El Tajin

El Tajin

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El Tajin is located near the coast of eastern Mexico and was an important Mesoamerican centre which flourished between 900 and 1100 CE. A part of the Veracruz culture, the city's architecture also displays both Maya and Oaxacan influences, while the most famous monument at El Tajin is the splendid Early Classic temple known as the Pyramid of the Niches. The site boasts several other important pyramids, monumental platforms, and 17 ballcourts, justifying its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Historical Overview

El Tajin is a more modern name derived from the Totonac rain god or, more precisely, the twelve old men or Tajin who were considered lords of thunderstorms and who were thought to live in the ruins of the city. The surrounding fertile land was (and still is) ideal for the cultivation of maize, cacao, vanilla, and tobacco, an ideal basis to support a prosperous trade centre. There is evidence that El Tajin was first settled in the 1st century CE, and the city underwent twelve distinct building phases up to the 12th century CE. The early centuries at the site show evidence of influence from Teotihuacan both in pottery and architecture, notably with the first stepped pyramids. The first ballcourts at the site appear around 500 CE. The oldest surviving large pyramid dates to El Tajin V during the 6th century CE. Tajin VI from 600 CE saw the construction of the north ballcourt. From the early 7th century CE, El Tajin began to conquer the smaller surrounding settlements to establish itself as the dominant force in the area. In the 8th century CE, the Pyramid of the Niches was completed and the huge raised acropolis platform of Tajin Chico was constructed. El Tajin was destroyed by fire and abandoned around 1100 CE or even earlier.

Many of the buildings are typical of the Classic Veracruz style and so were richly decorated with relief carvings which would also have been brightly painted.

Layout & Architecture

The core of Epiclassic El Tajin covered some 60 hectares (146 acres) and may be divided into two distinct areas with the oldest being in the south and the newer, known as Tajin Chico, in the northern part of the city. The former is built according to the cardinal compass points, consists of rectangular platforms, and is dominated by the Pyramid of the Niches. Tajin Chico is more elevated than the earlier portion of the city, and its buildings are aligned along a north-west to south-east axis so that the whole is set at a 60 degree angle to the structures of older El Tajin. The reason for this change in orientation is unknown but may simply be a question of geographical limitations. Many of the buildings are typical of the Classic Veracruz style and so were richly decorated with relief carvings which would also have been brightly painted. In addition, El Tajin displays advanced construction techniques as many structures have concrete slab roofs, the liquid concrete having been poured over wooden frames.

Pyramid of the Niches

The Pyramid of the Niches was constructed in the 8th century CE and has 365 symmetrically arranged square niches (each 60 cms deep) and these, along with the heavy scroll carvings typical of Veracruz architecture, create a constantly shifting play of light and shadow when the monument basks in sunshine. Undoubtedly then, the structure had some connection with the solar year. The pyramid has six platforms, is 20 metres high, whilst each side is 26 metres wide. A richly decorated stairway leads to a small structure on the top platform. The balustrades of the stairway are decorated with scroll or meander designs, and the whole displays a similar architectural design to Maya Copan. It is also noteworthy that a stela depicting a standing ruler figure in relief was discovered at the base of the pyramid and is another strong artistic link to the Maya. Inside the pyramid is a smaller one, contemporary with the outer facing which was originally painted bright red.

Tajin Chico

Constructed between the 9th and 10th centuries CE, Tajin Chico was probably used as a residential area for the city's aristocracy. The higher placed the buildings, the newer they are, so that the large three-level platform building on the north-west hill is the most recent, as proven by the presence of older pottery shards in its masonry. Built in the 10th century CE, it originally had a six-column colonnade on its eastern façade and is approached by a short stairway with retaining walls. The columns carry relief carvings which narrate scenes from the life of probably El Tajin's last ruler, 13 Rabbit. Once again, architectural decoration on several Tajin Chico structures often remind of a Maya influence, this time from Uxmal.

