‘Discovered’ only in 1990, Balamkú boasts a remarkably ornate, stuccoed frieze that bears little resemblance to any of the known decorative elements in the Chenes or Río Bec styles. Well preserved, with traces of its original red paint, the frieze is a richly symbolic tableau that has been interpreted as showing the complementary relationship between our world and the underworld.
Along the base of the scene, stylized seated jaguars (referred to in the temple’s Maya name) represent the earth’s abundance. These figures alternate with several grotesque fanged masks, upon which stand amphibianlike creatures (toads or crocodiles?) that in turn support some royal personages with fantastically elaborate headdresses. Readers of Spanish can find more details in the explanatory diagrams that front the frieze.
The solid stone that hid the frieze for centuries has been replaced by a protective canopy with slit windows that let in a little light. The door is kept locked, but the site custodian will usually appear to open it and give you a tour (no flash photography allowed).
Balamkú is 91km east of Escárcega and 60km west of Xpujil (2km past the Calakmul turnoff), then about 3km north of the highway along a fissured road.