Templo Mayor was a temple in the capital city of the Aztecs, Tenochtitlan, in what is now Mexico City.
History of Templo Mayor
The Templo Mayor would have been the most important building – some even argue it would have been seen as the centre of the universe – in the thriving Aztec (Mexica) city of Tenochtitlan, which once had a population of over 200,000 people. The city was conquered by Hernán Cortés in 1521, and he subsequently razed much of it to the ground – including the Templo Mayor. In its place, the imposing 17th century Catholic cathedral of Mexico City was built as an assertion of power and dominance over native peoples.
Templo Mayor was built by the people of Tenochtitlan as a shrine to the deities Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc, and there’s extensive evidence of human sacrifice taking place here, including a tower made from over 650 human skulls that had been written about by conquistadors but its existence had never been confirmed. Archaeologists believe there may well be royal Aztec tombs to be uncovered, but as yet nothing has been discovered of this sort.
Templo Mayor today
The Templo Mayor site is well worth visiting today. The remnants of the temple can be wandered around (you’ll have to pay to go inside), and there’s an excellent museum on site which houses much of the material found during excavations.
Seemingly every time any digging is done in the area, new masterpieces are uncovered. In the 1970s, electricity workers discovered a huge stone depicting the decapitated goddess Coyolxauhqui, who was murdered by her brother Huitzilopochtli, the god of war and human sacrifice. Climb the stairs to view it from above to get the full effect.
Guides lurk by the entrance – if you want one, check they have official ID. They can be extremely enlightening and make a tangible difference to your experience and understanding of the site. The site is closed on Mondays.
The Templo Mayor site is in the historic heart of the city, just off the Zocalo and next to the imposing Spanish baroque Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven. It’s believed more of the Templo Mayor site are located underneath the cathedral but cannot be excavated today.
Coyolxauhqui (pron. Koy-ol-shauw-kee) was the Aztec goddess of the Moon or Milky Way who was famously butchered by her brother Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, in Aztec mythology. This story was commemorated in a celebrated large relief stone found at the foot of the pyramid of sacrifices, the Templo Mayor at the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan.
Coyolxauhqui vs. Huitzilopochtli
Coyolxauhqui, whose name signifies 'Painted with Bells', was considered either the sister or mother of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war and patron of Tenochtitlan. In the first version of this mythical duel, Coyolxauhqui upset her son Huitzilopochtli when she insisted on staying at the legendary sacred mountain Coatepec ('Snake Mountain', also spelt Coatepetl) and not following Huitzilopochtli's plan to re-settle at a new site – the eventual Tenochtitlan. The god of war got his own way by decapitating and eating the heart of Coyolxauhqui, after which he led the Aztecs to their new home.
In the second version of this family strife, rebellious Coyolxauhqui led her 400 brothers, known as the Centzon Huitznaua (the 'Four Hundred Huiztnaua' who represented the stars of the southern sky), in a bid to kill her mother, the goddess Coatlicue. The pretext for this attack had been the news that Coatlicue had become pregnant in somewhat bizarre and dishonourable circumstances. Performing her duties, one day, as a cleaner at the shrine on the top of the sacred mountain Coatepec, a ball of feathers suddenly descended from the heavens and when Coatlicue tucked this into her belt it miraculously impregnated her. The resulting child was none other than the powerful warrior Huitzilopochtli.
Coyolxauhqui's plot came unstuck, though, when one of the Huiztnaua lost heart and decided to warn the still unborn Huitzilopochtli. Rising to his mother's defence the god sprang from the womb fully-grown and fully-armed as an invincible warrior. In another version, the god springs from his mother's severed neck after Coyolxauhqui had decapitated her. Either way, with his formidable weapon, the xiuhcoatl ('Fire Serpent') which was actually a ray of the sun, the warrior-god swiftly butchered his unruly siblings and, chopping up Coyolxauhqui into several large chunks, he lobbed the pieces down the mountainside. The head of the goddess was tossed into the sky and so became the moon.