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There are no fewer than 17 ballcourts at El Tajin, an unusually high number, which has led the historian M. E. Miller to speculate that the city may well have held great sporting festivals much like those at Olympia in Ancient Greece. Indeed, El Tajin seems to have been a repository for rubber which was used to make the solid black balls used in the Mesoamerican ballgame. Most courts were deliberately positioned so that background topographical rises were framed by the sloping sides as one looked down the length of the court.

The south ballcourt is of particular interest because of its relief sculpture depicting rituals, including human sacrifice. Dating to between 700 and 900 CE, four of the six relief panels (each composed of several slabs) have a large skeleton figure rising from a pot on their left sides. One panel shows two ball players cutting out the heart of a third player above whom is another skeletal figure hungry for the victim's soul. Another panel shows a warrior ritual with a central figure dressed as an eagle standing over a person reclining on a couch and flanked by two musicians. All the panels have a decorative double frame, a typical feature of Veracruz art.

El Tajin - Magnificence in the Mexican Jungle

An ancient ceremonial center that the early Spanish explorers never found.

A United Nations World Heritage site and one of the most important archaeological sites in Mexico.

Off the beaten tourist path, in the state of Veracruz near the Gulf of Mexico.

The first sight of the ruins was astonishing. The emerald green of the grass and forest, the textures of the rocks, the soft grayness and coolness of the gentle rain, and the view of several pyramidal structures all combined to caress the eyes and invite exploration. We meandered around the huge site. Over 30 of the more than 160 buildings known to archaeologists have been excavated. The further my husband and I went, the more amazing the buildings became.

I gave myself over to being in a place with so much life and history, such a strong feeling of people of the past. It was grand to be there, and also a reminder of how short my own time will be, in the great scheme of things.

The city was both a spiritual and a political center - the two concepts were intertwined. In the Totonac language, tajín means thunder, lightning, or hurricane, all of which can occur mightily in the region, between June and October. The god of these forces was called Tajín by the Totonacs.

Scholars generally seem to agree that most of the site was built by the Totonacs, who occupied a large geographical area in this part of Mexico. El Tajín's epoch of splendor ran from about 800 to 1200 AD and probably involved a population of 25,000 or so, spread over a larger area than the site itself.

El Tajín was abandoned in 1230 AD, for reasons which are unknown -- perhaps an attack of the Chichimecas, perhaps something else. El Tajín was not located where it was for reasons of defense - the site is completely open.

By the time of the Spanish conquest, El Tajín was covered by jungle. In 1785, a Spanish engineer named Diego Ruiz was looking for tobacco plantings that the Spanish wanted to control, and he came upon the Pyramid of the Niches. As one of the brochures put it, he became the first European to see El Tajín. I liked that wording better than the more usual Euro-centric phrase, that he "discovered" it.

El Tajín has a number of ball courts, for the ritual game famous for its outcome of human sacrifice. I remember my horror when my family went to Mayan sites in the Yucatan when I was nine. Memories of that repulsion had made me wonder if El Tajín would give me the creeps. Far from it. the sense of civilization that I felt at El Tajín was very strong. Balance was a central concept for them, keeping the world in balance between the opposites of duality that some scholars see as a major part of the Totonac world view.

We wandered around, and found ourselves on a path going uphill through the jungle. Remembering a guidebook's warning about poisonous snakes in the thicker jungle, we stayed on the trail. Soon we came upon a hand-dug well, with a sign asking people not to dirty it as it was used for drinking. We had reached the far edges of the ruins, and there was a tiny house and cornfield. We wondered about the native peoples of Totonac descent. Did they live here among the ruins of their ancestors for all these centuries?

It was delicious to see so few other tourists around. It seemed that there were fewer than fifty at the whole site while we were there. A rainy Monday in February didn't pull the numbers that would have been there at other times, but still El Tajín is really off the beaten touristic path. Travel in Mexico in the off season has its benefits. Some friends of ours went to El Tajin at the spring equinox, and they reported that there were thousands of people there for special ceremonies.

