Friday, December 24, 2010

Copan Sculpture Museum: A Journey Through the Maya Universe

The ancient Maya city of Copan has been called the "Athens of the New World," mainly because of the remarkable stone sculptures that define these famous ruins in western Honduras. In order to preserve Copan's artistic treasures from the ravages of time, many sculptures have been replaced with on-site replicas and the originals moved to the spacious Copan Sculpture Museum next to the archaeological zone.

Visitors enter the partially buried museum through the toothy jaws of a Maya Earth monster and then proceed along a twisting tunnel that represents the path to the Maya underworld. Once inside the museum's vast atrium, they are confronted by a full-scale replica of Rosalila (Rose-Lilac), an impressive 1400-year-old temple that was discovered in 1989 beneath one of Copan's main structures.

Natural light from a huge opening in the museum's roof washes over Rosalila, bringing to life colorful stucco friezes depicting sacred ears of corn, birds, and two-headed monsters. Surrounding the two-story temple are hundreds of the finest stone carvings in the Maya world. They have been arranged to mirror Maya cosmology, which divided the universe into three levels: the underworld, the surface world, and the heavens.

Underworld denizens such as giant killer bats and wide-eyed demons populate the museum's lower floor, while heavenly beings and likenesses of Copan's nobles decked out in finery can be found on the upper level. Sections of intricately carved building facades are also on display, and the main gallery's ceiling has been decorated with Maya astronomical glyphs representing stars and planets.

Below is a slide-show of photos that I have taken on three visits (1996, 2006, and  2010) to the Copan Sculpture Museum. Move the cursor over the screen to read captions. Click on the images to see larger views and for information about ordering prints or leasing photos for personal or editorial use.

Copan Sculpture Museum - Images by John Mitchell

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