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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Photography, Travel & Tourism
Tagged archeology, art, Aztec, history, Mexico City, Templo Mayor, Tenochtitlan, tourism, travel