The Templo Mayor and the Templo Mayor Site were the center of Mexican religious life and one of the most famous ceremonial buildings of its time, located in what is now the center of Mexico City.
Throughout the twentieth century archaeologists were discovering the exact location of the Templo Mayor of the Mexicas, the sacred building that was destroyed after the conquest of the indigenous metropolis, and whose remains had remained hidden for four centuries under the foundations of the viceroyal constructions and nineteenth of the center of our capital city.
According to tradition, the Templo Mayor was built right at the site where the pilgrims of Aztlan found the sacred prickly pear cactus that grew on a stone, and on which an eagle perched with wings extended to the sun, devouring a snake. This first foundation dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, although humble because it was built with mud and wood, marked the beginning of what would eventually be one of the most famous ceremonial buildings of its time.
One by one, the rulers of Mexico-Tenochtitlan left as testimony of their devotion a new constructive stage on that pyramid. And, although the works consisted only of attaching slopes and renovating stairs, the people could verify the power of their ruler in turn and the aggrandizement of their tribal god, the victorious sun-god of war.
But the Mexica could not forget the other gods, since they all propitiated the harmonic existence of the universe. In addition, they balanced the forces of nature, producing wind and rain and growing the plants that fed men.
Due to the above, one of the main deities, which reached a hierarchy similar to that of Huitzilopochtli, was Tláloc. This was the ancient rain god and employer of the farmers. Therefore, and with the passage of time, that sacred building, “home of Huitzilopochtli”, had the shape of a double pyramid, which supported two rooms that functioned as the maximum shrines of both deities.
The most recent archaeological investigations carried out in the ruins of the Templo Mayor building show at least seven constructive stages, of which the one that was carried out during the government of Huitzilíhuitl, second Tlatoani of Tenochtitlan stands out.
From that stage the walls of the shrines, the téchcatl or sacred stone of the sacrifices and a sculpture of the Chac-Mool are preserved. It also highlights the constructive stage executed during the government of Izcóatl, from which were discovered, on the staircase that led to the Huitzilopochtli shrine, several sculptures of standard bearers who, as divine warriors, defended the ascent to the temple of the supreme deity.
However, the most notable finding was that of the circular monolith of the lunar goddess Coyolxauhqui, which comes from the stage corresponding to the government of Axayácatl, who occupied the supreme solitary of Tenochtitlan between 1469 and 1480.
The Spanish conquerors only knew the last constructive stage of the Templo Mayor, carried out during the reign of Moctezuma Xocoyotzin, and admired the majesty and great height that the sacred building already possessed.
Its facade was oriented towards the west, so that on that side of the pyramid was the double staircase framed by snake heads in a threatening attitude. In the upper part of the alfardas were the braceros, where the sacred fire should remain uninterruptedly.
Only the priests and the victims of the sacrifice could ascend those steps and reach the cusp of the temple, from where you could see the city-island in all its splendor.
At the entrance to the shrines of the Templo Mayor there were vigorous sculptures of men in a sitting position, whose mission was to hold the banners and banners made of amate paper that evoked the power of the patron numbers. Already inside the sacred rooms, protected from light by pieces of cloth as curtains, were the images of the deities.
We know that the sculpture of Huitzilopochtli was modeled with amaranth seeds, and that inside were placed some bags containing jades, bones and amulets that gave life to the image. To amalgamate the amaranth seeds, they were mixed with honey and human blood.
The process of making the figure, carried out annually, concluded with her dress and ornamentation through feather headdresses and elaborate textiles, and with the placement of a mask and a gold pendant that gave her identity to the effigy of the solar god .
Precisely, during the celebrations of the indigenous month of Panquetzaliztli, dedicated to the ceremonial of Huitzilopochtli, the climax of the party consisted of the distribution of the body of amaranth, honey and blood among the whole town. Its ingestion represented communion with the deity and strengthened the bond between man and his creators.
Since the indigenous pantheon was very wide, since each of the forces of nature was divinized, little by little the sacred space around the double pyramid became populated with numerous buildings that served as a room for these deities.
At the beginning of the 16th century the sacred enclosure covered a large area of approximately 400 meters per side. Therefore, to separate it from the residential area, as the archaeologists have found, long platforms with multiple staircases located harmonically were built. The enclosure had three major accesses, by way of entrances, on its north, west and south sides; from them came the main roads that connected the city to the mainland.
In the ancient chronicles the visit he made to the sacred precinct of Mexico-Tenochtitlan, at the invitation of the Tlatoani Tenochca, a lord of the enemy town of Huexotzinco, is recounted. This was accompanied by his closest relatives.
