Templo Mayor in Mexico City

by David R. Cox

Templo Mayor is a major Aztec Temple discovered literally feet away from the Mexican "White House" while digging for a new subway line.


Templo Mayor: A quarter century ago -- on February 21, 1978 to be exact -- a ditch digger preparing a new line for the Mexico City Metro struck something with his shovel. Scraping the dirt away, construction workers noticed it was an unusual sculpture. Work stopped at the corner of Guatemala and Argentina streets.

Archaeologists were summoned to the site. The carved stone disk depicted the dismembered body of the moon goddess Coyolxauqhui, sister of Huitzilopochtli (sun god) and daughter of Coatlicue (the earth goddess). There was no mistake. After nearly 500 years, Mexico was about to uncover the Templo Mayor -- the Great Temple of the Aztec empire. In the first five years archaeologists recoved more than 6,000 pieces from the site -- the best of which are now on display at an on-site museum.



The Templo Mayor is said to be located at the very place where the Aztecs are said to have had their prophetic vision -- promised by their god Huitzilopochtli -- of an eagle perched upon a nopal (prickly pear) cactus devouring a snake. Upon the site the Aztecs erected a pyramid with two temples, one to Huitzilopochtli and one to the agricultural rain god Tlaloc.

Another legend suggests that the temple is constructed on top of two caves that are filled with a primordial water, home to Huehueteotl, the ancient god of fire and lord of time who occupied the center of the earth. In building their pyramid on this visionary site, the Aztecs honored sacred space.

The Templo Mayor was the sacred mountain and sacrificial altar for the Aztecs. Diverse offerings were brought to this sacred place as a result of conquests and tributes. Many of the caches were water-related. The temple integrates symbols of water, earth, sun, and sky -- natural elements honored by all Mesoamerican civilizations.

The Aztecs constructed the temple to be not simply a man-made structure, but an equal partner in the natural order of things. The temple was believed to provide the greatest source of all, the energy of creation. Because of its cultural and religious value, the temple was destroyed by CortÚs after the Spanish defeated the Aztecs.

Last Updated on 12/09/05

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