (1113k)
Closeup Macaw Head Sculpture
Closeup of macaw head sculpture on Temple 10. (1058k)

Temple 11

Temple 11 is at the north end of the Acropolis West Court.

Temple 11
Temple 11. (1210k)
Figure Front Temple 11
Figure on the front of Temple 11 in the center, showing the Wind God Ik. (1051k)
Figure Front Temple 11
Figure on the front of Temple 11 on the right side. (1194k)
Serpent Head Front Temple
Serpent head in front of Temple 11. Note the red paint on its eye. (1180k)
Altar Front Temple 11
Altar in front of Temple 11. The top shows water lilies. (939k)
Sculpture Head Old Man
Sculpture of the head of an old man, located on Temple 11. (1171k)
Original Head Old Man
The original of the head of the old man in the Sculpture Museum. (684k)
North Side Temple 11
North side of Temple 11, with Temple 9 at left. (1080k)
North Side Temple 11
North side of Temple 11, with Stele N at the bottom. (1405k)
Water Channel Running Under
Water channel, running under Temple 11. (1316k)
Large Ceiba Tree Growing
Large Ceiba tree growing on top of Temple 11. (1234k)

Temple 16

Temple 16 is located in the Acropolis in Copán. It was built by the the 16th ruler of Copán, Yax Pasaj Chan Yoaat or Yax Pac, completed in 776 CE. Structure 16 was build over a previous temple, the Rosalila Temple. This temple was not destroyed, it was ceremoniously covered intact. The Rosalila structure was found only in 1989. It had been built by the 10th ruler of Copán, Moon Jaguar.

In front of Structure 16 is the famous Altar Q.

West Side Temple 16
West side of Temple 16, with Stele P at left. (1317k)
West Side Temple 16
West side of Temple 16, with Stele P at left and Altar Q at right. (1271k)
North Side Temple 16
North side of Temple 16. (1173k)
"buddha" Statue Fill Temple
"Buddha" statue from the fill of Temple 16. It is one of the oldest full-round statues from Copán. (619k)

Temple 18

Structure 18 is located on the south-east corner of the Acropolis. It dates to 820 CE, the end of the Maya dynasty in Copán.

Temple 18
Temple 18. (1225k)

Temple 19

Structure 19 is located on the east side of the Acropolis.

Altar Top Structure 19
Altar on top of Structure 19. (827k)

Temple 22

The major architectural accomplishment of Ruler 13 was perhaps Temple 22, atop a large platform to the north of the East Court. This temple was conceived as the model of the primordial maize-sprouting mountain (wits) of Maya cosmology. Today most of its decorative sculpture lies in jumbled piles, but enough remains on the structure to make the identification secure. Large masks of the animated mountain spirit adorned each corner, and several large figures of the Maya maize were excavated from the ruins here before the turn of the century. Within the mountain-temple was an inner chamber, the door to which was itself sculpted with an image of the Maya night sky, with the Milky Way shown as an arching "cloud serpent." The step to this doorway bore a hieroglyphic text -- now lost -- that is one of the most extraordinary to have come down to us from all Maya sites. Its special qualities come not from what it says, but how it states its subject. It begins with the sentence: "On the day 5 Lamat is the completion of my k'atun (in office)." The k'atun is a period of roughly twenty years in the Mayan calendar, and the day five Lamat tells us that this is the twentieth year anniversary of Ruler 13's accession to the throne. The date of the building is thus clearly established to have been constructed at or around March 27, 715 CE. But notice here the use of the first person voice, "my first k'atun." These are the spoken words of Ruler 13 himself, and constitute the only known example of a quotation of an ancient Maya king.

We know now that by raising Structure 22, 18 Rabbit was re-creating a type of structure that had been built many time before by his ancestors, expressing their own special vision of Creation. This temple's last and most ambitious manifestation was constructed with mud mortar, a kind of construction that required constant and careful maintenance to ensure that its plaster seal did not leak and weaken the walls. Once no longer maintained, it deteriorated and collapsed. Today we have only fragments of the beautiful sculptures that once decorated it -- pieces found lying in the grass by the temple's feet -- but they are enough to help us contemplate the building's lost beauty and significance.

The replication of the cosmos in ceremonial architecture was one of the hallmarks of Mesoamerican architecture. The facade of Structure 22, toward the highest point of the Copán acropolis, faces south. The upper frieze of the temple reconstruction is carved into swirling volutes of celestial clouds, whose sky band is supported at both ends by the Pawahtun titans, as shown in one of the images. At the floor level several stone skulls appear, as if in the underworld. The entrance to Temple 22 is therefore, at the level of the earth, between the underworld and the sky

In front of the entrance are serpents fangs. The serpent was the most sacred animal of the Maya, the jaguar the second most sacred.

