On June 23, 1989, Honduran archaeologist Ricardo Agurcia Fasquelle (now the Executive Director of the Copán Association) discovered a unique and remarkable ancient temple. While exploring under Temple 16, he found the best-preserved example of monumental architecture at Copan. He named it “Rosalila” (rosalila means rose-lilac color in Spanish), in keeping with the accepted system of naming temple after colors.
Rosalila was not destroyed by the ancient Maya, like other buildings archaeologists have found. It was carefully buried with much ceremony. Its rooms, moldings, and niches were carefully filled with mud and stones, while its elaborate stucco panels were covered with a thick layer of white plaster. This plaster still protects Rosalila’s many layers of original paint.
Rosalila’s Facts & Figures
Rosalila is 12.9 meters tall and has three stories. The upper two levels serve as a giant pre-Columbian billboard and display complex religious artwork from the Early Classic. The lower level has four rooms; each room is long and narrow and only by walking through the first three can you reach the central and most intimate room. Within these sacred spaces the Maya carried out elaborate ceremonies while the building was in use, and later, as they carefully buried it, these rooms were where the Maya cached beautiful offerings.
The building’s base measures 18.5 by 12.5 meters, and the principal facade faces west. The temple is located over a three-meter tall terraced pyramid, named “Azul.” It is small compared to others in Copán, which can reach up to 20 meters. Like all other temples constructed over the Acropolis’ central axis, the principal steps face west, the direction the Maya associated with the entrance to the other world, the world of the dead, the place where the sun died daily. There are seven steps on the principal stairway and the fifth step has a hieroglyphic dedication date: February 21, 571 A.D. This date is close to the end of the reign of Moon Jaguar, the tenth ruler of Copan.
Function of Rosalila
The internal walls of the temple were covered with soot from the burning of incense and torches, not unlike the walls of many old churches. Inside the temple were numerous artifacts that reflect ancient religious practices. Agurcia found seven ceramic incense burners with charcoal still inside; two of these lay upon sculpted, stone jaguar pedestals. He also found offerings of flint knives (for sacrificing), nine elaborate eccentric flints (ceremonial scepters) wrapped in the remnants of a deep blue bag or cloth, carved jade jewelry, conch shells, stingray spines (perforators for blood-letting rites), shark vertebrae, jaguar claws, and remains of flower petals and pine needles. Some of these remains (particularly the incense burners and the flowers) recall religious practices still in use among the modern Maya.
Rosalila was the principal religious sanctuary at Copán in the late 6th century AD. It is the most completely preserved example of the art and architecture of this period discovered to date. Like the cover of an illuminated manuscript, the facades are elaborately decorated with complex religious messages. The themes are cosmological, and emphasize the Sun God, K’inich Ahau – divine patron for Maya kings, and the spiritual namesake of the founder of the dynasty, K’inich Yax K’uk Mo’.
The Copán Association sponsored much of the investigation, conservation, and presentation of Rosalila to the public. It helped create the Rosalila visitor’s tunnel and the Copan Sculpture Museum. Without the hard work and funds contributed by the Association, the impressive Rosalila temple would not be the icon of national identity and pride that it is today.