Eventually, we wandered back to the museum at the entrance to the grounds. I chatted for a while with a young guard, who was also a student. He was extremely knowledgeable about the history there. I asked a more contemporary question, too: could we camp overnight in the parking lot? He assured me that tourists often did and there was never a problem. All we needed to do was come in around closing time and tell the two night watchmen that we would be there.

We had a pleasant evening in the motorhome, going through the many photos we had taken and reading a book in Spanish that I had bought about El Tajín. The dog food I had purchased came in handy. There were quite a few loose dogs in the parking lot and over by the souvenir stands. One pretty little brown bitch quickly adopted us, chasing off other dogs.

I wanted to feed two other little brown dogs, but even when I put out two and then three separate piles some distance apart, the bitch - whom we dubbed Brownie One - ran growling from pile to pile, managing to keep both other Brownies from getting much. When Kelly stepped out to turn on the hot water heater, the dogs were disappointed that the match he was holding was not something to eat. I briefly wished we could take Brownie One home with us, but I knew our two dogs at home wouldn't accept her easily. That night, she slept under the RV, and the other Brownies - were they her grown pups? - slept nearby. When a truck came through the parking lot in the wee hours, all three dogs vigorously protected us with their barking. Travel in Mexico involves seeing such dogs everywhere, and I greatly enjoyed getting to know these zestful dogs.

I wondered if we would have interesting dreams so near the ruins, but neither of us remembered any. Early in the morning, we saw people leaving the ruins to go to work and school, adding to the sense of the continuity of life. As soon as the site was officially open, Kelly took off for several hours with his video camera. I enjoyed a little more dog time and then roamed the site for a while myself.

Back at the entrance area, I had a question for a young man at the front desk with whom I had spoken the day before. There was another man with him, also in the white shirt and beige slacks that signaled they were employees of the site, which is run cooperatively by state of Veracruz and the National Institute of Anthropology and History.

I had noticed the enthusiasm of everyone working there, not typical stolid museum guard personalities at all. "Everyone who works here seems so interested in the site," I began. "Are you archaeologists?" I thought they might be graduate students.

No, said the older man, they weren't archaeologists. The younger one explained that they were Totonacs themselves. They spoke Totonac in their homes, from childhood. These great ruins were the creations of their ancestors. He said a couple of other things that I couldn't quite understand. I was getting better at following spoken Spanish, and they were speaking more clearly than most, probably from their exposure to other foreigners. But still I rarely understood 100% of a conversation.

We left El Tajín with a feeling of immense satisfaction, a sense of having been greatly enriched. It would turn out to be one of the high points of our entire Mexican trip.

Rosana Hart has traveled to Mexico many times. Her website,, contains the full text of a book she wrote about traveling in Mexico, as well as information and travel tips on a variety of Mexican cities popular with tourists.

Rosana Hart

Rosana Hart writes about things she knows: living in Mexico, training dogs, simple living, raising llamas, the science fiction of her father Cordwainer Smith, how to start a small business on a shoestring, photography, and more. She is working on her memoirs. As a librarian turned writer, publisher, and webmaster, she loves the power of the internet to bring people together.

El Tajín: Photographs and Drawings by Michael Kampen

Aug 1, 2018 – Mar 10, 2019 | El Tajín is a UNESCO World Heritage archeological site located in northern Veracruz, Mexico, one of the largest and most important cities of classical era Mesoamerica.

Interested in seeing this exhibition? Purchase a ticket to visit both of our locations.

About The Exhibition

El Tajín is a UNESCO World Heritage archeological site located in northern Veracruz, Mexico, one of the largest and most important cities of classical era Mesoamerica. It is home to hundreds of carved sculptures which have deteriorated over time due to acid rain and wind erosion. Drawings created by Dr. Michael Kampen, now a retired professor emeritus of art history, are the best representations in existence of the site sculptures at El Tajín.

