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Copan has been dubbed the "Athens of the Maya world", where art and astronomy flourished. While there were larger and more grandiose Maya cities in Mexico and Guatemala and the structures at Copan are fairly modest in comparison to Tikal, it does boast more carved monuments then elsewhere. Here the intricate, swirling, decorative art surpasses art of other Mayan cities and of other civilizations prior to the arrival of the Europeans.
Located in a fertile valley, Copan was probably settled as early as 2000 B.C. but its Classic era spanned just a few hundred years, from around 465 A.D. to around 800 A.D.. During this period of recorded history, construction, reconstruction, astronomical discoveries and artistic expression were most intense.
While it developed in much the same way as other Maya cities, its Classic era saw more complicated, more beautiful buildings erected right on top of existing buildings, pottery became more complex and the custom developed of memorializing rulers and royal families and recording history on buildings and monuments and in tombs, using numbers and glyphs.
The main ceremonial center of Copan covers about 75 acres, but this is only a part of the original city.
Copan is most famous for its stelae, some reaching as high as 12 feet. Generally erected to celebrate an important event, intricate carvings depict ruling figures, symbols of power and elaborate glyphs depict dates and detail history.
Of main interest at the Great Plaza or Ceremonial Court, with stairways on three sides; the Central Court; the Acropolis and the Ball Court with Copans most notable treasure, the Hieroglyphic Stairway with more than a thousand glyphs set in 63 steps.
Located just 102 miles to the
south-west of San Pedro Sula and just 12 miles from the border with Guatemala, the ruins
are about a kilometer outside the town of Copan Ruinas.
The drive out of San Pedro Sula takes about 2 and a half hours traveling over mountains and through valleys to the banks of the Copan River where this ancient city is located.
Day trips are available from San Pedro Sula but that makes for a long day with less time at the ruins.
More popular are overnight trips, staying at one of the hotels in the area, and having more time to explore the ruins at your own pace.
Other activities that can be arranged when spending one or more nights at Copan include horseback trips to the outlying sites of "El Sapo" and the residential area of "Las Sepulturas", a soak in the hot springs, a visit to a coffee plantation, mountain biking, river tubing on the Copan River and a visit to the village of Chonco known for its indigenous people, the pottery and hand woven mats.