This gruesome sibling myth may symbolise the daily victory of the Sun (one of Huitzilpochtli's associations) over the Moon and stars. That is even if the association with the moon has no particular archaeological evidence to support it and some scholars have argued that Coyolxauhqui was, instead, associated with the Milky Way.
The Great Coyolxauhqui Stone
The myth of Coyolxauhqui's demise at the hands of Huitzilopochtli was commemorated in a large stone disk, known as the Great Coyolxauhqui Stone, which was excavated at the base of the Templo Mayor, Tenochtitlan. It depicts in high relief the dismembered and decapitated corpse of Coyolxauhqui and dates to c. 1473 CE during the reign of Axayacatl. The goddess wears only a warrior's belt with skull, a headdress with eagle down feathers, and a bell on her cheek. The Templo Mayor pyramid was actually a twin shrine to the rain god Tlaloc and the war god Huitzilopochtli. A double staircase climbed the temple, and the disk was placed, significantly, at the base of the steps leading to Huitzilpochtli's shrine. It was atop this temple that humans were sacrificed and their bodies dismembered and tossed down the steps to land at the base, just as in the myth on Snake Mountain.
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Besides reminding of the importance of Huitzilopochtli, the stone was also a stark warning to the enemies of the Aztecs who saw themselves as the victorious warrior Huitzilopochtli. Defeated warriors led up the steps of the Temple Mayor for the ultimate sacrifice would have been reminded that they were soon to be the equivalent of the defeated Coyolxauhqui.
The 3.4 m (10.5 ft) diameter stone was re-discovered in 1978 CE when workers were excavating the basement of a bookstore in downtown Mexico City. In condensing a three-dimensional scene onto a two-dimensional plain, it is one of the great masterpieces of Aztec art and now resides in the Museo del Templo Mayor in the city in which it was discovered.
Other Representations in Art
Other notable representations of Coyolxauhqui are a fragmentary greenstone (diorite) slab which is older and (along with a stucco sculpture of the goddess) lay beneath the stone disk described previously. This earlier stone shows Huitzilopochtli's xiuhcoatl weapon piercing the goddess' chest and probably dates to the reign of Motecuhzoma I (1440-1469 CE).
Another famous representation of Coyolxauhqui is a large greenstone severed head found at Tenochtitlan which was probably carved during the reign of Ahuitzotl (1486-1502 CE). The goddess once again has the golden coyolli bells on each cheek. This head now resides in the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
The Main Temple of the Aztecs
The Mexica people (also known as the Aztecs) founded Tenochtitlan, their capital city, in 1325. In the center of the city there was a walled area known as the sacred precinct. This is where the most important aspects of Mexica political, religious and economic life took place. The sacred precinct was dominated by a large temple that had two pyramids at the top. Each of these pyramids was dedicated to a different god. One was for Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, and the other was for Tlaloc, the god of rain and agriculture. Over time, the temple went through seven different construction stages, with each successive layer making the temple larger, until it reached its maximum height of 200 feet.
Hernan Cortes and his men arrived in Mexico in 1519. After just two years, they conquered the Aztecs. The Spaniards then demolished the city and built their own buildings on top of the ruins of the former Aztec capital. Although it was always known that Mexico City was built over the city of the Aztecs, it wasn't until 1978 when electric company workers uncovered a monolith depicting Coyolxauqui, the Aztec moon goddess, that the Mexico City government gave permission for a full city block to be excavated. The Templo Mayor museum was built beside the archaeological site, so visitors can now see the remains of the main Aztec temple, along with the excellent museum that explains it and contains many items that were found on the site.
Quick Facts on Templo Mayor
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||19.435110° N, 99.131393° W|
Mexico City, Mexico
|Hours:||Tue-Sun 9am-5:50pm (last ticket sold 5pm)|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Templo Mayor|
Human Sacrifice: Why the Aztecs Practiced This Gory Ritual
When the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés and his men arrived in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán in 1521, they described witnessing a grisly ceremony. Aztec priests, using razor-sharp obsidian blades, sliced open the chests of sacrificial victims and offered their still-beating hearts to the gods. They then tossed the victims’ lifeless bodies down the steps of the towering Templo Mayor.