The black & white photographs he took range from views of the entire site to individual sculptures. Due to the damaged nature of the sculptures, photo representations were not ideal for scholarly examination. Kampen scaled the photographs and from the photographs he created meticulous ink on vellum line drawings, enabling the imagery in the weathered sculptures to become more identifiable. There are over 250 drawings and while many are fragments like the sculptures themselves, a substantial number illustrate remarkable figurative imagery offering the opportunity to explore the culture and civilization of El Tajín. This installation focuses on a selection of drawings and photographs created by Kampen and used to illustrate his doctoral thesis The Sculptures of El Tajín.

Dr. Kampen taught art history for many years at UNC-Charlotte, has authored numerous art history texts including Art Beyond the West, a standard text in non-Western art, and currently lives in Asheville, N.C. His book, The Sculptures of El Tajín, has been the sole source for scholars of his meticulous drawings. This exhibition allows some of the drawings their first public viewing in their actual size.

This exhibition will be provided in English and Spanish.
The library’s Kampen exhibition was created by library intern Stephen Garza as an internship project for credit towards his BA degree from UNC-Charlotte.

The Pyramid of Niches


The most prominent pyramid of the city of El Tajin is thought to have been completed in the 8th century CE. It features 365 symmetrically positioned square niches—each of which is 60 centimeters deep. Each of these niches, together with the heavy scroll carvings, create a constantly shifting play of lights and shadows when the monument is struck by sunlight. Archaeologists believe that the pyramid’s niches, and the structure in general, are deeply connected with the solar year.

The pyramid is a step pyramid consisting of seven superimposed structures and rises 20 meters in height. Each of its sides measures 26 meters and a beautifully-decorated stairway leads to a small temple-like structure at its summit.

Frequently Asked Questions about El Tajín

The site is surrounded by a lush green landscape.

Where is El Tajín?

El Tajín is a pre-Hispanic archeological site in the central Mexican state of Veracruz, 50km inland from the Gulf of Mexico. El Tajín lies around 10 km west from the city of Papantla, 255 km northwest from the city of Veracruz, and around 285 km northeast of Mexico City (by road).

How big is El Tajín?

The core site of El Tajín covers around 10 square kilometers (4 square miles), though smaller houses (as yet unexcavated) may have existed far beyond these boundaries. The area open to tourists today is around 146 acres. At its peak some 20,000 people would have lived here, but the site is uninhabited today.

What is the history of El Tajín?

El Tajín was founded in the 1st century AD by a civilization known as “Classic Veracruz”, though little is known about the people who built it most theories point to the Huastecs or the Totonacs. The city flourished between 600 and 1200 AD, ruling much of the current state of Veracruz. El Tajín is thought to have been destroyed in the 13th century by fire, likely the result of an attack by the Chichimecs. Papantla was established by the Totonacs soon after, and El Tajín was gradually abandoned to the jungle. The Spanish “rediscovered” the ruins in 1785, but large-scale excavation and jungle clearance only began in the 1930s.

How do I get to El Tajín?

Most tourists visit El Tajín from the laid back city of Papantla, 10 km west – it’s a smaller but far more pleasant place to stay than industrial Poza Rica, which is 18 km northwest of El Tajín. Minibuses run between Papantla and the ruins (around 15 pesos) from Septiembre 16, behind Hotel Tajín. Taxis are also plentiful in Papantla and will wait at the ruins for an extra fee.

Unique pyramid details.

There is a small airport at Poza Rica, 30 km north of El Tajín, which in the past has been served by Aeromar with one daily flight to and from Mexico City – with the likely bankruptcy of Aeromar there are no plans for flights in the near future. Taxis from the airport will charge at least 350 pesos just to get into Poza Rica, and a lot more to El Tajín. Otherwise the nearest airports are at Veracruz and Mexico City – take a bus from either of these to Papantla. First-class buses from Mexico City take around 5 hours from Veracruz it’s around 4 hours.

Taking an organized tour (with transport by bus included) is possible from Veracruz, but given the driving time, not recommended. It’s far better to travel independently and stay over night in Papantla.

What about Uber?

