Tag Archives: Aztec

From Mexico City: Under the Cathedral, An Aztec Empire

Far below Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest in the Americas, lies the archeological treasure trove that was once Tenochtitlan, the City of the Aztecs. It is known as Templo Mayor.

Archeological discovery continues in Mexico City under the Cathedral

First discovered and excavated in 1978, archeologists believe there are seven pyramid levels beneath what is now visible at the site next to the great Catholic church.

Only a fraction has been excavated under the Cathedral

It was the Spanish practice throughout New Spain, in Mesoamerica and South America, to destroy indigenous religious/cultural edifices and use the building materials to construct churches and administrative centers on top of the toppled.

Braziers used for sacrifice in Templo Mayor Museum

Each layer, filled in with silt by a succession of Moctezuma‘s, who built taller and grander edifices to mark their ascendency to lead the Aztec empire, now sinks into the swamp that underlies the great North American city.

Stucco and painted friezes in the Eagle Temple, Templo de las Aguilas, Tenochtitlan

Most of the buildings in the historic center of Mexico City are sinking, leaning and are at risk of toppling. The entire Zocalo area is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for this reason.

Entry to Carmelite Ex-convent Santa Teresa, circa 1616, Mexico City

Next to the Templo Mayor is a contemporary art exhibition space that was once home to Carmelite Ex-Convento de Santa Teresa, built in 1616. You will pass by as you exit the archeological site onto Moneda Street that borders the Palacio Nacional.  Click here for a printable Map.

My camera is square; the floor isn’t. Extreme slant!

The Ex-Convento is leaning dramatically. Its front gates have always been closed. Over the New Years holiday weekend, when Jacob and I visited the Templo Mayor, lo and behold, the gates were open and I wanted to explore. As I stepped over the threshold, we entered a dizzying space — stepping onto a steeply tilting floor. My instincts were to grab the walls.

Sistine Chapel-esque, Ex Convento Santa Teresa ceiling

When I stay in Mexico City, I usually choose the Hotel Catedral, just two blocks from the Zocalo at Donceles 95. Nothing fancy. Good customer service, basic rooms, clean, and a delicious breakfast.

Torment of Cuauhtemoc, by David Alfaro Siquieros, at Museo Bellas Artes

There is so much to revisit, see and do, within eight square blocks. I never tire of repeating visits to the Rivera, Orozco and Siquieras murals. I never tire of eating at Azul Historico or Los Girasoles or El Mayor. I never tire of people watching.

I’ve watched this dig develop over the last two years

I always ask for a room at the back of the hotel facing the Cathedral. For the last several years, I have watched a vacant colonial house being transformed into an archeological dig from my hotel window.

On the walking street, Francisco I. Madero, Mexico City

All around the area there is transformation related to restoration and archeological discovery. Beneath Argentina Street you can see newly exposed Aztec carved stone covered by plexiglas pyramids. It gives perspective about where we walk and what came before us.

Black Christ, Metropolitan Cathedral, Mexico City

Mexico City is now one of the world’s most important travel destinations. It is safe and filled with amazing art, culture, food and shopping. I hope it’s on your bucket list.



Xochimilco: Connecting to Mexico’s Aztec History

The Xochimilco (so-chee-milko) floating gardens of Mexico City constructed by the Aztecs long before the Spanish conquest to support agriculture and small village life is at risk of extinction.  To take a boat ride along the waterways that extend for miles around the islands, called chinampas, is to experience what life may have been like then and for me is an essential part of knowing Mexico.  It has always been important for me to link past with present as a way to understand what the future may hold.


Leave the dock in a Venetian-style gondola painted in primary colors and within twenty minutes the boatman has you in a serene natural environment beyond the hectic, urban center of the Xochimilco neighborhood.

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Float by and see the greenhouses and nurseries where Aztec descendents grow ornamental plants and vegetables just like their fore bearers.  Known as floating gardens, they are in fact Aztec-made islands anchored to the lakebed by centuries of rock and humus.  Degradation from encroaching waterlilies and illegal squatters threaten their fragile existence.

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To help with preservation, Xochimilco was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.  Yet, rare species of wildlife are at risk and the canals are filling in and becoming polluted.  Go while you still can!

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On Sundays, local families and tourists fill all the gondolas you see in the photo above.  Many stay on the water for six or eight hours.  A curious sight is to see a “side-car” gondola attached to the one carrying people from which cooks prepare and serve meals.   Other side-car gondolas carry minstrels and mariachi music-makers to entertain, or you can pull up to a comedor situated canal-side complete with boat dock.  Our Thursday afternoon excursion was much more tranquil.  We could concentrate on the natural beauty.

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It’s not easy to get here.  The neighborhood is in the southern part of the city and takes a good forty-five minutes to more than an hour to travel from Mexico City center depending on traffic, which is fierce during most hours of any weekday.  Ask your hotel to book you a driver.  We paid 120 pesos an hour. The boat ride was 300 pesos an hour for up to twelve people, so we asked our driver Fabian if he wanted to join us.  He did.  He was thrilled and loved the experience, a first for him.

This was an extra-long day.  We spent the morning at Casa Azul, The Frida Kahlo Museum, the home she shared with Mexican muralist-artist Diego Rivera.   The Coyoacan location was much closer to Xochimilco than where we were staying at El Patio 77 in the San Rafael district, which we liked very much by the way!


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After we got to Xochimilco around one-thirty in the afternoon, we made a beeline to the public market in search of fast-food tamales and blue corn tacos for lunch. Not exactly street food, but pretty close.  (Hunger called. We ate the tamales so fast we forgot to take photos.)