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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Better known as Tula, Tollan-Xicocotitlan was the capital city of the Toltec state in the post-classic period.
Before the rise of Tenochtitlan and after the fall of Teotihuacán, Tula was arguably the most powerful city in the Valley of Mexico.
But its influence was not limited to central Mexico as it was also projected south into the Yucatán and Central America.
Some of the most famous sites in the Mayan world, including Chichén Itzá, are so heavily influenced by Toltec architecture that some scholars refer to them as outright Toltec.
Though calling Chichén Itzá 100% Toltec is an oversimplification, the depth and breadth of Toltec influence in the Mayan region in the post classic period are undeniable.
In fact, recent excavations in Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula suggest that the influence of the Toltec extended beyond the borders of what is usually considered Mesoamerica’s frontier in eastern Honduras.
The Toltecs arrived relatively late on the scene of Mesoamerican power politics, with the first evidence of their civilization dating to the 7th century CE.
It is believed that, like many other groups that settled in central Mexico during the post-classic period, the Toltec migrated from northern Mexico in search of more fertile land for agriculture.
When entering the archaeological site, one of the first structures you are likely to come across is Tula’s main Mesoamerican ballcourt.
The most iconic structure in the city of Tula is the pyramid of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli — say that quickly five times!
Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli is a manifestation of the feathered serpent deity known as Quetzalcóatl, the city’s chief god.
But what makes this flat-top pyramid really famous are the four massive warrior sculptures at its top, known as the Atlantes de Tula.
These column-like sculptures are nearly 16 feet tall and all depict the mythical warrior, Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, also known as the morning star.
The nearly identical figures show Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli wearing ceremonial armor including a butterfly chest plate, as well as weapons such as a knife and darts.
Surrounding the Atlantes are other elaborately decorated sculpted pillars, though they are not nearly as well preserved.
Adjacent to the pyramid of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli is a large complex known as el Palacio Quemado, or Burnt Palace.
As its name implies, this massive complex is thought to have been the residence of Tula’s ruling family, though this is hardly a certainty.
This maze-like structure has many rooms and niches and is dominated by a series of large rectangular columns.
On the western end of the main plaza is another large pyramid, known simply as Pyramid C. Though structurally this pyramid is fairly well preserved, it possesses only a few remnants of its once grandiose stucco facade.
The perimeter of Tula’s main ceremonial center is surrounded on all sides, save one, by pyramids, ceremonial structures, and artificial platforms.
On the northernmost quadrant of the ceremonial center is a second ball court, which is larger than the structure considered the site’s main ballcourt.
When visiting Tula, one may get the impression that the city did not extend far beyond the observable ceremonial center. However, this would be a mistake as constructions belonging to the city have been found as far afield as what today is the downtown of the city of Tula de Allende.
Aside from the archaeological site itself, the grounds of the Tula National Park itself are quite impressive and full of fascinating flora and fauna.
If you go
The archaeological site is about a 10-minute taxi ride away from downtown Tula de Allende and the city’s bus station.
If you are planning to visit Tula on a day trip from Mexico City, make your way to CDMX’s Estacion Norte. Buses to Tula de Allende leave roughly every hour and cost 150 pesos.
The bus ride can take anywhere between one-and-a-half and three hours, depending on traffic, so it may be wise to schedule your trip on the weekend or do your best to avoid rush hour.
The entrance fee to Tollan-Xicocotitlan (Tula) is 65 pesos and the site is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. On Sunday, admittance is free for Mexican nationals and foreign residents with ID.