Templo Mayor: The Excavation

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Mexico Series: Part 5

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With the excavation of the Templo Mayor we are about to learn more, confirm or amplify what is already known about the Aztecs. (I’m showing this graphic just to remind you of what the Templo Mayor may have looked like.)

Here’ yours truly with a friend on the rooftop of the Photography Museum. I’m showing this to give you some sense of scale. Behind me is the Cathedral, but to my right shoulder is the excavation site of the Templo Mayor. We were told we couldn’t take pictures of it, so I pulled this one from google. And this one. Those are human skulls embedded into the base of the Templo and then covered with limestone.

In 2006, a significant stone slab of the goddess Tlatecuhtli, goddess of the underworld, was unearthed, the largest Aztec idol to have been discovered to date and archeologists believe it is the door to a very important tomb. And last year a burial crypt of a dog was found on an underground platform inside what was once the pyramid. The Mexicas believed that a dog led one through the underworld, and this recently discovered dog was no ordinary dog. It bore turquoise ear coverings, jade necklaces, gold bells around each leg and scattered all around it were sea shells — highly prized objects.

From the Aztec codices, archeologists know that the remains of three rulers were buried at the foot of the Templo Mayor, and they are convinced that very soon this passageway will lead them to the tomb of the Mexica ruler most responsible for the expansion of the empire in the mid 1400s.

We’re going to break for lunch now and wander over to the venerable restaurant El Cardenal in the Centro Historico about two blocks away. They make great margaritas and wonderful Mole Poblano, and over lunch, we’ll talk about symbolism of the Templo Mayor.

At roughly ninety feet tall, the pyramid represents, a hill — Coatepec — a reference to the birthplace of the sun/ war god Huitzilipotchli. On top of the pyramid are two temples — one to Huitzilipotchli, and the other to Tlaloc, the rain god/ the god of sustenance. From all over Tenochitlan, the residents could see the pyramid and were thus made aware of the dual gods of life and death that ruled over them. They were reminded that their fate was in the hands of those gods and the rulers who were carrying out their wishes.

The pyramid was brightly painted with polychrome paint and decorated with carvings of symbolic importance. The base was surrounded by carved serpents, which denoted sacred space. Within the pyramid are several inner chambers, and of, course on top, near the temples, would have been the sacrificial platform.

While the two temples represent the Aztec concept of the duality of life — life/death/ day/ night and so on, this duality is unlike the Zen concept of Yin and Yang. The Aztec duality was envisioned as a real battle — not a metaphoric one — between opposing forces. Day and night were explained as a war between the sun god Huitzilipotchtli and the Lords of the Night with sunrise representing the sun god’s victory over his enemies.

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