In the middle of the concrete jungle that is Mexico City lay the remains of a ceremonial center dedicated to one of Mesoamerica’s most unique deities, the mighty Mixcóatl.
Mixcóatl appears in the religion and mythology of several mesoamerican peoples, including the Mixtecs, Taras, and Tlaxcaletecs. But regardless of his exact cultural manifestation, it is generally agreed that this powerful god is closely associated with war, the hunt, and tempests.
The role of Mixcóatl in ancient mythology is extensive, but he is closely tied to creation stories and other major deities, including Quetzalcóatl and Huitzilopochtli.
The glyph used to represent Mixcoac on codices and maps features what seems to be a serpent with a cloud springing from its head.
Like with other major deities, ritual sacrifice and bloodletting were a big part of the cult of Mixcóatl. One particularly interesting, if gruesome, aspect of human sacrifice during the Aztec period was the embodiment of a deity in a human subject.
The person chosen to embody the god, in this case, Mixcóatl, would be dressed in ceremonial regalia and treated not as an ambassador of the god but quite literally as the god himself for a year. But after this lapse of time, the Aztecs would sacrifice the individual, thus performing a literal divine blood sacrifice.
These sorts of sacrifices were central to the cosmology of several Mesoamerican peoples but seemed to have primarily originated in the region surrounding Tenochtitlan and other major Aztec centers. However, they were also practiced to a lesser degree in lands occupied by the Maya.
The surviving sections of the ceremonial center of Mixcoac itself are relatively small but surely sprawled much further in every direction.
The largest structure at the site is a pyramidal structure dedicated to Mixcóatl. It dominates a plaza surrounded by smaller structures, including what appear to be elite residential areas.
Near the pyramid is the main ceremonial chamber. According to historical records, it was adorned with stucco, and a throne painted in red and covered in animal pelts that survived until roughly the 1940s.
The rectangular central square would have been off limits to all but the most elite members of Aztec society, as it was considered a holy place intended for ritual.
One of the distinctive architectural features of sites such as Mixcoac is the use of basal river stones in constructing its temples.
A sizable section of the archaeological site is incorporated into an onsite museum to protect it from rain, erosion, and Mexico City’s notorious air pollution.
The onsite museum does a good job of presenting information that places the ceremonial center of Mixcoac into the context of greater Tenochtitlan and its surrounding domains.
If you go
Getting to Mixcoac from anywhere in Mexico City is fairly straightforward. Several bus and subway routes will get you within spitting distance, but you are probably better off taking a taxi or hailing a ride-sharing service.
Mixcoac is relatively close to Mexico City’s famous museum of Anthropology, so if you get an early start, you could always visit both on the same day.