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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

A ‘place of ancient temples’ awaits near the heart of Cuernavaca

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Cuernavaca is known as a popular weekend getaway destination for residents of México City.

Cuernavaca is a great getaway known for its laidback atmosphere, main plaza, and especially good mariachis. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

But aside from its charming plaza and historic downtown, the city is home to the remarkable archaeological site of Teopanzolco.

Aside from its stunning structures, Teopanzolco is full of mayflowers and several species of birds. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Meaning “the place of ancient temples” in the Nahuatl language, Teopanzolco was a major urban area during the late Classic and early Postclassic periods.

The archaeological site of Teopanzolco in Cuernavaca, Morelos. Graphic: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

However, evidence of human habitation and far more ancient structures have been excavated in the area, dating to roughly 2000 BCE. 

A handful of artificial platforms at Teopanzolco exhibit double stairways, a feature common during the construction of structures in the region’s Postclassic era. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The city of Teopanzolco features tributes and iconography making reference to several Mexica deities, including the god of rain, Tláloc; Tezcatlipoca, the god of night; and Ehécatl, the god of the winds. 

Temples dedicated to Ehécatl are extremely common in central México and can even be found underground inside the Pino Suarez metro station in México City. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

But first and foremost in this ancient city was the cult of Huitzilopochtli, the famed god of war, also known as “the lefthanded hummingbird,” to which the largest pyramid at the site is dedicated. 

The largest of the temples at Teopanzolco are dedicated to Echéatl, the god of the winds. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

In its layout and architecture, Teopanzolco resembles other cities or ceremonial centers of the same area, including Acozac near Nezahualcóyotl.

Large pyramid in Teopanzolco exhibiting a tablero talud type construction, common to the Postclassic period. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

This, of course, makes a lot of sense when we consider that the fashion of the day was to emulate the style of construction at the already ancient and mysterious city of Teotihuacán.

The grandeur and influence of Teotihuacán is hard to overstate, especially for later Mesoamerican civilizations in central Mexico. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Despite the beauty of Teopanzolco, it is important to keep in mind that the structures found within the archaeological site are but a tiny fraction of what would have been visible during antiquity.

An Oxxo appears behind a temple in Teopanzolco on the grounds of what was also part of the ancient city. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Moctezuma Ilhuicamina, the Fifth Tlatoani or Great Chief of the Mexica, conquered Teopanzolco, turning it into a vassal state before fully incorporating it into the Aztec Empire. 

During antiquity, Mesoamerican temples were covered in stucco and painted in bright colors. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

If you go

If in Cuernavaca, the easiest way to get to Teopanzolco is to simply hail a cab or a ride-sharing service, though public transit is available. 

From México City, Teopanzolco makes for a great stop when visiting other archaeological sites in Morelos, especially the magnificent Xochicalco.

Cuernavaca is just south of México City. Due to traffic, travel times between México City and Cuernavaca fluctuate between 1.5 to 3+ hours. Map: Google
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy, and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway.
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