It was the capital city of a major Classic period kingdom from the 5th to 9th centuries AD. The city was located in the extreme southeast of the Mesoamerican cultural region, on the frontier with the Isthmus-Colombian cultural region, and was almost surrounded by non-Maya peoples. Copan is an archaeological site of the Maya civilization located in the Copan Department of western Honduras, not far from the border with Guatemala.
The Copan site is known for a series of portrait stelae, most of which were placed along processional ways in the central plaza of the city and the adjoining acropolis, a large complex of overlapping step-pyramids, plazas, and palaces. The site has a large court for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame.
The Hieroglyphic Stairway, climbing the west side of Structure 10L-26 in the Main Plaza has 10 meters (33 ft), a total of 62 steps and 2,200 glyphs that together form the longest known Maya hieroglyphic text.
Copan is also the most widely studied Maya site up to present time. The city has a historical record that spans the greater part of the Classic period and has been reconstructed in detail by archaeologists and epigraphs. Most of these discoveries are available to the public in a special network of tunnels beneath existent structures to reveal those below.
The city also developed a distinctive sculptural style within the tradition of the lowland Maya, perhaps to emphasize the Maya ethnicity of the city’s rulers. This sculptural style, unique in the Maya World can easily be appreciated and compared to other Maya cities in its world class Maya Sculpture Museum showing most of the original stelae, several buildings’ frisos, and a full size replica of the Rosalila Temple with its elaborate detail and color, discovered entombed intact under later phases of the temple during archaeological tunneling work.
Copan has achieved the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980, an official distinction that proclaims the Copan’s outstanding value for present and future generations.