Xochicalco

Xochicalco


We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Xochicalco in central Mexico was an important hilltop centre from the 8th century CE and was a rival and successor of Teotihuacán. Architecture at the site is closely connected to that of the Classic Maya, Teotihuacan, and Veracruz, and contact was also established with the Mixtec Oaxaca and Zapotec civilizations. Blending these various cultural elements to create their own idiosyncratic art and architecture, the Xochicalco culture probably went on to influence the later Toltec and all subsequent Mesoamerican civilizations. The site, like many contemporary hilltop centres, was abandoned at the end of the Epiclassic period, around 900 CE. Xochicalco is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

Early Settlement

Founded c. 700 CE or even before, Xochicalco, 130 km southwest of Cacaxtla and perched above the Cuernavaca Valley, was built on a hill which was re-shaped by levelling and terracing certain areas to create an acropolis of four concentric terraces. A straight path on the southern side gives access from the valley floor. Although early pottery shares many similarities to that found elsewhere in central Mexico, there seems to have been very little outside contact in later times. Any links to the Maya seem to have been via the coast settlements, and the iconography in many relief carvings at Xochicalco has a strong Mayan and Teotihuacan influence.

Xochicalco became a cultural link between such civilizations as the earlier Classic Maya and later Aztecs.

Xochicalco was eventually fortified and contained three distinct areas containing regular plazas, sacred precincts, paved causeways, a large pyramidal platform, and an I-shaped ball-court, all oriented along the cardinal points. The large slanted wall ball-court is located in the centre of the site, and it may be the oldest such structure in central Mexico, whilst the western platform contains a sweat-bath consisting of several rooms with benches. Another feature of the site is the presence of caves in the hillsides which were used for storage and, in one case, as an underground observatory. This latter cave has a man-made shaft to the sky, through which, on just two days in the year, the sun shines directly down into the cave.

Architecture

The large open plaza with three temples is accessed by a short flight of stairs. Dominating the space is the large platform temple of Xochicalco known as the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent which was constructed sometime prior to 900 CE. It measures 19.6 m x 21 m, is aligned on an east-west access, and consists of sloping walls which create a square, roofless courtyard. There is a stepped entrance on the west side which has balustrades with carved serpents. The outer walls carry impressive decorative relief sculpture divided into rectangular scenes - larger scenes at the lower level and smaller rectangles above. All of these reliefs were originally brightly painted in red, green, yellow, blue, black and white, traces of which still remain. In the lower sections there are six writhing feathered rattle-snakes, early depictions of the creature which would appear in all forms of Mesoamerican art and be identified with the god Kukulkán or Quetzalcoatl. Between the curves of the snake sit men, each wearing an animal headdress. Each of the smaller scenes depicts glyphs and a seated warrior. Above all of these is another, smaller frieze with pairs of seated men in Maya dress separated by calendar signs which may represent a succession of Xochicalco rulers, or the figures may represent either priests or gods and each holds a sort of fan - probably an indication of their rank - and is wearing a headdress.

Xochicalco Writing

The glyphs or signs depicted on the monument, often of unidentified place names but also parts of speech, are a strange and unique combination of Aztec day signs and symbols within a Maya cartouche, whilst the numerals are similar to those used by the Zapotec. Indeed the scribes of Xochicalco may have been the first experimenters of a writing system, elements of which would become standard from the 13th century CE in Mesoamerica. The places referred to in the friezes may indicate a political association between sites or indicate places which offered tribute to Xochicalco. The glyphs also appear on three stelae found at the site. These large stone monuments are between 1.4 and 1.5 m tall, and they also carry familiar central Mexican imagery such as a jaguar-snake mask, sky bands, and the goggle-eyed and fanged rain god Tlaloc. The stelae now reside in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.


Xochicalco

The Archaeological Monuments Zone of Xochicalco comprises a pre-Hispanic fortified city, that came into existence during the transitional Epiclassic Period (ca. 700-900 AD).

The apogee of Xochicalco came after the fall of Teotihuacán and the waning of other large empires such as Palenque and Tikal. The newer societies were much more militaristic and their cities were usually located in elevated defensive positions.

The architecture and iconography of Xochicalco shows affinities with both Teotihuacan and the Maya area and it is probable that the city of Teotihuacan was a multicultural city, although it also does seem to have had a connection to the Tlahuica culture.

