March 3, 2010

Ruins! Teotihuacan – Tenochtitlán – Great Pyramid of Cholula

At last, we're in the Oaxaca Trailer Park after hoping to get here for years! It's spring, the purple jacarandas are blooming.
One of the reasons for being here is that we are fascinated by historic ruins. All sorts, forts, pueblos, etc., but especially archeological. We’re not historians but like to walk,  look, prowl the sites, and just imagine…the time, the people, and the life. And also hope to retain some of the info for awhile!

There are several restored ruins to see around Oaxaca, so we'd better tell you about three sites we've visited previously, just so that we don't get too far behind.

Mexico’s numerous indigenous peoples developed some grand civilizations that rose and declined. Some  cultures achieved far-reaching influence, with trade connections north to the present U.S. and south to perhaps Honduras and beyond. They grew, subsided and traded power from prehistoric times until the Spanish arrived on the continent and brought things to a screeching halt.

Here we go...
Teotihuacán, State of Mexico.  
We started withTeotihuacán, Mexico's largest
ancient city - huge! Massive! This extensive site would take days to fully explore. We gave it two. The Pyramids of the Moon and of the Sun (this is third largest on earth), smaller temples along the Avenue of the Dead and the ruler's headquarters in the Citadel have been sufficiently restored to let your imagination complete the scene with thousands of scurrying residents, all intent upon fulfilling their
roles and serving their rulers, who interceded
with the  gods.                                        Pyramid of the Moon and the Sun (the dots are people on top)

This was a generally peaceful culture, though human sacrifice did exist. In the eighth century the city was burned, plundered and abandoned, but some of their gods were still worshiped by the Aztecs when the Spanish arrived a millenium later.

Teotihuacános had a complex artistic iconography full of meaning that is not yet fully understood. Feathered serpents, shells, pumas and parrots predominate. We saw brilliant surviving frescos at the outlying Tetitla complex, where paintings once lined the walls of every room. The drawings are not decorative, but carry significance in every detail. Pumas circled this room. This guy is drinking from a feathered shell.
We were not alone in the room with the fancy green eagles.
Tenochtitlán - Templo Mayor, Mexico City.
When Cortez arrived in about 1520 with his small force of men, he found the great Aztec city Tenochtitlán on an island in the center of a shallow lake. Through Cortez’ devious means and an Aztec legend that predicted arrival of a fair-skinned god, the city came to an end.

To make a point, Cortez demolished Tenochtitlán and established Mexico City upon the ruins in the marshy lake. The soft ground has been a bane for the city ever since. The Aztec city was forgotten until 1978, when electric workers discovered an eight-ton carved stone disc underground, just a block from the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Zocalo.
A city block was razed and excavation has exposed what researchers believe is the spot where in 1325 the Aztecs saw an eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its beak. This long awaited omen decided the location of their grand temples and city, and is the symbol of Mexico today.

Excavation of the Templo Mayor allows us to glimpse the past and modern Mexico City simultaneously.

The Aztec religion demanded increasing levels human sacrifice, and they went to war with other tribes to secure victims that were needed for the dedication of each new temple. Some believe that as many as 20,000 went under the knife at altars such as this when the last temple was built. The resentful tribes supported Cortez in overcoming the Aztecs. That's payback!

The site has a museum that is not to be missed! This is a very large sculpture.

The Great Pyramid of Cholula, State of Pueblo.
Usually, the Egyptian pyramid of Cheops is considered the biggest, but in terms of volume, Cholula's Tepanapa, the Great Pyramid of Cholula, is the largest edifice ever constructed on earth.
After 600 a.d., Cholula fell to various tribes in turn. When Cortez arrived, the pyramid was already somewhat grown over. However, he slaughtered thousands of residents, then determined to squash the local beliefs by building a church atop the prominent religious site. The Catholic Church must have made an impression with the gorgeous Santuario de Nuestra Senora de los Remedios! 

This interesting image in the museum seems to include Malinche, an Indigenous woman Hernan Cortez met on the Gulf Coast who played an active role in the Spanish conquest as interpreter, advisor and intermediary. She also gave birth to Cortez' son, perhaps the first mestizo! She remains a potent symbol of betrayal to this day. Learn more on Wikipedia.

The frescos in the museum are different in form and design than those of the other sites we saw. This image is about pulque,a drink made from the agave plant that we hear is mildly alcoholic. Look closely, you'll see them lifting brown clay cups! 
Imagine! There is no road to the church at the top!  How do the old folks attend services? I admit that WE did not hike to the Santuario. It was hot! It was also hazy, and the incredible view of Mexico's great snowcapped volcanoes Popocatepetl, Iztaccihuatl and Malinche was totally obscured by haze or smog! Besides, we wanted to pack up for the next morning’s drive to Oaxaca.

The quite laid-back vendors were waiting for us
at the exit, in the center of Cholula.
I bought some corn husk flowers.

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