El Conde: A Palace Fit for Kings in the Mexica Heartland

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During the 14th century, the Temple of el Conde was a symbol of the power of the Mexica in the Naucalpan region and the defeat of once mighty city-states like Tlatilco, Nopala, and Occipaco.

Just across the state line between México City and Naucalpan in México State lay the grand temple of “El Conde.” Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Rather than referring to a Conde (Count in Spanish), the temple is named after Manuel Conde, the proprietor of the Hacienda de Echegaray, who documented and explored its ruins in the first decade of the 20th century. 

15th-century sources suggest that El Conde would have followed a design similar to that of the Palace of Nezahualcóyotl.

A 3D rendering and representation of the Palace of Nezahualcóyotl as depicted in the Quinatzin codex. Graphic: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Nezahualcóyotl was the tlatoani (ruler) of the city-state of Texcoco in the Valley of Mexico from 1428 to 1472. He was a poet, philosopher, architect, and military leader considered one of the most important figures in pre-Hispanic Mexican history.

Nezahualcóyotl, the great Mexica monarch (Tlatoani) of Texcoco, may have resided temporarily within the El Conde complex. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The Temple of el Conde is believed to have reached the zenith of its splendor in the 14th Century under the reign of the Tlatoani Tezozóoc. However, archaeological evidence suggests that an earlier structure likely sat in the same spot several hundred years before. 

The practice of building temples atop older structures was extremely widespread in Mesoamerica. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

El Conde would have been one of the largest structures of a sprawling ceremonial center, but now it is completely surrounded by contemporary homes and businesses, making archaeological finds in the area difficult.

Aerial images of El Conde make it easier to imagine what the structure would have looked like during its heyday, including the locations of its walls and vaults. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Only the main platform of the Temple of El Conde survives today and features a wide staircase, as well as evidence of several rooms, chambers, and possibly even a kitchen or temazcal. 

The Temple of El Conde possesses a single large stairway — an architectural feature common to the Post-classic. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Archaeological research suggests that like several other elite complexes in the region, El Conde would have aqueducts deliver water from a large reservoir within what today is Mexico City’s famous Bosque de Chapultepec Park. 

Chronicles written during and shortly after the conquest often noted that the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica would bathe on a daily basis, something which seemed quite odd to Europeans of the time. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

These days El Conde is open to visitors, though few ever visit. The one exception is during the spring equinox when hundreds gather at the site to commemorate the celestial event. 

Unlike sites like Chichén Itzá or Dzibilchaltún, the equinox ceremony at El Conde does not center around a specific alignment of the sun with architectural features but rather is used as an opportunity for people to get in touch with their prehispanic past. Photo: Courtesy

Walking around the temple it is possible to make out a handful of carvings and even find traces of red stucco on the ground, which would have covered the vast majority of the structure. 

A handful of decorative stone disk shields have been found in the area, though the vast majority of the remains of the ceremonial center have been plundered over the centuries. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

If you go

Getting to El Conde from anywhere in Mexico is straightforward, though the best option is to take a ride-sharing service, preferably during the weekend, when traffic is the lightest.

The neighborhood that surrounds El Conde is nice and in the mornings is full of folks walking their dogs around the pyramid. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

El Conde is also relatively close to several other attractions in Mexico City, including the National Museum of History and Anthropology, which is worth a visit for any archaeology buff. 

Location of the El Conde Temple Complex in Naucalpan, very near to Mexico City. 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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