The main ceremonial center is atop an artificially leveled hill, with remains of subsidiary buildings, mostly unexcavated, in the surrounding area.


A Triple Terrace Citadel City

Xochicalco was founded sometime during the 7th century AD. It was established, like many cities at the time, with heavy fortifications to fight off potential invaders. As the city grew, it came to have a complex structure with three terraces surrounded by the city walls. The lowest terrace consists mainly of the remains of residential areas most likely inhabited by common people. The second terrace contains a plaza famous for its stele, more residential areas, and a ballcourt.

The highest terrace represents the most impressive part of the city. The terrace includes several temples, residential areas for the ruling elites, and an underground observatory. One of the temples is the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent. Along the sides of the pyramid are panels consisting of images of many different human and animal figures. The panels are separated into larger lower panels and smaller upper panels.

The lower panels contain stone carvings of feathered serpents. In between the curves of the serpents’ bodies are men sitting wearing animal headdresses. These are considered most likely to be priests. The upper panels contain glyphs and associated warriors in a sitting position.

There is also a ballcourt adjacent to the plaza containing this pyramid. The ballcourt is separated from the rest of the complex by a ramp paved with stone engraved with a variety of animals. Among these animals are birds, reptiles, mammals, and even insects. This ramp is appropriately known as the Ramp of Animals.


Smith, Virginia. The iconography of power at Xochicalco: the Pyramid of the Plumed Serpents

Publication Information The main body of the Publication Information page contains all the metadata that HRAF holds for that document.

Author: Author's name as listed in Library of Congress records Smith, Virginia

Title: The iconography of power at Xochicalco: the Pyramid of the Plumed Serpents

Published in: if part or section of a book or monograph The Xochicalco mapping project, edited by Kenneth Hirth

Published By: Original publisher The Xochicalco mapping project, edited by Kenneth Hirth Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. 2000. 57-82 p. ill.

By line: Author's name as appearing in the actual publication Virginia Smith

HRAF Publication Information: New Haven, Conn.: Human Relations Area Files, 2009. Computer File

Culture: Culture name from the Outline of World Cultures (OWC) with the alphanumberic OWC identifier in parenthesis. Central Mexico Postclassic (NU93)

Abstract: Brief abstract written by HRAF anthropologists who have done the subject indexing for the document In this paper, carvings on the Pyramid of the Plumed Serpents are analyzed as expressions of social and political themes. This study is an analysis of how power was portrayed and how images of power directly express and reflect the sociopolitical organization of the site (p. 57). Compositional elements of these carvings are described in detail along with the author's interpretation of their meaning.

Document Number: HRAF's in-house numbering system derived from the processing order of documents 35

Document ID: HRAF's unique document identifier. The first part is the OWC identifier and the second part is the document number in three digits. nu93-035

Document Type: May include journal articles, essays, collections of essays, monographs or chapters/parts of monographs. Essay

Language: Language that the document is written in English

Note: For bibliographical references see document 31:Hirth

Field Date: The date the researcher conducted the fieldwork or archival research that produced the document 1987-1988

Evaluation: In this alphanumeric code, the first part designates the type of person writing the document, e.g. Ethnographer, Missionary, Archaeologist, Folklorist, Linguist, Indigene, and so on. The second part is a ranking done by HRAF anthropologists based on the strength of the source material on a scale of 1 to 5, as follows: 1 - poor 2 - fair 3 - good, useful data, but not uniformly excellent 4 - excellent secondary data 5 - excellent primary data Archaeologist-4, 5

Analyst: The HRAF anthropologist who subject indexed the document and prepared other materials for the eHRAF culture/tradition collection. John Beierle 2008

Coverage Date: The date or dates that the information in the document pertains to (often not the same as the field date). 1350-1100 BP (650-900 AD)

Coverage Place: Location of the research culture or tradition (often a smaller unit such as a band, community, or archaeological site)

Xochicalco, Gobernador Phase, Western Morelos, Mexico

LCSH: Library of Congress Subject Headings Indians of Mexico--Mexico--Xochicalco--Antiquities/Indians of Mexico--Urban residence--Mexico--Xochicalco/City planning--Mexico--Xochicalco--History/Excavations (Archaeology)--Mexico--Xochicalco--Maps/Archaeological surveying--Mexico--Xochicalco--Maps/Xochicalco Site (Mexico)Xochicalco (Mexico)--Antiquities

Copy and paste a formatted citation or use one of the links below to export the citation to your chosen bibliographic manager.


