Templo Mayor, Mexico City

Templo MayorTemplo Mayor Claire Murphy
Behind the Cathedral, at the corner of Calles Argentina and Guatemala, lie remains of the Temple Precinct of Tenochtitlán which were discovered some years ago. In February 1978 workers building the Metro found a carved stone, a round disc 3.25m (nearly 11 ft) in diameter and weighing 8500kg (8.5 tons), finely sculpted with a relief of the beheaded and dismembered goddess Coyolxauhqui.
This find stimulated other excavations. Until then it had been assumed that the Gran Teocalli, the principal pyramid of Tenochtitlán, lay buried under the Zócalo, but these latest excavations showed the religious and political centre of the Aztec kingdom to have been here, further to the north-east. This temple pyramid had been the dominant building of the holy precinct; on the top, pointing south, stood the temple to Huitzlipochtli, god of war, and to the north that of Tláloc, the god of rain. Together these symbolised the chief Aztec deities of war and death, life and water.
The excavation work, which necessitated the demolition of a whole block of flats, began at the main front of the pyramid with its double staircase, roughly on the line of the east side of Calle Argentina. It was discovered that this side of the pyramid had been built over no less than eleven times, while on the other sides there were only five rebuildings. Nothing has survived of the two temples, dedicated respectively to Tláloc and Huitzilopochtli, which originally stood on the top of the pyramid.
In the fifth layer from the top, however, was found the summit platform of an earlier pyramid with well-preserved temple walls. In front of the left-hand temple, dedicated to Tláloc, stood a figure of Chac-mool, still preserving most of its vividly-coloured painting. From the height of the walls and the material used it is deduced that these temples were probably erected before the Aztecs gained control of the Aneahuac valley in 1428. There may well be even older temples at lower levels, but it seems improbable that these will be brought to light.
Buried between different building levels were found the skulls of sacrificial victims and numerous vessels containing votive offerings. An interesting feature is the fact that only a fraction of the objects found, which numbered more than seven thousand, were of Aztec origin, most of them coming from the territories of other Indian peoples. Probably these represent tributes from the Aztecs' subject peoples, offered to the gods before the completion of a new pyramid.
A walkway through the site leads past the precinct of the aristocratic "winged warriors", where remains of their residences, decorated with multi-coloured reliefs, have been unearthed.
Address: Seminario, No 8, Mexico

Templo Mayor Highlights

Museo del Templo Mayor

As the National Museum of Anthropolgy has no more room to accommodate the numerous finds it was decided to build a new museum close to the excavation site. Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, who had designed the National Museum of Anthropology, was asked to draw up the plans. The new museum was opened on October 12th 1987, the anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus. The front of the museum is fully glazed, allowing a view over the excavation site. On four floors around a central courtyard are eight exhibition halls, an auditorium and a library, covering a total floor area of 1700 sq. m (18,300 sq. ft). The majority of the exhibits are displayed on open stands rather than behind glass. Information is provided (in Spanish translation only) in the form of wordings from various Aztec manuscripts.
Address: Seminario No. 8, Mexico

Sacrificial Stone

The most impressive exhibit is the Sacrificial Stone carved with a relief of the moon goddess Coyolxauhqui (Náhuatl, "she who decorates her face with bells"). It depicts a naked female form from which the head, arms and legs have been severed. Legend has it that she, together with 400 of her disciples, was killed and dismembered on the Hill of Serpents of Coatepec near Tula by her brother Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, because she sought the blood of her mother, the earth-goddess Coatlicue and objected to human sacrifice. Huitzilopochtli devoured the hearts of the slain. Copil, the son of Coyolxauhqui, attempted to avenge her death but he, too, was slain by Huitzilopochtli and his heart thrown into Lake Texcoco; from it is said to have sprung the "eagle cactus", which the Aztecs believed was a sign from the gods of a good place in which to build a settlement.
Visitors can view the Stone in two ways, either from the ground floor, in which it lies flat in front of the main windows, or from the floor above through a hole in the ceiling. The latter view shows the purpose of the stone more clearly; it stood at the foot of the pyramid below the Temple of Huitzilopochtli, and the priests standing above would have slain the prisoners and then - after ripping out the hearts - would have thrown the corpses down onto the Stone of Coyolxauhqui.

South Wing

The museum is divided into a South Wing and a North Wing, to correspond with the position of the two temples on the pyramid. The South Wing is reserved for the god of war, Huitzilopochtli. The first room shows the migration of the Aztecs until they arrived in the Valley of Anáhuac. The theme of the second room is war and sacrifices to appease the gods, while the third room deals with the Aztec toll system and trade. Finally, in the fourth room can be seen some of the major monoliths discovered on the site. The staircase is flanked by two life-size stone statues of "winged warriors" with stylised eagle wings, which originally stood in the aristocratic warrior precinct. Note the statue of Xiuhtecutli, the god of fire.
A special find were the eight "standard-bearers" from the altar of the Temple of Huitzilopochtli, some of which still bore traces of colouring and pieces of obsidian and shells to imitate eyes. So far their function has not been discovered. It is assumed that they date from the third building period (1431), and that when the pyramid was being built over for the fourth time they were laid down on the steps and covered up to protect them from damage.

North Wing

The four rooms of the North Wing are devoted to Tláloc the rain-god, who appears again and again at various stages of building. One room displays the skeletons of sacrificed animals, such as crocodiles, eagles, pumas, jaguars and sharks. Another room portrays various aspects of Aztec life and religion, including birth, upbringing and their vision of the Universe. The last room deals with the Conquest, concentrating on the arrival of the Spaniards and the demise of the Aztecs.


At the entrance to the Museo del Templo Mayor stands a Tzompantli ("wall of skulls"), which originally formed part of the northern section of the site. In the centre of the courtyard a model shows what the Temple Precinct of Tenochtitlán looked like before the Spanish conquistadors arrived.
Templo Mayor - Floor plan map Templo Mayor Map
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