Andrés de Tapia, a conquistador, described two rounded towers flanking the Templo Mayor made entirely of human skulls, and between them, a towering wooden rack displaying thousands more skulls with bored holes on either side to allow the skulls to slide onto the wooden poles.
Reading these accounts hundreds of years later, many historians dismissed the 16th-century reports as wildly exaggerated propaganda meant to justify the murder of Aztec emperor Moctezuma, the ruthless destruction of Tenochtitlán and the enslavement of its people. But in 2015 and 2018, archeologists working at the Templo Mayor excavation site in Mexico City discovered proof of widespread human sacrifice among the Aztecs—none other than the very skull towers and skull racks that conquistadors had described in their accounts.
While it&aposs true that the Spanish undoubtedly inflated their figures—Spanish historian Fray Diego de Durán reported that 80,400 men, women and children were sacrificed for the inauguration of the Templo Mayor under a previous Aztec emperor𠅎vidence is mounting that the gruesome scenes illustrated in Spanish texts, and preserved in temple murals and stone carvings, are true. Why did they carry out such brutal ceremonies? John Verano, an anthropology professor at Tulane University, explains the practice held spiritual significance for the Aztecs.
“It was a deeply serious and important thing for them,” says Verano. Large and small human sacrifices would be made throughout the year to coincide with important calendar dates, he explains, to dedicate temples, to reverse drought and famine, and more.
The rationale for Aztec human sacrifice was, first and foremost, a matter of survival. According to Aztec cosmology, the sun god Huitzilopochtli was waging a constant war against darkness, and if the darkness won, the world would end. The keep the sun moving across the sky and preserve their very lives, the Aztecs had to feed Huitzilopochtli with human hearts and blood.
More than 650 skulls and thousands of fragments found near Templo Mayor.
Daniel Cardenas/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Human sacrifice also served another purpose in the expanding Aztec empire of the 15th and 16th century: intimidation. The ritual killing of war captives and the large-scale displaying of skulls were visceral reminders of the strength of the empire and the extent of its dominion. DNA tests of recovered victims from the Templo Mayor site show that the vast majority of those sacrificed were outsiders, likely enemy soldiers or slaves.
Verano says that across history and cultures, the rise of ritual human sacrifice often coincides with the emergence of complex societies and social stratification. It’s a particularly effective method of intimidating rivals and keeping your own people in line. Just look at the gladiator battles of Imperial Rome or the mass burials of servants and captives alongside Egyptian pharaohs and Chinese kings.
Also, as hard as it is to imagine, many captured soldiers, slaves and Aztec citizens went willingly to the sacrificial altar. To give your heart to Huitzilopochtli was a tremendous honor and a guaranteed ticket to a blessed afterlife fighting in the sun god’s army against the forces of darkness.
The nature of warfare during the height of Aztec power was also unique. By the late 15th century, the Aztecs had won control over large swaths of central and southern Mexico. The only remaining holdout was the neighboring city-state of Tlaxcala to the east.
An Aztec priest removing a man&aposs heart during a sacrificial ritual, offering it to the god Huitzilopochtli.
Instead of engaging in violent battles to the death, the Aztecs and Tlaxcalans agreed to fight so-called 𠇏lower Wars,” ceremonial battles in which the goal was to capture, not kill, as many enemy combatants as possible. Verano says that these battles provided an important venue for young Aztec warriors to gain social status by bringing home a gaggle of captives, some of whom would ultimately be sacrificed.
In addition to slicing out the hearts of victims and spilling their blood on the temple altar, it’s believed that the Aztecs also practiced a form of ritual cannibalism. The victim’s bodies, after being relieved of their heads, were likely gifted to nobleman and other distinguished community members. Sixteenth-century illustrations depict body parts being cooked in large pots and archeologists have identified telltale butcher marks on the bones of human remains in Aztec sites around Mexico City.
