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Mexico Travel - The Pyramids And The Temple Of Quetzalcoatl

[Mexico - A Growing Travel Field]  [Preliminary Hints]  [How to Get to Mexico]  [General Information]  [Sights Around the Zocalo]  [Sights Around the Alameda]  [The Business Section]  [Chapultepec Park and Castle]  [Villa Obregon, Coyoacan, Churubusco]  [Xochimilco]  [The Pyramids and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl]  [Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe]  [More Mexico Travel Tips] 

( Originally Published 1939 - Presented For Historical Purpose )

THE PYRAMIDS OF THE SUN AND THE MOON AND THE GREAT Temple of Quetzalcoatl nearby are perhaps the most interesting sights to see near Mexico City. The railroad runs rather close to them, but this is not a particularly good way to make the excursion, for the Archaeological Zone around the Pyramids is so large that some means of transportation becomes necessary even after you have arrived. The best way to go is either by one of the organized tours operated by any one of the travel companies of Mexico City or by your own automobile.

The road to the Pyramids will take you past the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe at Villa Madero, but that is in itself important, and as the trip to the Pyramids is somewhat strenuous, I think it would be wise not to visit both places on the same day. After leaving Villa Madero, the road crosses the great causeway built in viceregal days to protect the city of Mexico from the overflow of great Lake Texcoco which in recent years has been successfully drained.

Near the end of the causeway (between kilometers 22 and 23), you will pass the HOUSE OF MORELOS, interesting historically and a good example of the Mexican house of a hundred years ago. To the Mexican, of course, it is a shrine. Morelos was one of the great men of his country, and is generally known as the Lincoln of Mexico.

San Augustin Acolman

On your way to the Pyramids, I strongly advise you to turn off the road to the old fortress-monastery of San Augustin Acolman. It is of the same general type as the monastery at Actopan, which, I hope, you will have stopped to see if you came to Mexico City by automobile.

On the road to Acolman, keep to the right at the sign "Ex convento." You may drive directly into the grounds. Although the church is almost 400 years old, the frescoes and altars have been remarkably well preserved. Inside there still stands an interesting statue of a Christ mounted on muleback, made by some Indian artisans, and typical of the imagery of a primitive people.

The monastery itself is not quite so large as at Actopan, but it is equally as handsome. In the monks' cells there are the same window seats built into the thick walls, with foot rests on the opposite side for comfortable reading, and generally the same arrangement of kitchens, re fectories, etc. There is also an interesting LIBRARY with books in Spanish and Aztec. The books have been kept in excellent condition, having been printed and illumined on linen paper. One or two of them date from 1752.

You should climb up to the roof for the view and for the opportunity it gives you to admire the architecture on the way up.

From San Augustin, go back to the main road and then continue through Teotihuacan to the Archaeological Zone.

Both San Juan Teotihuacan and San Augustin Acolman are good examples of the remarkable vitality of the old Indian language and of the way in which the old Indian names persist. The early priests renamed almost all of the old Indian towns after Christian saints, and at one time both of these places were known simply as San Augustin and San Juan. But the old Indian names crept back again, and today you can find many towns in which the Christian name has been dropped altogether, and only the old Indian name survives.

From the road you will get a magnificent view of the Pyramid of the Sun and will be tempted to stop and see it at once. However, unless you have left Mexico City very early, and have omitted the stop at Acolman, I would suggest that you continue along to one of the restaurants near the Pyramids for lunch. The RESTAURANT OF THE PYRAMIDS is Well spoken of, but I found LA GRUTA much more amusing. The restaurant is in a natural cave, with parrots sitting around the wall that surrounds the restaurant, a most friendly cat, and very fair food. Near the restaurant there is an outdoor "Aztec" theater of modern construction and worth the five minutes that it takes to look at it. At the theater and also at the Pyramids, vendors will offer you little pieces of the carved rocks that are so abundant around the Archaeological Zone.

