It's commonly written that when in Mexico, you're never far from an ancient legacy and Templo Mayor is pretty much as central as they get. Located within the Zona Arqueológica of Mexico City, the icon of Aztec capital Tenochtitlan still commands great attention, nearly 700 years after its inaugural construction. According to legend, Templo Mayor was planned for this site due to a vision sent by Huitzilopochtli – God of War and Patron of Technotitlan, in which an eagle appeared atop a nopal cactus, devouring a snake.
In reference to the memory of Huitzilopochtli, early Templo Mayor was designed to partially resemble his birth city Coatepec, located at the summit of a huge hill. Other remnants lending credence to this fable include the huge 3.5 meter disk, discovered during the 1978 excavation. It portrays the dismembered form of Huitzilopochtli's own sister Coyolxauhqui, whom allegedly met her demise after plotting to kill the Patron. Now housed within the on-site Museo de Templo Mayor, the Disk of Coyolxauhqui is just the beginning of a mesmerizing journey into the rites, rulers and relics of Mexico City's past.
The Templo Mayor you see today is the result of seven successive phases of construction, the first of which began in 1325. Built upon a huge raised platform, the first phase implemented the huge stepped walls characteristic of Aztec pyramids, however it wasn't until the 14th Century that the twin temples dedicated to Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli were finished. Neither remain today; in fact, a considerable proportion of the 6th and 7th phases were lost after the Spanish plundered the city around 1520. what visitors can see are the fascinating developments through stages one to five, which included incorporation of the Sacred Precinct and the Eagle Temple – the first to have been completed. Decorative reliefs may be found in various stages of ruin, including Wall of Skulls – a gruesome, yet arty fascia of the Tzompantli-Shrine. Nearby stands the Altar of Toads, a gargantuan raised, flat panel guarded by two menacing amphibians and a dismembered giant head – possibly once erected atop a stela.
Snakes were a species of endless fascination for the Aztecs, featuring prominently among the ideograms of the Aztec alphabet and, encouraged by the vision at Technotitlan, to also illustrate the mystical and unrelenting power of the gods. Two such examples exist flanking either side of the master stairwell, although the bodies have long since crumbled under the weight of packed down soil. Constructed during the rule of Montezuma I, the fourth temple features a proliferation of serpent effigies surrounding the stone altar, in addition to reliefs along the vast outer wall. It was here the majority of excavated relics were discovered, subsequently collated for display within the recently opened Museo de Templo Mayor.
Inaugurated in 1988, the Museo de Templo Mayor constitutes the largest single site collection for Aztec exhibits in the world. Tens of thousands of objects have been recovered from the site, including offerings, jewelry, tools and stonework – now encased within a series of fascinating exhibitions adjacent to the ruins. To really appreciate the cultural significance of Templo de Mayor, the Archeology Hall alone is highly recommended!