While it was long theorized that Aztecs only engaged in ritual cannibalism during times of famine, another explanation is that consuming the flesh of a person offered to the gods was like communing with the gods, themselves. As off-putting as it sounds, Verano says that ritual cannibalism most likely existed among the Aztecs and would have been considered not only normal, but a great honor.
Dave Roos is a freelance writer based in the United States and Mexico. A longtime contributor to HowStuffWorks, Dave has also been published in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek.
Templo Mayor - History
When the Spaniards arrived in Tenochtitlan in 1519, the Aztec capital’s main shrine stood 150 feet high. Little still stands of that building today because the Spaniards demolished it and used its blocks to build their own cathedral, known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary, within sight of the remains of the once soaring temple. Possibly unknown to the Spaniards, however, at least six earlier versions of the Templo Mayor still lay underneath the structure they destroyed, the result of each successive ruler building his own temple on top of the previous one.
Since the early 1980s, archaeologists have been delving into those earlier layers, gaining a look at how the Aztecs worshipped decades before the conquest. Because these remains had been buried since the 1400s, they are giving researchers an unprecedented look at classical Aztec society. One of the first artifacts they excavated was a monumental stone disk dating from an early phase of the temple’s construction, around 1400, depicting the moon goddess Coyolxauhqui, a figure from the Aztec creation myth. In the legend, the goddess was decapitated and dismembered at the hands of her brother Huitzilopochtli as punishment for disrespecting their pregnant mother. Archaeologists have concluded from the chopped-off human limbs and heads excavated near the temple’s base that the grisly scene was reenacted regularly at Huitzilopochtli’s altar on the summit. Rows of skulls made of stone and stucco, still visible today, had their counterparts in actual skulls excavated nearby.
The carnal nature of Aztec worship has long intrigued researchers, in part because its focus on blood-drenched sacrifice in the public square had few parallels in other Mesoamerican societies. Scholars suggest that the elites may have felt insecure in their power, and responded with these grandiose, intimidating rituals. “You get a sense of who ran society and how they made themselves loom large over it, monumentalizing themselves, and how they expressed power with these acts,” says Harvard University historian David Carrasco. Sacrifice was also closely linked to warfare—the victims were mostly battlefield captives—and thus to economic domination over neighboring states, explains archaeologist Eduardo Matos Moctezuma.
Templo Mayor Museum
8 Seminario St., Downtown, Cuauhtemoc, D.F., 06060. Phone (55) 4166 0780 extensions 412930 y 412933
Admittance and Services
Visiting hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 9:00 to 17:00. The $80 MXP fee includes the admission to the museum and the archaeological site. Children under 13, students, teachers and senior citizens presenting a valid ID do not pay. Free admission on Sunday. There is a fee if you are willing to shoot with a videocamera. Temporary exhibitions, auditorium, library, guided tours, museum miniguide, educational workshops, summer courses, bookstore, parking lot, wheelchair facilities, checkroom. Student advisory.
The Templo Mayor Museum was inaugurated in 1987. This building was designed to exhibit the archaeological findings of the zone that used to be the Main Temple of Mexica peoples. The collection shows the political, military and aesthetic relevance of the city that dominated Mesoamerica before the Spaniards arrived. The Coyolxauhqui monolith discovery on 1978, enabled the archaeologists to find the exact place where the pyramid stood, since the Huitzilopochtli myth tells that he threw his sister down from Coatepec mount.
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Templo Mayor - History
The opening ceremony of the sixth Great Temple of Tenochtitlan on 19 December 1487 was quite unlike one a modern head of state or religious leader would ever expect to attend. Warriors dressed as eagles guarded the route to an imperious, stepped pyramid. Drums beat to a hypnotic rhythm. Near naked men joined hands and sang. The atmosphere was festive. Menacing, too.
At the climax of the ceremony, prisoners of war were taken to the top of the steep steps of the pyramid leading to two shrines. Held down, the victims’ abdomens were sliced open by high priests wielding ceremonial knives, and their hearts – still beating – were raised to the spirits above and the crowd in the sacred precinct below.
