Across a small stream from the Temple of the Inscriptions and the Palace, the South Group, also known as the Crosses Group, rises from an elevated bluff. The group contains three temples, all built during the reign of Kan Balam, the son and heir of Pakal the Great.
The largest and most prominent structure in the group is the Temple of the Cross, standing atop a nine-level pyramid-like base and crowned by a grand roof comb. Inside the upper structure—unfortunately you are not permitted to climb the stairs—is a shrine where archaeologists discovered a remarkable relief carving relating the ascension of Kan Balam to the throne, and his place among a long line of rulers.
In the carving, Kan Balam is pictured with his father, Pakal the Great, on either side of an ornate “world-tree,” a stylized cross symbolizing a sacred ceiba tree, which in Maya cosmology joins the corporal world to the mythic upper and lower realms. Pakal is dressed in funerary clothes, suggesting he has already died, and indeed the text describes Kan Balam visiting his deceased father to receive the accoutrements of power.
The two figures are flanked by extensive hieroglyphic text telling of ancestors, gods, and former rulers, meant to legitimize Kan Balam’s claim to power. Side panels depict Kan Balam wearing the full paraphernalia of royalty after his accession as well as a wizened figure archaeologists classify as God-L, a lord of the underworld, shown smoking a cigar and wearing an owl-feather headdress.
Archaeologists also discovered a major tomb at the base of the Temple of the Cross, containing the headless body of an official, perhaps the governor of a neighboring city, and hundreds of pieces of jade. They also found a collection of extremely fine ceramic figurines and incense burners, many of which are on display in the museum.
On the South Group’s east side, a winding path leads up a steep incline to the Temple of the Foliated Cross. The structure is much deteriorated, but notable for the large keyhole-shaped niches in the corners of its upper facade. And like the Temple of the Sun, the enclosed gallery contains a terrific relief carving depicting Kan Balam assuming kingly power and duties from his deceased father, this time in the form of a bloodletting tool. The cross between them is adorned with corn leaves (hence the temple’s name), symbolizing life and the birth of mankind, and a striking forward-facing deity representing rebirth.
The Temple of the Sun is the smallest of the three temples, but in many ways the best preserved. Built atop a modest platform on the grouping’s west side—climbing is prohibited here as well—its pillars, facade, and roof comb have elaborate stucco decoration. Although you can’t see it from below, the temple contains yet another relief carving depicting Kan Balam and Pakal the Great at the former’s enthronement. Instead of a cross between them, however, there is a disk-like shield, held up by two kneeling deities and representing the sun and warfare.
© Liza Prado and Gary Chandler from Moon Chiapas, 1st Edition