Get in [ edit ]

Xochicalco is about 45 mins by Taxi / UBER from Cuernavaca with the Cuernavaca Airport halfway between the two. Pullman de Morelos allegedly runs a bus service direct to Xochicalco from Mexico City. They definitely run a bus service direct from their station in Cuernavaca, located on the corner of Mariano Abasolo and Netzahualcoyotl, just south of the Parque Jardin Revolucion (Jan 2020: direct bus only on weekends at 10:00 and 11:00 however, if you take the bus to the town of El Rodeo, you can ask the bus driver to let you off at the turn off for Xochicalco, from there you can flag a taxi, they pass frequently on the main road where the bus lets you off, taxi costs about $25 pesos). It costs 40$MXN. An option for the return to Cuernavaca is to take a taxi to Rodeo, and wait outside Restaurante La Pasadita on the Cuernavaca bound highway to flag down a passing bus. Lasser bus lines also runs a bus (blue and white with "lasser" written huge on the side) from their station, listed on Google Maps as Transportes Mibus Terminal SA de CV, on the north side of Adolfo Lopez Mateos, just east of De Los Arcos, near the market of Cuernavaca. It is a lower class bus that doesn't take the toll road, but rather stops frequently along the way, taking about an hour and a half however, it stops and picks up right at the entrance to the archeological site (not the museum). Last bus returning to Cuernavaca leave Xochicalco at 18:30. 10$MXN (Jan 2020). It is possible to take an UBER both there an back - it costs between 200 and 300$MXN each way.

Visiting both Cuernavaca and Xochicalco in a day trip from Mexico City will be busy but do-able.


Hirth, Kenn. Appendix A: the Xochicalco topographical map

Publication Information The main body of the Publication Information page contains all the metadata that HRAF holds for that document.

Author: Author's name as listed in Library of Congress records Hirth, Kenn

Title: Appendix A: the Xochicalco topographical map

Published in: if part or section of a book or monograph The Xochicalco mapping project, edited by Kenneth Hirth

Published By: Original publisher The Xochicalco mapping project, edited by Kenneth Hirth Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. 2000. 327-351 p. maps

By line: Author's name as appearing in the actual publication Kenneth G. Hirth

HRAF Publication Information: New Haven, Conn.: Human Relations Area Files, 2009. Computer File

Culture: Culture name from the Outline of World Cultures (OWC) with the alphanumberic OWC identifier in parenthesis. Central Mexico Postclassic (NU93)

Subjects: Document-level OCM identifiers given by the anthropology subject indexers at HRAF Maps (102) Topography and geology (133)

Abstract: Brief abstract written by HRAF anthropologists who have done the subject indexing for the document These are the topographic base maps in sectional format of Xochicalco. They were 'prepared using photogrammetric techniques at 1:1,100 scale.' (page 197). They were used to map the site and do not contain most of the architectural features.

Document Number: HRAF's in-house numbering system derived from the processing order of documents 44

Document ID: HRAF's unique document identifier. The first part is the OWC identifier and the second part is the document number in three digits. nu93-044

Document Type: May include journal articles, essays, collections of essays, monographs or chapters/parts of monographs. Essay

Language: Language that the document is written in English

Note: For bibliographical references see document 31:Hirth

Field Date: The date the researcher conducted the fieldwork or archival research that produced the document 1976 to 1995

Evaluation: In this alphanumeric code, the first part designates the type of person writing the document, e.g. Ethnographer, Missionary, Archaeologist, Folklorist, Linguist, Indigene, and so on. The second part is a ranking done by HRAF anthropologists based on the strength of the source material on a scale of 1 to 5, as follows: 1 - poor 2 - fair 3 - good, useful data, but not uniformly excellent 4 - excellent secondary data 5 - excellent primary data Archaeologist-4, 5

Analyst: The HRAF anthropologist who subject indexed the document and prepared other materials for the eHRAF culture/tradition collection. Sarah Berry 2008

