Suitcase and World: Las ruinas y museo. Templo Mayor.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Las ruinas y museo. Templo Mayor.

It was a given that we would see Templo Mayor on our visit to Mexico City. I had done so much pre-trip reading about it that I pretty much knew where it was located but just to be certain, I had double checked with Rudolfo yesterday. He confirmed that the site was just around the corner from the Cathedral so that's the direction that we headed in. Of course, the brother was skeptical but I've learned that he has a really bad sense of direction so I insisted he follow in my footsteps.

It's summer holidays so it felt like the whole of Mexico was walking through the zócalo, sharing the sidewalks and plaza with dozens of food and souvenir vendors. 

Walking confidently, as if I knew the route in my head, I led the way....weaving my way through the crowds, , past all the vendors, past the Cathedral and around the corner.   Up ahead I could see a booth.  That turned out to be the entry to the site.  We paid 110 pesos for entry and headed in.  Walking past the ruins, we had to first deposit our backpacks in storage.


Just as we headed out to make our way around the ruins, we bumped into one of guards.  He was pointing and saying something in Spanish.  I didn't realize what he was trying to tell us until much later - he was basically pointing us in the direction that we were to start our walk. Instead, we walked the site in reverse.  Not a problem really.  I just means that you see the newer parts of the site first.  By newer, that means the parts of the site where the Spaniards built the buildings atop the Aztec ruins.

The ruins at Templo Mayor are still being excavated so sections are covered with roofing to protect the ruins as well as to shield the archaeologists from the elements.

Excavation work on the site began back in 1978 and the artifacts that have been recovered are now housed in both the Templo Mayor museum, which we would visit after our walk around the site, as well as in the National Anthropology Museum.  Of course, the most famous of the artifacts is the Piedra del Sol aka the Aztec Sun Stone which we had a chance to see yesterday.

Some of the carved steps of the original temple can still be seen. 

Carvings of serpents are reminders that the temple was dedicated to Huitzilopochtli (the Aztec god of war) and to Tlaloc (the Aztec god of rain) can be seen in various locations around the site.

Of course, I was on the hunt for tzompantli (skull rack) that I had read about.  And I saw it!  With site that's still under excavation, you never know if something gets covered up or not. But, there it was and it was amazing!  My brother was momentarily worried that I had an inexplicable obsession with skulls until I explained to him the significance of the rack.  I think he was relieved but still no more interested in the rack than before he heard my explanation.

The Templo Mayor museum lies at the end if the circuit that takes you around the site - presuming you walk the circuit in the right direction.   Since we went the wrong way to begin with, we actually had to double back to get to the museum.

The museum is not large but it is very nicely laid out.  There are eight rooms, spread out on several floors, displaying the museum's collection.

If you walk the rooms in chronological order, which we did, you end back up at the entrance.

There weren't any audio guides to rent so as we entered into Sala 1, I was hoping there would be signs in English.  Luckily, there were some.

As I walked through the collection rooms, I marvelled at the beauty of the art before me.  The Mexicans are very, very lucky.  Unlike many other countries, they have been able to recover and keep many of their heritage treasures.  I guess when the Spaniards plundered the Aztec ruins, they were really only interest in anything that was made of gold, leaving behind everything else which was a lot.

The artistry of the ancient cultures of Mexico is truly something to behold and the Aztecs seemed to be the ones that elevated stone and clay carving into a true art.  I loved it all, every single piece I laid my eyes on.

Of course, what really captured our attention were the giant and I mean giant, stone reliefs.  Two stone reliefs stand out in particular.  One depicts the mythical story of Coyolxauhqui.

The story of Coyolxauhqui. According to Aztec mythology, the pregnancy of Coatlicue, the Mother of Gods, embarrassed her children including her oldest daughter, Coyolxauhqui.  One day, as she was sweeping the temple, a few hummingbird feathers fell into her bosom. Coatlicue’s child, Huitzilopochtli, sprang from her womb in full war armor and killed Coyolxauhqui, along with their 400 brothers and sisters. He cut off her limbs, then tossed her head into the sky where it became the moon, so that his mother would be comforted in seeing her daughter in the sky every night.

The stone relief depicts this story. On this disk, Coyolxauhqui is shown spread out on her side, with her head, arms and legs chopped away from her body. The orbiting full moon in the stone carving reflects her position as the moon goddess. She is distinguished by bells of eagle down in her hair, a bell symbol on her cheek, and an ear tab showing the Mexica year sign. As with images of her mother, she is shown with a skull tied to her belt.

It was the discovery of this disk in 1978 that led to the excavation of the Templo Mayor.

The story of Tlaltecuhtli. The other monolith size stone relief depicts Tlaltecuhtli who is the Earth Goddess.

The story goes that the creation of this world could not have occurred without Tlaltecuhtli. The rivals Quetzcoatl and Tezcatlipoca were planning on creating a new world, but they were horrified when they first set eyes on Tlaltecuhtli; she not only had massive fangs in her jaws, but also on her elbows, knees, and other joints. The two decided that their new world could not possibly survive with a terrible creature such as Tlaltecuhtli in it, so they decided to kill her first.

They transformed themselves into serpents and tore her apart.  One piece became the earth and the other became the sky or heavens. Quetzcoatl and Tezcatlipoca acted without authorization from the other gods, though, and they weren't happy with their decision. In order to placate Tlaltecuhtli, who didn't really die, they decided that her body would give rise to the plants which are necessary for human survival. Her eyes, for example, became the sources for springs and rivers while her hair became the trees.

The stone relief of Tlaltecuhtli was the last thing we looked at before leaving the museum.  On our way out, we stopped to retrieve our backs from storage.

When you have fantastic ancient Aztec ruins located smack dab in the middle of the city, you have no excuse but to go visit them.  Even if you have absolutely no knowledge of anything Aztec, you'll learn a lot just visiting this one spot.  I most certainly did!

Next on the agenda.  The National Palace to see the famous wall mural by Diego Rivera!