Tula Tourist Attractions
How to get thereFrom Mexico City by bus (Terminal del Norte) about 1.5 hours; by car on the MEX 57D in the direction of Querétaro, turning off after 68km/42mi to Tepejí del Río, and then a further 20km/12.4mi to Tula de Allende and 3km/2mi to the ruins.
The remains of Tollán, the Toltec capital, lie on a hill, separated from the present-day township of Tula de Allende by a river. The Toltecs not only presided over the development of the Early post-Classic period in Central Mexico but also, by some interaction which has still not been properly explained, influenced the Maya civilisation 1200km/750mi away in Yucatán.HistoryThe area around present-day Tula was initially inhabited by Otomí Indians who interbred with the Chichimecs - Náhuatl-speaking nomads who arrived from the north-west between the 7th and 9th c. It is quite likely that around the same time another tribal group, the Nonoalca (Náhuatl: "where the language changes") came to Tollán from Tabasco on the southern Gulf coast. According to the latest findings a cultural centre already existed in Tula Chico as early as AD 650.The account which follows mixes myth with historical reality to such an extent that the traditional version of events can only have a limited validity. The leader of the Nonoalcos and founder of the Toltec dynasty, the legendary figure Mixcóatl ("cloud snake"), settled in the valley of Anáhuac. He married Chimalma ("reclining shield"), a princess from Tepoztlán, who in AD 947 gave birth to Ce Acatl-Topiltzín ("1 reed our prince"). After studying in the cultural centre of Xochicalco, which was dedicated to the god Quetzalcóatl, the young prince took over the leadership of the Toltecs and in AD 958 founded the new capital of Tollán ("place of the reed"). He encouraged the peace-loving members of the Quetzalcóatl cult to be teachers of the arts and sciences and also as a priest king took the name of this god.About 20 years later he found himself in conflict with his mythical rival Tezcatlipoca ("smoking mirror"), the warlike god of the night and champion of evil spirits. Vanquished in this struggle, Topiltzín was forced to leave Tollán in 987 and went to Cholula where he is said to have stayed for a long time. He then went to Veracruz and from there to Yucatán, taking Toltec culture to the Mayas and bringing about a renaissance in their civilisation in his role as the god king Kukulcán. According to another version Quetzalcóatl is supposed to have left the country by boat, promising that he would return one day, and even to have been burned and transformed into the morning star.It is thought that the Nonoalca-Toltecs returned to their original homeland of Tabasco in the second half of the 10th c., subsequently moving on to Chichén Itzá which they finally subdued. The result of this fusion of Toltec militarism with the artistic skill of the Mayas was the post-Classic renaissance of Maya art. With the victory of the warring faction in Tollán a militaristic empire developed which was based on the elite warrior orders of the eagles and the jaguars. It is also assumed that it was the Toltecs who instituted mass sacrifices of humans in order to appease the gods. In AD 1125 the decline of Tollán was apparently set in train by a struggle between the Chichimecs and the Nonoalcas, which led to the first emigration to Cholula and its conquest. The great fire of Tollán followed and then the arrival of other Chichimec groups who took part in the struggle for Cholula.The end of the Toltec domination of Tollán finally occurred in 1175 under the rulers Topiltzín (Quetzalcóatl, a descendant of the legendary founder) and Huémac. Both of them fled southwards.The majority of the inhabitants of Tollán settled elsewhere in the valley of Anáhuac or migrated to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico or to Chiapas, Guatemala and Nicaragua. The Pipil Indians who still live in these areas and speak a Náhuatl tongue are probably the survivors of this wave of emigration. The Aztecs who laterruled over the region felt themselves to be the successors of the Toltecs and adopted aspects of their culture, in particular their religion.The writings of the 16th c., above all those of Bernardino de Sahagún and Fernando de Alba Ixtlilxóchitl, are the first written reports of the mysterious city of Tollán, which however was not actually discovered for another four hundred years. Thus, right up to the end of the 1930s it was erroneously believed that Teotihuacán had been the Toltecs' capital. Admittedly Antonio García Cubas in 1873 and Désiré Charnay in 1880 had stumbled across remains of an archaeological site at Tula, but it was not until 1938 that Wigberto Jiménez Moreno discovered the old city.Systematic excavations of the site were begun in the 1940s under Jorge R. Acosta and these finally led to its being identified beyond all doubt as the former Toltec metropolis. Further excavations under the direction of Eduardo Matos Moctezuma revealed that the central area of Tollán in its heyday extended to 12sq.km/5sq.mi and supported a population of some 60,000 people.