View Temple 22 Center
View of Temple 22 in the center, from across the East Court of the Acropolis. (948k)
Closer View Temple 22
Closer view of Temple 22 from Structure 19. (1002k)
Steps Temple 22 Serpent
Steps on Temple 22, with serpent teeth sculptures. (1054k)
Entrance Temple 22 Pawahtun
Entrance to Temple 22, with Pawahtun titans on the right and left, holding up the sky band. (841k)
Original Entrance Sculpture Museum
Original of the entrance in the Sculpture Museum. (725k)
Right Pawahtun Titan Holding
The right Pawahtun titan holding the sky band. (923k)
Right Pawahtun Titan Holding
The right Pawahtun titan holding the sky band in the museum. (870k)
Skull Motifs Bottom Entrance
Skull motifs at the bottom of the entrance to Temple 22. (1096k)
Left Column Entrance Temple
Left column of the entrance to Temple 22. (884k)
Sculptures Rain God Chac
Sculptures of the Rain God Chac on a corner of Temple 22. (770k)
Stonework Temple 22a Popol
Stonework on Temple 22A (Popol Nah). The criss-cross pattern is a symbol for power. (865k)

Temple 26

Temple 26 with the Hieroglyphic Stairway is just south of the Ball Court. In a whole city of grandiose art and architecture, the Hieroglyphic Stairway reigns supreme. This stairway climbs for 69 feet up the west side of Structure 26. Its construction was commissioned in two phases, the first by 18 Rabbit. Smoke Squirrel, one of 18 Rabbit's successors, ordered the construction of the complete staircase in 755. It is his portrait that appears in Stele M, standing at the bottom of the stairs. As visible in the larger image, portraits of originally six previous kings adorned the center of the stairway. The close-up shows the current condition of the glyphs that once lined the whole stairway. Remnants of red paint suggest that the stairs were also wholly painted.

Unfortunately much of the stairway had fallen down. The hieroglyphic inscriptions have been scrambled and are now unreadable. Only about 40% are in their original order.

Structure 26 Hieroglyphic Staircase
Structure 26 with the Hieroglyphic Staircase from the north. The cover takes away a lot of the splendor of this monument, but it is necessary in order to protect it. (1170k)
Temple 26 West
Temple 26 from the west. (1040k)
Hieroglyphic Stairway
The Hieroglyphic Stairway. (906k)
Closeup Bands Hieroglyphs Stairway
Closeup of one of the bands of hieroglyphs on the stairway. (995k)
Sculpture Stairway
Sculpture on the stairway. (973k)
Intricate Sculpture Found 1987
Intricate sculpture, found in 1987 in a newly discovered room in Temple 26. (624k)

Temple 29

Structure 29 is located on the south side of the Acropolis, north of the Cemetery area.

Sculptures Façade Temple 29
Sculptures on the façade of Temple 29. (873k)
Sculptures Façade Temple 29
Sculptures on the façade of Temple 29. (824k)
"buddha" Figure Patio Temple
"Buddha" figure from the patio of Temple 29. It was ritually decapitated. The head was serendipitously found in the fill of structure 32 during excavations in 1990. (599k)
Structure 29 Right Foreground
Structure 29 is in the right foreground, Temple 30 on the left and Temple 32 in the back. (1352k)

Temple 30 and Temple 32

Temples 30 and 32 are located on the south side of the Acropolis, north of the Cemetery area.

Structure 29 Right Foreground
Structure 29 is in the right foreground, Temple 30 on the left and Temple 32 in the back. (1352k)

Ball Court

While not the largest Ball Court of the Maya world (that honor goes to Chich'én Itzá), the Ball Court at Copán is monumental in its own right. It is in fact cataloged as Ballcourt A-III, and it was constructed after 18 Rabbit ordered the destruction of the previous Ballcourt A-IIb. This court was dedicated on January 6, 738, only three months before 18 Rabbit was seized by the rival Quirigua King K'ak' Tiliw Chan Yoaat and beheaded. Details of the ballcourt architecture in fact depict the king 18 Rabbit confronting one of the lords of the Underworld, whose arena the Ball Court represented. At least 16 birds appear in the court, including this exquisite stone macaw from the east wall, pictured in the right detail. The macaw's tail feathers bear the glyph for the day-sign akbal, "night."

South End Ball Court
South end of the Ball Court. (1103k)
View Ball Court Stele
View of Ball Court from Stele 2, with the Hieroglyphic Stairway behind it on the left. (953k)
View Ball Court North
View of Ball Court from the north end of Temple 10. (1046k)
Close-up View Ball Court
Close-up view of Ball Court from the north end of Temple 10. (1137k)

Los Sapos (Birthing Site)

About 3 km (1.9 miles) south of Copán, halfway up the mountain, is a small Maya site with some sculptures carved out of the bedrock, called Los Sapos. It was a birthing site, where women would go to give birth.

Rock Carved Sculptures Two
Rock carved sculptures of two toads at the birthing site. (1492k)
Rock Carved Sculpture Toad
Rock carved sculpture of a toad at the birthing site. (1.5M)
Rock Carved Sculpture Toad
Rock carved sculpture of a toad at the birthing site. (1485k)

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Page last updated on Tue Sep 24 18:19:03 2019 (Mountain Standard Time)

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