Templo Mayor in Mexico City

December 29, 2011

Templo Mayor in Mexico City is one of my favorite archeological sites.  The reason?  Partly because it is still being excavated. It is wonderful to lean on a railing and watch the workers with brushes cleaning away debris, and partly also because it is right in the center of the city, just a few steps from the zocalo.

Templo Mayor Mexico City Statues

Of course, the reason it is a few steps from the zocalo is because the ruins are part of the great Aztec city of Tenochitlan, and Templo Mayor was one of the city’s main temples. Templo Mayor was built on the exact site that indicated the Mexica people had arrived at the promised land – when they saw an eagle on a nopal cactus with a snake in its mouth.  (You’ll see this symbolized today on the Mexican flag.)

When the Spanish arrived in 1519 they found a city here of around 200,000 people.  They destroyed the city of Tenochitlan, including the Templo Mayor in 1521 and looted it of all its treasures and gold.

Walking along the street today you’ll see the familiar chain link fencing with barriers to obstruct the view.  Behind them you’ll hear voices and rhythmic tapping. This is some of the evidence of continuing excavation work taking place. Pay a nominal fee (I think it was 50 pesos or approximately $3.58 US) and you can take a self guided tour. There are wooden walkways throughout the site and plenty of signage explaining things along the way.

Templo Mayor Mexico City Hidden Man

But during your visit take a minute here and there to look up and out.  Seeing the familiar city just on the other side of these ancient ruins is quite startling.  In the picture below, you see the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico in the background and the ruins of Templo Mayor in the foreground

Templo Mayor Mexico City Vista

One of the things you’ll notice here, too is that there is still quite a bit of original paint.  I love the chac-mool at the top of the post, and the serpent’s head below.

Templo Mayor Mexico City Serpent

There are many beautiful and interesting things to see here.  I loved the huge House of the Eagles, which is roofed to protect the painted areas beneath from further damage.  I think you’ll also like the Wall of Skulls right outside the entrance of this building.

Templo Mayor Mexico City Skulls

There is much more inside the adjacent museum. When you walk out, you might want to visit one of the Mexica shamans in the zocalo for a ritual cleansing.  Why not?  It might be the perfect ending to your visit to Templo Mayor.

More about Nancy

I'm Nancy, a US expat living in San Antonio Tlayacapan, Jalisco after 11 years in Mazatlán, México.

8 Comments
    1. Nancy, these photos are stunning and make me feel as if I had made a visit. The only dig I have seen that might rival this is in Jerusalem. Thanks.

    1. I LOVE the templo mayor. It is my favorite Mexican archaeological site (possibly excepting the Cholula pyramid, which has sentimental value).

      1. Judith, Thanks so much. You might have to show me your Jerusalem photos!

        Laura, Thanks, I love that one too!

        Katie, I’m with you! Paul visited Cholula last August, but I haven’t been there yet. 2012!

    1. Nice summary and photos. One of my favorite vistas is to stand in front of the museum and look back to the cathedral. You can see three cultures: the Aztec, the old Spanish settlement, and the modern Mexican city.

      1. Steve, Thank you. Yes, that is a great view. Hope you have a great New Year.

        Contessa, You’re welcome. How long has it been since you were there? Happy New Year!

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