Colonial gem of North Central Mexico, the city of Zacatecas mesmerizes even the most expectant of visitors. Bathed in a soft, rose-pink glow, the entire city takes on an ethereal personality at night, when even its own denizens spill onto the streets to admire architecture of bygone ages. Zacatecas State is rich in detritus of pre-Hispanic origin, yet few are as mysterious as La Quemada (also known as 'Chicomóztoc') in the South of Villanueva Municipale. Rumored to have once been occupied by the legendary Aztec Chicomecs, La Quemada is disinclined to give up its secrets, leaving archaeologists unsatisfied as to the true creators of this ancient kingdom.
Set atop a majestic hill overlooking Malpaso Valley, La Quemada is one of the highest set ruins of North Central Mexico, with an estimated elevation of around 2,000 feet. The city proper is marked by two dominant structures – the Teotihuacán fortress and Pirámide Votiva, towering over 10 meters above nearby temple structures. Built in A.D 500, upon a site known as “Place of Seven Caves” by the Chalchihuites, La Quemada has been linked with a number of Aztec legends, as well as the site of Alta Vista built on the Tropic of Cancer further North. For over 400 years, La Quemada remained the Zacatecas capital for Chalcihuite culture, until fire destroyed all but that which you see today.
To truly appreciate the scale of La Quemada, it is perhaps best viewed from across the Malpaso Valley. A fortified stronghold seeming to grow from the very hill itself, one can well imagine the mixture of terror and awe this sight would have evoked in enemies and passing wayfarers. A slice of the great Salón de las Columnas can clearly be seen as you approach the gargantuan hill – the cylindrical stelae standing guard against a backdrop of fortified walls, once over 5 meters in height. Little is known about the Salon's true function, however structural excavation during the 1950's uncovered a wealth of human remains, lending credence to the belief it may have been a ceremonial center, within which human sacrifices were offered to the gods.
Topped by a small (probably wooden) temple, Pirámide Votiva would have been a key site of worship for the citizens of La Quemada. Its deliberate solar alignment, coupled with a partially excavated staircase suggest it was reserved exclusively for elders or priests of the city. Unlike Mayan and Olmec structures, the Chalcihuite pyramid features steep, smooth walls with little decoration – a hint the temple could be far older than estimated. A few meters North lies Juego de Pelota, the central ball court for La Quemada extending for over 30 meters across a vast, raised plateau. Originally, the ball court would have featured seating blocks around the perimeter, along with a raised, covered platform reserved exclusively for the emperor. It beggars belief that sitting here today, one shares in a view that only the rulers of La Quemada were privy to!