Copan Mayan Ruins

The Copan Mayan ruins are one of the biggest draws on any vacation to Honduras or elsewhere in Central America. These archeological remnants of a once-great Mayan city transport visitors to a long-past time before Honduras was even on European maps.

Copan is the site of the only Honduras Mayan ruins, but they are some of the finest Mayan ruins in Central America. Mayan culture dominated Central America in the first millennium CE, developing a complex social structure, written language, and huge cities unique in the history of Honduras. At its peak, around 200 to 800 CE, the Mayan Empire stretched from Honduras to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, evidenced today by numerous Mayan ruins in Central America: Chichen Itza in Mexico, Tikal in Guatamala, and the ruins of Copan in Honduras.

Archaeological excavation of the Copan Mayan ruins has found evidence of human habitation in the valley for at least 3,000 years. The settlement had its heyday in the seventh and eighth centuries, and most of the ruins of Copan date to this time. At its peak, the population of the city and the surrounding valley probably exceeded 20,000 people.

Archaeologists know much about the history of the Honduras Mayan ruins and the people who resided in the mighty city. More Mayan hieroglyphics have been found at the ruins of Copan than at any other Mayan ruins in Central America. The hieroglyphics trace the city's founding to a great king who ruled from 426 to 435.

A successor of the king, known as Smoke Jaguar, ruled from 628 to 695. He and his successor, Eighteen Rabbit, built the city into a military powerhouse in the region and constructed many of the surviving Copan Mayan ruins. A later king, Smoke Shell, who ruled from 749 to 763, built the impressive hieroglyphic stairs at the ruins of Copan, the longest inscription found at any Mayan ruins in Central America.

The reasons behind the decline of the Mayan Empire and the Honduras Mayan ruins are shrouded by mystery. Between 800 and 1200 the city underwent drastic decline, probably caused by overpopulation, deforestation, and drought, which placed a strain on the food supply.

By the time the first European colonist saw the Copan Mayan ruins in the late 16th century, the local inhabitants had no recollection of the great culture that had previously thrived on the site. Archaeological investigation into the ruins of Copan began in the late 19th century and subsequent research has done much to illuminate Mayan culture.

Today, the Copan Mayan ruins are a major draw for the tourists to Honduras. An archaeological agency manages the site and charges for admission to the ruins and an impressive sculpture museum. The ruins of Copan are a short walk from the modern town of Copan Ruinas. Tours are available from Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, and other cities in Honduras. A visit to the Copan Mayan ruins are an essential part of any visit to Honduras.

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