This magnificent stone pyramid, which I snapped a screenshot of while inside a panorama on Google Earth, is called the “Temple of the Inscriptions.” It’s located in a complex of ruins at Palenque, in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. Although smaller than other classical Mayan sites like Chichen Itza, Palenque is often cited as the most picturesque and interesting sites left over from the wonderful, astonishing and mysterious culture of the Maya.

Palenque was one of the capitals of Mayan civilization in the height of its glory, which was in the early Middle Ages. Although the zenith of this site was during the 7th century CE, some ruins here date all the way back to 226 BCE, underscoring just how long-lived the Mayan culture was. The Temple of the Inscriptions itself is the tomb of one of the greatest Mayan rulers, K’inich Janaab’ Pakal, more popularly known as Pacal. Ascending to the throne at age 12, Pacal ruled for an incredible 68 years, finally dying at the age of 80 in 683 CE. His remains were found inside this pyramid by Mexican archaeologists in 1948.

I’ve been looking at the Palenque site quite often on Google Earth for the past few months. A crucial scene of my recently completed novel The Valley of Forever takes place here, and a key part of the plot involves two characters who are trekking across Mexico specifically to see the ruins at Palenque. I chose the site not just because it’s an exotic and picturesque locale, as you can plainly see, but because it’s a living embodiment of a place that’s “frozen in time,” an important theme in the book.

Palenque was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.