Temple of the Morning Star
After passing Edificio 1 (Building no. 1), a palace which has been built over on several occasions and probably served as a dwelling-place for priests, the visitor comes to the main square of the site. On this square stands the Temple of the Morning Star (Templo de Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli), also known as the Pyramid of Quetzalcóatl or Edificio B (Building B). From the main square a stairway leads up to the five-storey 10 m (33 ft) high stepped pyramid (40 m (131 ft) square), on which the temple once stood.
To the left of the Temple of the Morning Star stands Edificio 3 (Building no. 3), the Burnt-down Palace (Palacio Quemado). This building was formerly composed of several large rooms, columned halls (largely reconstructed) and courtyards. In the central quadrangle there are two Chac-mool sculptures and in the north-west corner there is a wall with painted reliefs depicting a procession of richly adorned noblemen.
Other ruins To the south of the palace, in the middle of the Plaza Central, a small altar (adoratorio) stands on a square platform. At the east end of the square is Edificio C (Building C), the Main Temple (Templo Mayor). On the steps leading up to the upper platform there is a Chac-mool. On a stone slab to the right of the steps it is possible to make out the motive of Venus, one of the symbols of Quetzalcóatl.
The so-called "Serpent Wall" (Coatepantli; 2.20 m (7 ft) high and 40 m (131 ft) long), which runs along the south side of the small square, encloses the Temple of the Morning Star. Underneath shell patterns and geometric ornaments can be seen reliefs of snakes devouring human skeletons.
On entering the site the visitor comes to the small Plazuela Norte (northern square) with its ball court (Juego de Pelota No. 1), which measures 67m by 12.50m (220ft by 41ft).
Jorge R. Acosta Museum
The Jorge R. Acosta Museum, in which Toltec stone sculptures and ceramics are displayed, is to be found at the entrance to the site.
On a hill 6km/4mi to the south-east of Tula, known as El Cielito (the "Little Heaven"), the ruins of an Aztec palace have been found, standing on the site of an older Toltec palace. The palace was actually still inhabited in the early years of the viceroyship of New Spain and historians have been able to establish that it was the residence of Pedro Moctezuma, the son of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma II. This Aztec prince, a brilliant pupil at the first Franciscan school for the Indian elite, was appointed Cacique of Tula by the Spanish.
Tepeji del Rio
About 20km/12.4mi from Tula, near the MEX 57D, lies the town of Tepejí del Río (2175 m (7136 ft); population 50,000; fiesta Good Friday). The impressive convent church of San Francisco, which was completed in 1586, has a fine colonial-Plateresque façade. There is a memorial in honour of the scientist and Mexican foreign minister Melchor Ocampo, who was shot dead on his hacienda in 1861.
Tula de Allende
In the little town of Tula de Allende (2030 m (6660 ft); population 40,000), 3km/2mi away, which was founded in 1529 by Franciscans, stands the massive fortified church of San José, built between 1550 and 1553. Its façade is in a pure Renaissance style; the interior has some remarkable ribbed vaulting in the choir and side chapels.
Cerro de la Malinche
The Cerro de la Malinche, a hill on the other side of the Río Tula to the west of the town of Tula de Allende, is where, chiselled into the smooth rock-face, the calendar motive of "1 reed 8 flint" (AD 980) was found. This suggests the period of Ce Acatl Topiltzín's regency, although it was probably added later by the Aztecs.
About 1.5km/1mi to the north of the ruins a strange monument, known as El Corral, is to be found. The central section is round, while two rectangular structures on the east and west sides have been added. An interesting altar which formerly used to stand here is now on display in the museum.
Map of Tula Attractions