Tlaloc, the Aztec rain god, was working overtime as I reflect glumly on my earlier fatally flawed decision to not bring along my umbrella. After four years of Asia, I’m too accustomed to the concept of deluge flipflop-stealing downpours which cease abruptly and unprepared for the constant chissywhissy of the rain here, which resembles far more closely that of my dear homeland: like the annoyingly insistent call for attention from a irritable five-year-old.
Tlaloc, the malicious bugger, ‘Muhahaha’.
I have just emerged from the gloriously sprawling 80s metro system of Mexico City, a cornucopia of space invaders lettering and orangey-brown-pinkness, all for the bargainous price of 5 pesos. Today I am playing tourist, and an uncharacteristic bravery has come over me which I think stems from a combination of exasperation of a lack of non-pagoda-y things to do in Myanmar, a greater affinity with the culture here, and a keener confidence in terms of language. I’ve decided to head to Zocalo, tourist site central, where in Plaza de la Constitucion one can find great hunks of touristness, including amongst other grandiose structures the national palace, the Catedral Metropolitana and my main focus for today: the Templo Mayor, which is, admittedly, not a million miles away from being a pagoda, but it’s old, so it doesn’t count.
Templo Mayor complex against the modern backdrop of Mexico City
The ancient world geek in me is coming out in force as I gleefully recall the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode with the dodgy Aztec princess in it – I’m sure my own visit to the museum will be somewhat less eventful, but Aztec, Mayan and Incan cultures have ignited my imagination and I’m very much looking forward to learning more about them. I mean, come on, these guys practically invented chocolate after all.
Not chocolate, but easily could be
The remains of the Aztec temple are sited at the location ‘the centre of world’: the point where the cardinal points of the earth converge and where apparently the Mexicas saw an eagle eating a snake on top of a nopal cactus: a cosmographic symbol of ‘this is totally the place, guys’. It was excavated in 1978 when engineers installing subterranean cables who struck a circular stone with a relief of the goddess of the moon, Coyolxauhqui. Not the average day at the office, the engineers cleared off bloody glad to get a day off no doubt, and let the archaeologists take over, who uncovered a complex built in seven stages, the earliest dateable to about 1428: around Joan of Arc time for those of you who know as little as me about stuff pre-Shakespeare. On reflection, my Joan of Arc knowledge is also basically limited to the Simpsons episode, so this doesn’t help me much contextually, but hopefully you will be better educated than me.
The templo itself is pretty cool: the different stages of the construction are clearly apparent in the stratification, and there’s some funky areas such as ‘skull wall’, which I suspect has a more official name, and some random sculpture dudes seen above, just hanging out.
It’s a huge area, far bigger than I realise at first, and would have been around 60metres high, dedicated to Tlaloc (rain dude), and Huitzilopochtli, not only a great scrabble word when not playing with the fascists who won’t allow proper nouns, but also the God of War. I mooched round the complex, thrilled to be viewing it in the open air until Tlaloc got over-zealous and then I and another twenty tourists suddenly found the covered areas particularly fascinating. Squelching my way round the complex and gradually feeling my socks seeping up the rain, I decided to cut the ‘real’ stuff short for another day, and headed to the museum.
Reconstruction of Templo Mayor – big, innit?
Some of the artefacts inside took my breath away: the museum is divided into eight levels, thematically aimed to juxtapose the themes of life and death. For me the most intriguing rooms were ‘Ritual & Sacrifice’, and the two floors dedicated to rain dude and war god. Ritual and Sacrifice is not a room for the faint hearted. Full skeletons are found there, disconcerting grinning skull masks, a selection of decapitated heads, many of young children or older women with human sacrifice being carried out in diverse ways to appease the gods, particularly to encourage favourable conditions when crops were dying in dry season.
One of the less horrific displays
More aesthetically pleasing was the intricate turquoise dish in the ‘Tribute & Commerce’ room which shows seven characters on its circumference – painstakingly reconstructed tiny piece by tiny piece. Assuming the archaeologist’s dog didn’t come and wag her tail over everything like ours does when we try to do anything detailed.
Another artefact depicted God of the Earth, Tlaltecuhtli, who apparently had a rather modern approach to gender delineation and is sometimes depicted as giving birth. Seriously screwed over by two other gods, who ripped her/him into different pieces and tore his/her jaw off, his/her body became the earth, hair the trees, eyes the caves, and another random torso part became the sky. Understandably somewhat miffed, Tlaltecuhtli was the first to demand blood and human hearts in sacrifice.
So, my first foray into ancient culture here and it was awesome, highly recommend a trip if you’re ever in toon, though you should bring a brolley in case Tlaloc is being a t*sser again.