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 Central Mexico

(This is taken from John D. Baldwin's Ancient America, originally published in 1871.)


As we go down into Central Mexico, the remains assume another character, and become more important; but the antiquities in this part of the country have not been very completely explored and described, the attention of explorers having been drawn more to the south. Some of them are well known, and it can be seen that to a large extent they are much older than the time of the Aztecs whom Cortez found in power.

In the northern part of the Mexican Valley was the city of Tulha, the ancient capital of the Toltecs. At the time of the conquest its site was an extensive field of ruins. At Xochicalco, in the State of Mexico, is a remarkable pyramid, with a still more remarkable base. It was constructed with five stages or stories, and stands on a hill consisting chiefly of rock, which was excavated and hollowed for the construction of galleries and chambers. The opening serves as an entrance to several galleries, which are six feet high and paved with cement, their sides and ceilings seeming to have been covered with some very durable preparation which made them smooth and glistening. Captain Dupaix found the main gallery sixty yards, or one hundred and eighty feet long, terminating at two chambers which are separated only by two massive square pillars carefully fashioned of portions of the rock left for the purpose by the excavators. Over a part of the inner chamber, toward one corner, is a dome or cupola six feet in diameter at the base, and rather more in height. It has a regular slope, and was faced with square stones well prepared and admirably laid in cement. From the top went up a tube or circular aperture nine inches in diameter, which probably reached the open air or some point in the pyramid.

In this part of Mexico can be seen, among other things, the great pyramid or mound of Cholulu, the very ancient and remarkable pyramidal structures at Teotihuacan, and an uncounted number of teocallis or pyramids of smaller size. The pyramid of Cholulu covers an area of forty-five acres. It was terraced and built with four stages. When measured by Humboldt it was 1400 feet square at the base, and 160 feet high. At present it is a ruin, and, to superficial observers, seems little more than a huge artificial mound of earth. Its condition of decay indicates that it is much older than even the Toltec period. The largest structure at Teotihuacan covers eleven acres. These structures, and the Mexican teocallis generally, were made of earth, and faced with brick or stone.

Captain Dupaix saw, not far from Antequera, two truncated pyramids which were penetrated by two carefully constructed galleries. A gallery lined with hewn stone, bearing sculptured decorations, went through one of them. A similar gallery went partly through the other, and two branches were extended at right angles still farther, but terminating within. He mentions also the ruins of elaborately decorated edifices which had stood on elevated terraces. At one place he excavated a terraced mound, and discovered burnt brick; and he describes two ancient bridges of the Tlascalans, both built of hewn stone laid in cement, one of them being 200 feet long and 36 wide. Obelisks or pillars 42 feet high stood at the corners of these bridges. Important remains of the ancient people exist in many other places; and “thousands of other monuments unrecorded by the antiquaries invest every sierra and valley of Mexico with profound interest.”

At Papantla, in the State of Vera Cruz, there is a very ancient pyramidal structure somewhat peculiar in style and character. It is known that important ruins exist in the forests of Papantla and Mesantla which have never been described. The remarkable pyramid at Papantla was examined and described by Humboldt. The only material employed in constructing it was hewn stone. The stone was prepared in immense blocks, which were laid in mortar. The pyramid was an exact square at the base, each side being 82 feet in length, and the height about 60 feet. The stones were admirably cut and polished, and the structure was remarkably symmetrical. Six stages could be discerned by Humboldt, and his account of it says, “A seventh appears to be concealed by the vegetation which covers the sides of the pyramid.” A great flight of steps leads to the level summit, by the sides of which are smaller nights. “The facing of the stones is decorated with hieroglyphics, in which serpents and crocodiles carved in relievo are visible. Each story contains a great number of square niches symmetrically distributed. In the first story there are 24 on each side, in the second 20, and in the third 16. There are 366 of these niches on the whole pyramid, and 12 in the stairs toward the east.”

The civilization of the Aztecs who built the old city of Mexico will be made a separate topic; but it may be said here that when they came into the Valley of Mexico they were much less advanced in civilization than their predecessors. There is no reason whatever to doubt that they had always resided in the country as an obscure branch of the aboriginal people. Some have assumed, without much warrant, that they came to Mexico from the North. Mr. Squier shows, with much probability, that they came from the southern part of the country, where communities are still found speaking the Aztec language. When they rose to supremacy they adopted, so far as their condition allowed, the superior knowledge of their predecessors, and continued, in a certain way, and with a lower standard, the civilization of the Toltecs. It has been said, not without reason, that the civilization found in Mexico by the Spanish conquerors consisted, to a large extent, of “fragments from the wreck that befell the American civilization of antiquity.”









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