Coverage Date: The date or dates that the information in the document pertains to (often not the same as the field date). 1350 BP-1100 BP(650 AD-900 AD)

Coverage Place: Location of the research culture or tradition (often a smaller unit such as a band, community, or archaeological site)

Xochicalco, Morelos, central Mexico

LCSH: Library of Congress Subject Headings Indians of Mexico--Mexico--Xochicalco--Antiquities/Indians of Mexico--Urban residence--Mexico--Xochicalco/City planning--Mexico--Xochicalco--History/Excavations (Archaeology)--Mexico--Xochicalco--Maps/Archaeological surveying--Mexico--Xochicalco--Maps/Xochicalco Site (Mexico)Xochicalco (Mexico)--Antiquities

Copy and paste a formatted citation or use one of the links below to export the citation to your chosen bibliographic manager.


Xochicalco Ruins

Xochicalco Ruins are about 37 km (23 mi.) s.w. of Cuernavaca and can be reached from downtown Mexico City via two different routes. Take Av. Tlalpan s. to toll highway Mex. 95D and continue s. to the town of Xochitepec, following signs to Mex. highway 166 (Xochitepec exit) from that point, follow signs to Xochicalco. There is a 16-peso toll at the Xochitepec exit. The alternate route is to take Mex. 95D to the exit for the town of Alpuyeca (toll 52 pesos), then follow the paved road that winds n. about 8 km (5 mi.) to the ruins site, which sits atop a mountain.

In terms of sheer grandeur, Xochicalco (so-chee-KAHL-coh, which means “place of flowers” in the Náhuatl Indian language) rivals the more famous archeological zone of Teotihuacán. After Teotihuacán's fall Xochicalco became one of the leading urban centers of the central high plains. These white-stone ruins epitomize the Classic Period in Mesoamerican history, which lasted from about the second through the eighth centuries and produced Mexico's first noteworthy urban civilizations. Xochicalco was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.

Upon entering, buy your ticket to the ruins at the site museum (Museo de Xochicalco). The well-labeled (in Spanish) exhibits feature pottery, carvings and artifacts that have been excavated, and there is also a diorama of the entire site. There are excellent views of the ruins from the museum grounds.

The Pyramid of the Plumed Serpent (Pirámide de Quetzalcóatl) is the dominant structure, with well-preserved bas-reliefs and traces of hieroglyphs representing dates and eclipse signs. Close by is the entrance to a mazelike tunnel ending at a stone-hewn, stepped chamber with a “telescope” orifice the astrologer-priests of Xochicalco made corrections to their calendar by examining the heavens through this aperture. From Xochicalco's fortresslike location the sweeping vistas of the Valley of Cuernavaca are spectacular.


Busting ghosts at Xochicalco, Morelos: A UNESCO World Heritage Site

These days, for some tourists, it seems that physical history, a sense of history, a sublimity of walking in the footsteps of the ancients by the light of nature itself, is not enough – one’s senses, incapable of an exercise of pure imagination, need to be kick-started into an appreciation of one’s surroundings. Flashing laser lights in an array of lurid colors, beefing up visual and aural surrounds in the fashion of a U2 or Madonna concert, strikes into the heart of the jaded tourist the necessary feel of the mystery he or she has come to indulge.

From the ancient pyramids of Egypt and Mexico to the catacombs of Italy, an experience of the past cannot quite be washed down without a laser show. Many historical sites now indulge this insipid demand for sensation. Perhaps in the future it will be the norm, and Disneyland will have won. Such a transmogrification has been praised by highbrow publications such as Newsweek, as if it were de rigueur. Presumably, we are so bored with the wonders of the ancient world that modern technology must illuminate them in some LSD-inspired vision.

The steep stone steps of Mexico’s Xochicalco pyramids prove worth the climb for the views they afford. © Anthony Wright, 2009

Yet on a windswept hill overlooking one of the earliest known ball courts to be constructed in Mexico stands a low pyramid, or cue, where hapless victims were led to sacrifice a thousand years ago – and I don’t need a light show to travel to that weird, violent world. They didn’t sacrifice people with a light show. It would just have been a regular day – of horror – blues skies, sun shining. Like countless terrible days.