The Pyramid of the Sun

When you return to the Pyramids, your first stop should be at the PYRAMID OF THE SUN. This is the larger of the two. A steep stairway leads up to the first gallery, and farther up to the top of the pyramid. You need have no fears about going to the top if you are energetic and have a clear head. The steps are at an angle of about 60 degrees and are not bad going up, but look almost vertical coming down!

From the first gallery you will get an excellent view of the Pyramid of the Moon and also of the great citadel, which is really not a citadel but the Temple of Quetzalcoat. The Pyramid of the Sun is colossal. Although it is not so high as the pyramid of Cheops, it covers much more surface. It consists actually of five pyramidal boxes or terraces mounted one on top of the other.

The Pyramid of the Moon

The PYRAMID OF THE MOON is Smaller than the Pyramid of the Sun but is of about the same construction. At the base of the pyramid is the interesting court of the Pyramid of the Moon. If you have ascended even to the first gallery of the Pyramid of the Sun, there is no real reason for going up the Pyramid of the Moon.

The two Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon are said to be so perfectly spaced that if a line were drawn between two high peaks rising, one north and one south, from the surrounding hills, the line would pass exactly over the center of the top of each pyramid.

A great street, known as the HIGHWAY OF THE DEAD, leads through the Archaeological Zone. It is so called because the mounds on either side are believed to be graves. This Highway of the Dead leads from the Pyramid of the Moon past the Pyramid of the Sun and to and past the enormous Temple of Quetzalcoatl.

The Temple of Quetzalcoatl

Like the Pyramids, the TEMPLE OF QUETZALCOATL is an ancient structure. The civilization that erected the Pyramids and the Temple was known as the Toltec, and dates probably from about the seventh century A.D. Toward the end of the eleventh century A.D., it disappeared mysteriously, and soon after the Aztecs moved in, bringing With them that great but savage civilization which ruled Mexico at the time of the Conquest.

The Temple of Quetzalcoatl is magnificent. It consists of an enormous quadrangular court, 160 square meters in area, with its four main axes perfectly oriented toward the four points of the compass. Both the Pyramid of the Sun and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl are so located that they seem to face the west, but priests marching in procession up the staircase of the pyramidal altars would face the rising sun as they ascended the stairs.

As you walk across the great court of the Temple to the center altar at the east end, and, following the signs, take a path leading behind this altar, you will find another altar with excellently preserved carvings of the plumed serpent sacred to Quetzalcoatl.From the top of the central altar you get the best general view of this carved altar of Quetzalcoatl.

The name Quetzalcoatl is significant in Mexican history. Because of their belief in a legend concerning this god, the Mexicans, in their contest with the Spaniards, were in a sense betrayed by their own religion.

According to the legend, Quetzalcoatl, after instructing the people in the useful arts, departed eastward over the sea, promising to return in the year of his name, Ce Acatl. Coincidentally, it so happened that this year marked the date of the arrival of the Spaniards, under Cortes. And because, according to tradition, Quetzalcoatl was supposed to have been white-skinned and bearded, Moctezuma, the ruler of the empire, interpreted the arrival of the Spaniards as an evidence of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Quetzalcoatl's return. It was because of his rather hesitating, policy toward the Spaniards that Cortes, with a mere handful of men, was able to capture the empire.

The very name of Quetzalcoatl is an indication of the reverence in which he was held. It means, quetzal snake, or plumed serpent, and the feathers of the quetzal were reserved for Aztec nobility as something inconceivably precious. Quetzalcoatl had many manifestations-he is shown variously as the beneficent god, the protector of mankind, and the Prometheus of the Aztecs.

Near the Pyramids is a small regional museum containing certain relics from the Archaeological Zone. It is worth a brief visit for those who are interested in this type of collection.

Vendors around the Pyramids and the Citadel sell interesting black-and-white pottery and souvenirs. I have never seen anything exactly like it elsewhere. The most interesting of the souvenirs are, of course, the little bits of carvings picked up in various parts of the Zone. There is a pretty little park with benches directly opposite the museum where you can rest up after your strenuous sightseeing trip.