The lifeless bodies of those sacrificed were then kicked down the stairs, and as one followed another, these flowed with blood, bright red against the white of the temple walls. Over the four days of the opening ceremony, some 4,000 prisoners were killed to satisfy the Aztec gods and perhaps to frighten anyone who even began to think of challenging this harrowing, yet compelling American empire.
The exterior of the unearthed Templo Mayor in Mexico City (David R Frazier Photolibrary Inc/Alamy)
This, more or less, is what happened in what is now Mexico City shortly before Christmas 1487 and less than five years before Christopher Columbus and his expedition set sail from Spain for what they thought would be India and proved to be a “new world” on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Temple of doom
Europeans at the time knew nothing about the Aztecs and the origins of their legendary seven tribes remain unknown today. The people who called themselves both Tenochla and Mexica may have migrated to Mexico from California in the late 11th Century. What we do know is that they found their way to the Valley of Mexico and in 1325 founded their city Tenochtitlan on a marshy island. Like Venice, this protected them from enemies in a strange land. Like Venice, too, Tenochtitlan was built on wooden piles driven deep below water, and like Venice again, it became a city of canals, wondrous buildings, elaborate festivals, imperial ambition and mystery.
In 1945 Diego Rivera painted this mural of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec city that in the early 16th Century was bigger than any in Europe (Danita Delimont/Alamy)
Aztecs spent lavishly on religious buildings. Their gods were fierce and had to be appeased with human hearts and blood. Work on the principal temple – Huei Teocalli in the Aztec’s Nahuatl language, or Templo Mayor in Spanish – began soon after the foundation of Tenochtitlan. It was to be rebuilt six times before the arrival of the conquistador Hernán Cortés in 1519. Each time it was rebuilt it grew in scale. It retained, though, its essential form, that of an imposing stepped pyramid incorporating twin stairs leading to the shrines of the deities Huitzilopochtli (god of war) and Tlaloc (god of rain and fertility). A lower circular temple devoted to the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl, who predated the Aztecs, faced this main structure.
By 1497, when the sixth temple had been completed, the Aztec king Ahuitzotl had doubled the size of his empire. The Aztecs and their world of rational urban planning, sophisticated sanitation, running water, daily baths, dominant temples and insatiable human sacrifice seemed set to last forever.
And yet what Hernán Cortés saw in 1519, newly arrived from Cuba during the reign of the Aztec king Moctezuma, was the seventh and last recreation of the Templo Mayor. What Cortés saw was certainly impressive. We know from the Spaniards’ own accounts that this was the largest of 78 buildings in the sacred precinct at the heart of Tenochtitlan.
Hidden behind a curtain in one of the shrines, Bernardino de Sahagun, a Franciscan friar, glimpsed the idol of Huitzilopochtli. It was made from seeds bonded with honey and human blood. Each year, the idol was dressed in gorgeous robes and wearing a gold crown was shown to the people at a festival that ended with their eating this image of their god of sun and war.
Hernán Cortés and his conquistadores captured Tenochtitlan in 1521 and eventually was buried beneath the new buildings of Mexico City (North Wind Picture Archives/Alamy)
Cortés was enthralled by such experiences, by the sheer scale of Tenochtitlan – with a population of approximately 250,000 it was far bigger than any contemporary European city – and by its generous stocks of gold. However fierce their eagle warriors and blood hungry gods, the Aztecs fell prey quickly to Spanish trickery, firearms and disease. Welcomed at first as Quetzalcoatl himself, Cortés scythed a remarkably easy and unsparing path through the Aztecs. When Pedro de Alvarado, his second in command, heard of a plan to retaliate, he trapped thousands of unarmed Aztec nobles in the sacred precinct during a religious ceremony and had his men cut them to pieces.
Cortés the killer
And that was the end of the Aztec Empire, of Moctezuma, Tenochtitlan and the Templo Mayor. Surviving Aztecs – many of those not put to the sword died of smallpox shipped from Spain – were expelled from their city, which the conquistadores then demolished. A Catholic cathedral was built on top of what had been the Templo Mayor and its sacred precinct.