In order to enter the enclosure, this character had to stealthily conduct himself, wearing a costume that confused him among the members of the Mexican nobility. In this way, the visitor could admire for the first time that spectacular center from which in his distant town he only heard multiple and amazing stories.
After entering through the southern entrance, visitors had to see the pyramid of Tláloc and Huitzilopochtli in the distance. Meanwhile, his dignitary stopped a few moments in front of the pyramidal temple dedicated to Tezcatlipoca, the fearsome warrior deity, where a cylindrical monument was located right at the foot of his staircase, ordered to carve at the time of Moctezuma Ilhuicamina.
On the surface of this, a series of melee battles between the enemy prisoners and the Mexican warriors would take place later, an event to which he had been invited. In such combats the Mexican warriors directed the former towards their death, frightening the hearts of spectators and visitors.
On the north and south sides of the Templo Mayor, archaeologists have found evidence of palatial ensembles decorated with the representation of processions of warriors and other elements of Toltec tradition. It is, on the one hand, the so-called Eagle Warrior Palace, and on the other, an unidentified group that is probably the Jaguar Warrior Palace.
Forming a kind of entrecalle, at the head of the aforementioned set were located, perhaps continuous, four bases of similar dimensions dedicated to the cult of the gods of agriculture and fertility.
A prominent place in the central section of the Templo Mayor was occupied by the building dedicated to the cult of the god of the wind, Ehécatl-Quetzalcoatl, the ancestral deity of civilizing character who had created men with his own blood and with the bones of ancient generations .
By the time of the Mexica, this divinity represented the wind that attracted the rains and produced annually the cycle of agriculture, hence the pyramid dedicated to its cult, known as the “house of the wind” and oriented towards the east, had a peculiar form: its facade was quadrangular, while its back, circular, served to support a cylindrical temple covered by a thatched roof like a large cone.
According to the tales of the conquerors, the decoration of this temple consisted of the figure of a feathered serpent (the name of the deity), whose open jaws constituted the access itself to its shrine.
Precisely in the space that the Metropolitan Cathedral occupies today, in the southwest corner of the enclosure, some pyramidal bases of various sizes were located, highlighting for its importance that where the rising Sun was worshiped; the building was decorated with large representations of chalchihuites or jades that symbolized the preciousness of the star and its mission to illuminate the four directions of the universe; for that reason its facade also looked towards the east.
On his brief tour of the Templo Mayor, sacred site of the Mexica, the lord of Huexotzingo surely shuddered to see, near the temple of the rising Sun, the Huey Tzompantli. It was an overwhelming ritual construction made up of hundreds of human skulls skinned and strung on wooden poles, silent witnesses of offerings dedicated to Huitzilopochtli.
Without a doubt, Moctezuma delighted in observing the faces of his guests. Particularly of those who came from rival manors, who warned that tragic destiny for anyone who broke good relations with Mexico-Tenochtitlan.
A special place in the sacred enclosure was occupied by the ball court, the Huey Tlachco, located in front of the west entrance. There, this dazzling ritual sport was practiced where the movement of the Sun by the sky was foreshadowed.
The building consisted of a courtyard with two heads and a central corridor, whose floor resembled the letter “I”. On the north and south sides of the courtyard were the slopes, with their respective stone rings where the ball had to pass.
During the celebration of the game – called “ulama” because the ball was made of rubber – the players, who acquired an astral character, hit the ball with the hips (although there were other types of courts where the ball moved through blows with the forearm).
The purpose of this popular practice, which was frequently attended by the Tlatoani along with the nobility and sometimes the people, was to recreate the movement of the sun, symbolized on the ball, by the sky. When an opposite movement occurred, the game stopped and a player was decapitated, which prevented the impending destruction of the universe.
Other constructions that Mr. de Huexotzingo had to admire before the impressive celebration to which he had been invited, were the Calmécac. This was a palace complex that functioned as a school for the children of the noble estate, where future government officials, high priests and great militia leaders were prepared.
The curious templomanantial consecrated to the cult of the goddess Chalchiuhtlicue, patron of the water of the terrestrial scope; and the space dedicated to the celebrations of Mixcóatl, the patron of the hunt, where a park with rocks and trees was recreated, in which the victims covered with skins were tied, resembling animals.
With the passage of time the Templo Mayor suffered the terrible destiny to which the Mexica themselves had condemned many of the indigenous capitals: it was destroyed by blood and fire by the Spanish conquerors.
After the total surrender of the Tenochca capital that occurred on August 13, 1521, Cortes ordered the demolition of the little that was still standing, to build on the ruins the foundations of the capital of the future New Spain.