Copán was once the most important center of the ancient Maya civilization. About 20,000 people lived around its 15 square miles, thriving within the well designed plazas, temples and monuments. Don't miss the opportunity to relive this glorious past, by visiting Copán and enjoying its museums as an excellent guide into years long gone.
Copán is located in a well-maintained park set in the fertile Copán River valley, which was a site of agriculture long before the first known stone structures were built in the region about the 9th century BC. A kingdom seems to have been established in Copán in 159, known in ancient times as Xukpi (Corner-Bundle), an apparent reference to the fact that it was situated at the far southern and eastern end of Maya territory.
The dynasty that flourished under sixteen rulers in the Classic period was established in 426. It grew into one of the most important Maya sites, becoming a regional power, and large monuments dated with hieroglyphic texts were erected in the city from 435 to 822.
The development of the site was aided by a long period of stability, particularly during the long reign of Smoke Jaguar (628-695), whose 67 years on the throne was remarkable in a society where the average life expectancy was 35 years and whose stela is in the grassy courtyard of the West Court. It suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of its former vassal state Quirigua in 738 but, after a period of decline, Copán's rulers began to build monumental structures again within a few decades.
In the ninth century Copan, like other cities in the region, withered in the as a result of unsustainable population growth bringing about the depletion of natural resources. The area continued to be occupied by squatters after the last major ceremonial structures and royal monuments were erected and the population declined from perhaps over 20,000 in the city to less than 5,000. The ceremonial center was abandoned and the surrounding valley contained only a few farming hamlets when the Spanish arrived in the 16th century.
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