Templo Mayor, Mexico City

The Templo Mayor or Great Temple was the most important ritual and ceremonial precinct of the Aztec empire. Religion was central to Aztecs, its beliefs and practices guided their day to day life. Templo Mayor has been discovered back in 1978 and from

The Great Temple is one of the most important archaeological sites in the country and it is located in today's Mexico City Historic Downtown. It is just off the "Zocalo" or main square, to the right of the city's Cathedral, facing it. It is possible to take the Metro to "Zocalo" station, or ask the taxidriver to take you to the "Templo Mayor". It is at 2 minutes walking from downtown.

The ruins of "Templo Mayor" were randomly discovered in 1978 during excavations of the metropolitan subway. At that point, the first discovery was a monolith that later was recognized by archaeologists as the representation of Aztec goddess of the moon, Coyolxauhqui. From then on, scientific work has been done permanently through the "Templo Mayor" Project. This led nine years later, in 1987, to the creation of a museum known as the "Templo Mayor" Museum. Since then, thousands of objects and artifacts have yielded up more comprehensive knowledge about this society. Before wandering around the ruins, visitors can find convenient to enter to the covered museum which is within the archaeological site. A scale model of the "Templo Mayor" shows through a cut view seven levels or stages reflecting the same number of major building phases or enlargements of the sacred precinct undertaken over time.

The "Templo Mayor" is a large -197 feet high (60 meters)- stone pyramid on which twin temples were dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, and to Tlaloc, the god or rain or water. North of the "Templo Mayor" pyramid, the House of the Eagles still keeps several remains of paintings. Inside the House of Eagles, two Aztec warriors statues made of clay and dressed with eagle costumes can be appreciated. According to archaeologist Lopez Lujan, Eagle warriors represent either the raising sun or the "Tlatoani" -greatest ruler in earth-, who is born after being elected as emperor. In this building, the impressive stone representing Coyolxauhqui is exhibited. This goddess, myths tell, was aunt to Huiztilopochtli, who kill her as he was born. The 8 ton stone disk depicts a dismembered Coyolxauhqui or goddess of the moon.

One of the most impressive displays at the museum is the "Tzompantli" Shrine or Wall of Skulls. This is an outstanding collection of pieces found in the temple which is a square of rows arranged with human skulls. A stone eagle represents Huitzilopochtli; the hearts of victims brought to sacrifice were placed into it. War prisoners were usually sacrificed to ease gods wrath. Therefore, the "Tzompantli" was used as an altar where skulls of those sacrificed victims were placed. The "Tzompantli" is regarded, thus, as one of the most evident examples of political and religious control exercised by the Mexicas rulers.

The museum features 8 halls. The vestibule presents the ceremonial precinct of Mexico-Tenochtitlan. The first hall is dedicated to temporary exhibitions. Currently, "The Road to Mictlan" is displayed here. Hall 2 is named Ritual and Sacrifice. Hall 3 is dedicated to trade and tribute. Hall 4 contains artifacts related to the god of war, Huitzilopochtli and to goddess of the moon, Coyolxauhqui. Hall 5 is for the god of rain, Tlaloc. Hall 6 relates to flora and fauna in Tenochtitlan. Hall 7 presents agricultural aspects. And hall 8 displays historical archaeology.

The "Templo Mayor" can be visited from Tuesday through Sunday, from 9 am to 5 pm. On Sundays Mexican citizens and foreign residents -with proof of residency- can enter free. Children under 13 and adults over 60 can enter free of charge. Guided tours in English and Spanish can be taken. The visit is complemented with library services and a bookstore. Pictures using flash are not allowed. A permit is required to use a tripod for pictures. A small fee is charged for video equipment.