The pyramid forms part of the archaeological zone of Xochicalco, which shimmers in heat and eerie solitude on a plateau among verdant surrounds in the southwest of the state of Morelos, 23 miles from Cuernavaca. A ghostly aura emanates from the site – in part, perhaps, due to a lack of crowds that permeate Xochicalco’s more famous cousins elsewhere in Mexico.

Of course, it’s not night. The show has not started.

The city’s name means “In the Palace of the Flowers” in Nahuatl – although here under the sun, one’s mind may wander to the loser of a ball game, or a blood-crazed priest with his knife… flowers don’t enter into it. Despite the violent rituals, Xochicalco was a developed urban as well as ceremonial center, laid out and built according to strict guidelines around 650 A.D. It reached its apex as one of the great Mesoamerican cities by late Classic times (900 A.D.), and the Olmec, Nahua, Mixtec, Toltec and Zapotec peoples made cultural contributions to its development.

The famed archeological zones dotted across Mesoamerica still continue to mesmerize historians, scientists, and tourists in their original state. Some sites hark back to the dawn of time in a period referred to as “Pre-Classic” (2000-100 B.C.). The Classic horizon is marked as lasting from 100 B.C. to 900 A.D. It was during this latter time that Teotihuacan in the state of Mexico rose and fell, and the great Maya cities of Palenque, Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Tikal appeared. The Post-Classic period (900-1521) was defined by the dominance of the Aztec empire and its capital Tenochtitlan (the future site of Mexico City) – until its defeat at the hands of Cortes’ Conquistadors.

Archeologists believe that the elite class occupied lavish residences in the highest elevations of the Xochicalco. © Anthony Wright, 2009

Archaeologists believe Xochicalco grew in importance at about the same time as the life of Teotihuacan drew to a close. They postulate that bustling commerce activity undertaken in Xochicalco – along with other sites such as Cholula in Puebla and Tajin in Veracruz – contributed to Teotihuacan’s decline. Religious activity – at that time closely aligned with scientific activity – included a congress among astronomer-priests from the varying cultural groups to correlate their calendars. Ultimately, Xochicalco seems to have suffered the same fate as Teotihuacan by around 1200.

To get there, take the Route 95D Mexico City-Acapulco Highway, turn off at the road to Alpuyeca and take the state highway to Xochicalco. Upon entering the complex, there is an interesting museum explaining the history of the city. After making one’s way to the site, the visitor can appreciate the excellent restoration work that has gone into preserving something of the grandeur of Xochicalco.

Xochicalco was inscribed in 1999 as a UNESCO World Heritage listed site. The justification was as follows: “Criterion (iii): Xochicalco is an exceptionally well preserved and complete example of a fortified settlement from the Epiclassic Period of Mesoamerica.” And for Criterion (iv): “The architecture and art of Xochicalco represent the fusion of cultural elements from different parts of Mesoamerica, at a period when the breakdown of earlier political structures resulted in intensive cultural regrouping.”

Xochicalco is nobody’s secret, yet its low-key image must rank it as one of the most under-visited attractions in Mexico – given its proximity to large urban centers and the ease with which one can get there. While it is somewhat mystifying to contemplate why this is so, it is alternately a delight to soak up the largely tourist-free ambience that, in the slow burn of its silence, can ignite the imagination.


Pre-Columbian Art of Mexico, The Central Mexican Plateau-Xochicalco

A site that quite clearly reflected the changes that occurred at the end of the Classical period (200-1000 AD) and that to a certain extent announced the following Post-Classic period was Xochicalco located in the valley of Morelos whose ruins occupy an impressive succession of artificial terraces which give it the appearance of a semi-fortified acropolis.

The name Xochicalco comes from the Nahuatl and means “in the house of Flowers”. Although the site was first occupied by 200 BC, it didn’t become an urban center until the Epiclassic period (700-900 AD). Nearly all the architecture known today at the site was built at this time. Xochicalco was founded ca. 650 AD by the Olmeca-Xicallanca people, a Mayan group of traders coming from Campeche. Around 900 AD the city was burned and destroyed and the site then was abandoned quickly.

Xochicalco reached its peak after the fall of Teotihuacan. The architecture and iconography of Xochicalco show affinities with Teotihuacan, the Maya area, and the Matlatzinca culture of the Toluca Valley.