Life marched on as New Spain grew and turned into Mexico. Tenochtitlan and the Templo Mayor were all but forgotten, as were Aztec gods and culture. Early excavations made by the pioneering Mexican archaeologist Leopold Batres in the late 19th Century were cursory, while further digs made between then and World War Two were seen as little more than a nuisance by those living in the elegant residential streets of this central quarter of Mexico City. Public excitement and systematic excavation of the site only really began in the final quarter of the 20th Century.
The discovery of this stone disk depicting the Aztec moon goddess Coyolxauhqui in 1978 prompted the excavation of the rest of the Templo Mayor (Miguelao/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 2.0)
In 1978, workmen uncovered a huge, eight-tonne sculpted stone disk depicting the scattered limbs of the Aztec moon goddess Coyolxauhqui. A presidential decree gave permission for the happily named archaeologist Eduardo Matos Moctezuma to uncover what his team could of the temple. This involved the controversial destruction of colonial houses, but thousands of Aztec objects were found prompting the building of the Templo Mayor Museum designed by the Mexican architect Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, a modernist who fused pre-Columbian forms into his acclaimed works.
The Templo Mayor Museum, located next to the actual ruins, contains artefacts excavated from the temple, like this ‘wall of skulls’ (Corbis)
Today, the archaeological quest for the Templo Mayor continues and the area has been designated a Unesco World Heritage Site. Much has been discovered: sections of the temple and its several layers dating back to the early 14th Century, palace rooms and their built-in baths, the House of the Eagle Warriors, a school for priests and wonderful writhing sculptures of sacred snakes and serpents.
Even then, so many treasures, along with the tantalising story of a people, a culture and religion that appear to have vanished in an instant in the early 16th Century, remain buried beneath the buildings, monuments and churches of modern day Mexico City. Because of this – although ingenuity and new archaeological techniques will surely help in future – our knowledge of the Aztecs will remain frustratingly incomplete for many years to come. The Aztec people still exist, yet their faces blend into the crowds of Mexico City and, folklore aside, memory is not enough to recall the worlds of Ahuitzotl, Moctezuma, Tenochtitlan and the haunting rituals that took place in and around the Templo Mayor 500 years ago.
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Honoring the History and Culture of Mexico at the Templo Mayor
The Templo Mayor (Great Temple) has resided in the central area of what was once the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan and is today Mexico City in Mexico for hundreds of years. It was the focal point of the Aztec religion, and also represents the impact on the culture and region when the Spanish destroyed the city in 1521. Despite centuries of being forgotten, the Templo Mayor has today been excavated and restored in an incredible impressive manner. The site showcases how monuments can be saved and restored to celebrate the culture of a nation while also creating a tremendously positive direct and indirect economic impact.
7 Layers of History
The Templo Mayor was first constructed sometimes after 1325 and quickly became the most important structure at the center of a large sacred precinct. The god of war and the god of rain each had a shrine at the top of the pyramid with separate staircases. Both flights featured sculptures of snake heads.
The structure was improved and built upon by leaders over the next few centuries, each of whom looked to build a more impressive monument than their predecessors. Seven distinct versions of the Temple were built between 1325 and 1519. Every so often, a larger pyramid was built over the previous stage, but each of these stages has a notable element of history associated with it. The fourth temple is considered to have the richest of the architectural decorations, while three shrines and the House of the Eagle Warriors were constructed for the sixth temple.
The seventh temple was the last version of the Templo Mayor, and very little of it remains since this layer was destroyed by the Spanish in 1521. Most of what is known about this temple is based on the historical record. The Spanish ended up building a Mediterranean-style city over the site, and the entire complex disappeared beneath the buildings of downtown Mexico City.
Over the centuries, the exact location of the temple was forgotten, but efforts were made in the early part of the century to find it. Various archeological findings did not spur a full-scale excavation, but in 1978, workers for the electric company in the center of the city struck a pre-Hispanic monolith. After several notable discoveries, the Templo Mayor Project was finally enabled, which was authorized by presidential decree.
