It is a bright winter afternoon, just days before Christmas, when I walk onto the vast Zócalo. It looks smaller than usual: there are two skating rinks on which Mexicans try out skates, and there is an artificial hill where people can try sledding on artificial snow. Then, there are many shops around, and when I walk towards the entrance of Templo Mayor, it is almost impossible to make my way forward through the thick crowd. To my surprise, when I reach the entrance, I see few people down at the ruins, so I buy my ticket and enter into history. I am at the southwestern side of the temple complex, and thanks to the clear explanation panels everywhere, I quickly gather a deeper insight into the history of the temple, and its recovery in recent decades, leaving me always more impressed.
First to catch my eyes, are the serpent head sculptures sticking out of walls that seem to be capsizing. Actually, Templo Mayor was first built in the early 14th century, and expanded six times after that. Together with the bland soil under the temple, no wall is standing straight. Perhaps the fact that the temple was hidden in the ground for several centuries helped preserve it? Fact is, that when the Spanish conquistadores led by Hernán Cortes reached Tenochtitlan, as Mexico City was then called by the Aztecs, Templo Mayor was the foremost place of worship for the Aztecs. According to legend, it was constructed precisely at the spot where the god Huitzilpochtli indicated the Mexica people (the Aztecs) was their promised land. It consisted of two major pyramids dedicated to Huitzilpochtli, god of war and sun, and Tlaloc, god of water and agriculture, as well as many other, smaller, buildings. At around 30 metres in height, they must have been impressive. Nothing remains of the pyramids: the 7th temple was destroyed by the Spanish, who considered the Aztec religion blasphemy. They built a Spanish-style city on top of the Templo Mayor, built a church nearby, and for centuries, the Templo Mayor was forgotten under the ground.
In the 19th century, various people started to wonder where the Templo Mayor was located exactly. For a long time, it was assumed the Spanish had built their church on top of the temple, but there were also theories it was located a little to the northeast. It was only in 1978, when workers of the electric company were digging in the soil, that they stumbled upon a massive stone disc. It showed the goddess Coyolxauhqui, dismembered by her brother Huitzilpochtli, and the find would spark excavations that still continue to this very day. I walk the ruins, where in some parts you can clearly see the layers of various stages of the temple complex. There are the serpent heads and toads, there is a chacmool, guardian statue on a shrine for Tlaloc, the god of rain and agriculture. There is the House of the Eagles, with surprisingly well preserved sections of the interior, with brightly coloured paint still on them. There are other shrines and buildings, with skulls, with red paint, with statues. And to top it all off, there is the very interesting museum of the Templo Mayor, full of artifacts found at the excavations, as well as explanations on the history of the temple, its symbolism, its value for the Aztecs, the lack of respect shown by the Spanish conquistadores, and its re-discovery. The history of the museum can be seen from the entrance of the museum which is located more or less where the mighty pyramids once stood: the ruins lay in front of you; in the background, the colossal cathedral on the Zócalo, only marginally higher than those pyramids once were.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Templo Mayor (Mexico). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Templo Mayor. Read more about this site.