Top: The Temple of the Feathered Serpent at Xochicalco. This temple has fine stylized depictions of the Feathered Serpent in a style that shows apparent influences of the Teotihuacan and Maya art. Bottom: The high taluds of the pyramid base bear reliefs depicting towns that paid tribute to Xochicalco as well as several seated figures that look Mayan as well as representations of the Feathered Serpent.

Considered as a true crossroads of cultures, the inscriptions found in Xochicalco present a conjunction of elements that relate to almost all the cultural traditions existing in Mesoamerica during the end of the Classical period and that also anticipated some of the Post-Classic cultures such as the Mixteca and the Nahuatl. Apart from the influences exerted by Teotihuacan and other surrounding areas, Xochicalco shows strong relationships with the Maya, as reflected in some of the reliefs of the Temple of the Feathered Serpents arguably the most representative monument of this city or the famous and very stylized head of a Guacamaya (macaw) that is today one of the artistic treasures of the National Museum of Anthropology of Mexico City.

A step-pyramid temple at Xochicalco.

On the other hand, Xochicalco apparently introduced for the first time in the Mexican plateau the custom of building the typical courts or fields in the form of an “I” to be used for the practice of the Mesoamerican ballgame. This ballgame fields were a very frequent element in regions occupied by the Zapotec and the Maya, but did not exist in Teotihuacan (whose ballgame style was different). The layout of these courts was adopted almost unchanged by the builders of the city of Tula, the Toltec capital, whose foundation around the year 968 of our era marked the beginning of the so-called Mesoamerican Post-Classic period (ca. 1000-1697 AD).

Macaw head from Xochicalco made in stone, Late Classic period (ca. 600-900 AD) (National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico). This sculpture was found in one of Xochicalco’s ballcourts. The association between macaws and ballcourts has been also documented in Tula and the Maya site of Copán. Top: One of the ballcourts at Xochicalco with the characteristic ” I ” shape and the rings placed at the center. Bottom: Stone ring from the above pictured ballcourt at Xochicalco, in this particular ballcourt* the setting sun shines through the ring during the equinox.

Mesoamerican ballcourt: A large masonry structure used in Mesoamerica for over 2,700 years to play the Mesoamerican ballgame. More than 1,300 ballcourts have been identified. Although there is great variation in size, in general all ballcourts have the same shape: a long narrow alley flanked by two walls with horizontal, vertical, and sloping faces. Although the alleys in early ballcourts were open-ended, later ballcourts had enclosed end-zones, giving the structure an -shape when viewed from above.


Did you know? Mexico’s ancient astronomers had sophisticated calendars

Several ancient civilizations developed astonishingly accurate calendars. Even so, occasional adjustments were needed to bring the calendar back in line with solar events. Archaeologists studying the site of Xochicalco, just outside the city of Cuernavaca in central Mexico, believe that a major conference of astronomers was held there in the eighth century A.D. in order to implement an adjustment of six days. The conference may have been a sequel to an earlier astronomical gathering (700 A.D.) held in Copán, in modern-day Honduras, commemorated at that site by a richly-decorated altar. An altar may have been good enough to commemorate the Copán gathering, but in Xochicalco the organizers went one stage further and built an entire lavishly decorated pyramid as a memorial to the event.

The scenic and imposing ruins visible at Xochicalco today reflect only a small proportion of what was formerly a much more extensive city. The name Xochicalco means “place of the home of the flowers”, and perhaps the city was once flower-bedecked, but nowadays its flattened hilltop platforms are decidedly semi-arid in character. Numerous constructions, linked by cobblestone tracks, rise above the platforms they include palaces, temples, ball courts and more than one “observatory”.

The central plaza is graced by the amazing Pyramid of the Plumed Serpents. Relatively small (only about 6 meters tall), it has two levels and may have been roofed at one time. Its talud y tablero style (with a gently sloping lower section surmounted by a vertically-sided table) echoes many of the buildings at Teotihuacan. This is probably no accident. Researchers believe that Xochicalco, first settled around 200 A.D., reached its peak only after the decline of the influential city of Teotihuacan, which, at its height in around 750 A.D., was one of the world’s largest cities, with an estimated population of 500,000.

