Tag Archives: Tenochtitlan

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.



Tenochtitlan: Aztecs Under the Cathedral, Mexico City

The Aztecs dominated Mexico for over two hundred years and left a legacy for many more centuries than they existed. They created modern Mexico and called themselves Mexicas.

Tenochtitlan under the Cathedral, Mexico City

Remains of the Aztec Empire and their city Tenochtitlan continue to be discovered in the heart of Mexico City after archeologists started excavations in 1978.


Yesterday, I spent three hours in the archeological site and adjoining museum and it was not enough. While nowhere near as extensive as the famed Anthropology Museum, this archeological site holds the keys to the kingdom. Many Mexicans claim their identity from the Aztecs, and nationalism and its attendant symbols are rooted here.


For all the times I have visited Mexico City, I must confess that this was my first visit to Tenochtitlan. Bad me. I would recommend it as a starting point to anyone wanting to know more about Mexico culture, beliefs and identity.

Serpents are important Aztec symbols

Serpents are important Aztec symbols

The museum holds many important pieces that have been discovered over the years, most recently the wall of skull masks.  Skulls figure prominently in pre-Hispanic Mexican tradition, symbols of conquest, ancestor worship and the continuous journey of life to death.

Skull wall detail

Skull wall detail

Ceramic and stone sculpture of deities like the Chac Mool, Tlaloc and Eagle Warrior are housed here, too, along with trade jewelry and articles used for ritual sacrifice. There is a section on natural history, textiles and other art forms.


The site is different each time I view it above from the restaurant terrace at El Mayor (top floor, Libreria Porrua bookstore).  A tribute to INAH‘s dedication to restore Mexico’s pre-Hispanic history.


On this day, it was cloudy and overcast, the sky filled with rain clouds. My photos are shades of gray and muted colors as I continue to practice with the new Olympus mirrorless camera with Zuiko 12-40mm lens.


How to Enter Tenochtitlan: By foot, walk by the front of the Cathedral toward the Palacio Nacional. Make a left turn at the plaza with all the larger than life bronze sculptures by Javier Marin. Continue to the end where you will see an entry kiosk. Admission is 65 MXN pesos (about $4 USD at today’s exchange rate).  Wear a sun hat or take an umbrella for shade. No food or beverage allowed.

Three stone figures lay where they were found

Three stone figures lay where they were found

Two spaces left in the Textile Study Tour, February 3-11, 2015, featuring the ikat rebozos of Tenancingo de Degollado, Estado de Mexico. Contact me!


Around the Zocalo, Sunday in Mexico City

MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-138Sunday is family day in Mexico. Most people work a long six-day week often until eight or nine at night, so this is the only time they have together for an entire day. On this particular Sunday, the Zocalo is filled with families flying kites across the great expanse that looks as huge as Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

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I love to stay in the historic center of Mexico City to walk the cobbled streets, take in the murals and enjoy the street life. There is a deep sense of ancient history here reflecting Aztec roots. The Templo Mayor is nearby with an impressive archeological dig going on to uncover more of Tenochtitlan.


For art glass lovers, two buildings boast art nouveau glass domed ceilings. The central atrium of the upscale department store Palacio de Hierro has a fine example. The other adorns the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico. The hotel is at the corner of the Zocalo (entrance on Av. 16 de Septiembre) and the store is a block away.

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On this particular Sunday, the last before Easter vacation ends and Mexican school children must return to the classroom, we are approached by youngsters needing to complete their school assignments: interview a foreigner who speaks English and record the interview. It is almost dusk. Time is running out. Parents are at hand with tablets and hand-held devices to help get this done.

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We finish off the Zocalo stroll at the rooftop restaurant of Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico with a mango mezcal margarita rimmed with worm salt and a magnificent Zocalo view as the sun sets.

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Then, it’s off to Calle Isabel la Catolica #30 for a grand finale dinner at Azul Historico.

Be sure to catch the indigenous clothing gallery, Remigio, on the second floor of Isabel la Catolica #30 featuring hand-woven garments with natural dyes.  Right next door, avant clothing designer Carla Fernandez offers hand-carved wood bracelets from molinillo parts. Both shops close at 6 p.m. on Sunday, 8 p.m. other nights.

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In the same building, behind the central stairway, is a mural by artist Manuel Rodriguez Lozano called the Holocaust — not to be missed!

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Lots to do in just a few square blocks.

Some of the highlights of our Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Art History Tour of Mexico City. Contact me if you want to join in winter/spring 2015-2016. MexCityPeacocks_StrLife-136