The results of that initiative have been the meticulous excavation and preservation of the Templo Mayor along with the creation of the Templo Mayor Museum. These efforts and sites have created incredible experiences that attract visitors from all over the world.
Experiencing the Distinct Culture and History of Tenochtitlan
The Museo del Templo Mayor is divided between the archeological zone and museum. They preserve the remains of the Templo Mayor in distinct and essential ways.
The archeological zone allows visitors to walk through the various stages of the actual Templo Mayor site to get an incredible sense of what it looked like over the centuries. Elevated walkways protect the site, and a variety of signs explain the cultural and historical importance of what viewers are seeing. Signs do everything from explain the significance of the serpents and frogs to document what happened in the House of the Eagles to showcase the Red Temple.
The museum of the Templo Mayor was built in 1987 to house the Templo Mayor Project along with the artifacts that were discovered throughout the area. One of the most famous pieces in the museum is the disk depicting a dismembered Coyolxauhqui that was found during construction in 1978. However, there are countless artifacts on display throughout the museum that have an equal amount of historical and cultural significance.
The museum has eight main exhibition halls, called “salas”, each dedicated to a different theme. These rooms are dedicated to everything from specific gods/goddesses to concepts of ritual and sacrifice in Tenochtitlan to the archeology and history of the Templo Mayor site.
Walking through the archeological zone and museum allows viewers to understand and appreciate the distinct cultural significance of the site, and that significance has had a profound impact on the contemporary culture and economy of Mexico City.
Nearly a Million Visitors
The Templo Mayor has become an important element in contemporary Mexico City in multiple ways. Signs across the city point residents and tourists in the direction of the site, which also serves as a focal point for various maps and on tours. The site received 801,942 visitors in 2017 alone.
In terms of direct revenue, numerous products are available for purchase just outside the museum, while the tickets to enter the site provide another important means of revenue. The museum has also hosted a variety of events, and the crowds it attracts have helped provide another avenue of economic activity that the surrounding shops, stores and merchants have been able to develop.
While paid tickets are required to experience everything the Templo Mayor has to offer, it’s very easy for residents to see into and across the site. Additionally, on Sundays, admission is free for Mexican citizens and foreign residents. This kind of access has allowed residents to appreciate the monument in a profound way, which has further increased the significance of the site.
Mexico City was built on top of and around the ruins of the Templo Mayor, and the significance of the site continues to influence the culture and economy of the city. This significance has created a legacy which showcases what it can mean to create a monument that restores the past.
A Legacy of History and Culture
As one of Mexico’s most important archaeological sites as well as a part of the Historic Center of Mexico City, the Templo Mayor has become high on the list of places to explore and experience in the city. In doing so, it has created a legacy that highlights what kind of monuments can be created when the history and culture of an area are properly honored and celebrated.
Other Aztec Temples
There are numerous Aztec temples, both in these cities and others. The Great Pyramid of Cholula is the largest pyramid by volume in the world, and the largest monument ever constructed. Inside 8km/5mi of tunnels have been dug to investigate its secrets. The Cholula temple has its own page.
Another temple featured on this site is the great pyramid (temple) of Teopanzolco.
The ruins at Teotenango also contain temples. Temples were built in each region of a city, and there were also mountain temples - often carved right out of the side of the mountain. It is believed that as late as the 19th century a child was sacrificed at one of these Aztec temples.
Of course, many of the so-called Aztec temples were temples that existed before the Aztec empire did. Many peoples and cities were conquered and forced to pay tribute, becoming a part of the empire. One city like this was Xochicalco - a pyramid at the top of this page is from Xochicalco.
Many Aztec temples and other ruins are mapped at Google here. If you look at the "related maps" at the bottom of the page, you'll find even more maps in various categories.
The Aztec temples are still major religious destinations today. Some now have Roman Catholic Churches built over top, others are still just pyramids where people come to pray to the gods, or come, they believe, to gain some special power.
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