The Pyramid of the Plumed Serpents ( Pirámide de Quetzalcóatl) derives its name from a series of eight plumed stone serpents that wind around its base. Their sinuous bodies frame magnificently adorned seated figures. The serpents appear to be swallowing sun disks, a reference to solar eclipses. Traces of original pigment show that the panels were once colored. The details of jewelry, shields and headdresses suggest the figures represent high-standing officials of some kind, perhaps the astronomers themselves. The second level of the pyramid is decorated with pairs of seated figures.

Close examination reveals that the styles of the figures on each side of the pyramid are very different. The styles reflect four different major regional cultural groups of the time: the Maya (southern Mexico and neighboring countries), the Zapotec (Oaxaca Valley), the Teotihuacanos (central Mexico) and the Totonac (Gulf coast of Mexico). Presumably, astronomers from all four cultures met here (on neutral territory?) and this unusual monument was built to commemorate their success in finding a solution to a calendar that had become out of sync with the natural year.

According to Roberto Salido Beltrán, this calendric fix was to suppress six days of the ancient calendar, between day 1-Casa (One House) and 11-Mono (11 monkey). Salido cites as his main evidence a glyph centered on the sign for a house. Two hands reach out from this glyph. The right hand, fingers outstretched, rests on a block. The left hand holds a cord leading to the glyph for 11-monkey. In terms of our calendar, this event occurred in 765 A.D.

Xochicalco remained prominent until about 1000 A.D., after which it was abandoned. When the Spaniards arrived in the sixteenth century, they learned of the ruins, but had no inkling of their astronomical significance.

In the past twenty years or so, several other major findings have arisen from studies of Xochicalco’s astronomical importance. The site lies at a latitude of 18 o 47″ North. At this latitude, the sun is at its zenith (highest point, exactly overhead at mid-day) on May 15 and July 28. It is well documented that observing (and celebrating) the solar zenith was very important throughout Mexico at the time the Spaniards arrived, even though modern attempts to revive the ancient practices have not met with much success.

Two of the many natural underground caves at Xochicalco, show clear evidence of architectural modification, including the perforation of an artificial hole or “chimney” from the cave to the ground above. These vertical shafts would have enabled very precise observations and measurements of solar and possibly planetary events. For instance, the vertical north side of the 5-meter-long “chimney” down into one cave would have resulted in a precisely vertical beam of sunlight on the day of the zenith. The south side of the chimney slopes at an angle of 4o23′. Is it simply a coincidence that this is the exact angle for light to be parallel to this side on June 21, the day of the Summer solstice? Archeo-astronomers think not!

The dimensions and geometry of this chimney ensure that some light enters the cave every day from April 30 (15 days before the first of the two annual zeniths) to August 12 (15 days after the second). Put another way, the cave receives light every day from precisely 52 days before the solstice to 52 days after it. The number 52 was of immense significance in the pre-Columbian calendar, since it took exactly 52 (solar) years for both the solar calendar and the ritual calendar (of 260 days each) to return simultaneously to the equivalent of 0-0.

Another fascinating finding, first published in México Desconocido, is that from the “Acropolis” of the site, on zenith days, the sun rises exactly behind Popocatépetl volcano on the eastern horizon. The effect does not occur even one day before or after the zenith. Given the polluted skies over Mexico City, it is difficult to guarantee witnessing this effect nowadays!

The site of Xochicalco is living proof of one of the most important scientific summits ever held in the history of the Americas. The congress of astronomers from all over the zone held to agree the calendric correction was a landmark event in the history of science worldwide.

Xochicalco is a fascinating place to wander around. Let your imagination wander. Imagine the astronomers and their cohorts engaged in deep philosophical discussions. How many days do we need to skip in order to correct the calendar? How are we going to convince the general populace that the fix is needed?

An excellent site museum at the entrance helps visitors appreciate the site’s significance. Around the site, interpretative signs provide basic information in English and Spanish. The site is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily a modest entrance fee is payable except on Sundays and public holidays when access is free.

How to get there

Xochicalco is 38 kilometers south-west of the city of Cuernavaca, 90 kilometers south of Mexico City. From the local bus station in Cuernavaca, a regular inexpensive local service signed “Cuautepec” leaves every 30 minutes and passes the entrance to the site. All times should be checked locally.


Watch the video: La aventura de México desconocido: Xochicalco y Malinalco