Uber is unavailable in the El Tajín and Papantla area – negotiate with regular taxi drivers instead.

Can I drive to El Tajín?

Driving from the US is possible – it’s a straightforward 460-mile (740 kilometers) journey from Brownsville, Texas. However, care should be taken choosing a route, as the Mexican border states suffer from high levels of drug violence – driving at night should definitely be avoided. Foreign vehicles also need a Mexican “Temporary Importation of Vehicle Permit”, arranged at the border. It’s also possible to rent a car in Veracruz, and drive up from there (around 4 hours non-stop). Veracruz state is generally safe for tourists, but renting a car is not recommended for first-time Mexico drivers.

Do I need a car in El Tajín?

No. The site itself is pedestrian only and small enough to explore on foot.

The Pyramid De Los Nidos, with 365 windows, serves as a sun calendar with a temple on the top.

When is the best time to go to El Tajín?

December to April, when the weather is warm and relatively dry. El Tajín has a tropical climate – it’s very hot March to May, and humid and rainy June to October. The site can be busy during Mexican holidays or over the winter months – especially on Sundays – but this is still one of the least visited Mesoamerican sites in the country.

Where should I stay in El Tajín?

There is no accommodation in or around El Tajín itself, so staying in Papantla makes the most sense, in order to get an early start and have the site to yourself. There’s not a lot of choice however, with the best option Hotel Tajín (, with city views, a small pool and decent restaurant. The Provincia Express (at Juan Enríquez 103-A) is a cheaper and convenient, if a little basic, alternative, right on the main plaza with a/c and wi-fi.

What are the best things to do in El Tajín?

There’s one main reason to come here – the ancient Maya ruins of El Tajín (officially “Zona Arqueológica El Tajín”), some of the most pristine in Mexico, though you can also check out the famous “voladores” just outside the main entrance. These “flying men” climb to a small platform atop a 30-meter high pole before four of them spiral back down to earth on ropes while the fifth plays a flute and drum. It’s an ancient Mesoamerican ritual that’s well worth watching – the shows are free but expect to give a 20 peso tip.

What are the facilities like?

The main entrance to the site features an avenue of souvenir and handicraft shops, as well as plenty of places to eat and drink (vendors also roam the main site, but stock up on water before entering, just in case). The toilets are also here – there are no other restrooms in the site itself.

What currency is used in El Tajín?

The Mexican peso (often pre-fixed with a “$” sign) is the currency of Mexico and used in El Tajín – vendors in and around the site may accept US dollars (albeit at poor exchange rates), though entry to the site itself will be paid in pesos.
Bring lots of peso cash for small purchases like bottled water and snacks.

Is El Tajín safe?

Yes. Veracruz state and El Tajín itself has avoided the drug violence that has affected other parts of Mexico, and is generally free of petty crime.

El Tajin - History

Clay mask from Teotihuacan 1B.C - 900 A.D.

Mexico in the Classic period ( 200 B.C. - 900 A.D.) there were three dominate cultures: Teotihuacan, Monte Albain and the Maya .The most important was the huge complex of Teotihuacan ' The place of the Gods ' as it was called by the Aztecs , who believed that it was built by a race of giants .It is located 30 miles from Mexico City .The city measured over 12 square miles, in the core of which was a ceremonial center occupying 2 square miles .The city was one of the largest in the world at the time, with a population estimated to be 200,000 and was held in awe by following cultures .At its height between 150 and 450 AD , Teotihuacan controlled an area from northern Mexico to Guatemala . For all their greatness, its rulers remain anonymous, nowhere have their portraits been discovered and no writings have been found inscribed in their great city .Perhaps their written records were made on bark. Because of the lack of written records, the language and ethnic identity of the Teotihuacans is unknown .

Mystery of Teotihuacan - Pyramids Mexico "The Birthplace Of Gods"

The name Teotihuacan ("Birthplace Of The Gods") was given by Aztecs centuries AFTER the fall of the city.

At its zenith in the first half of the 1st millennium CE, Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas. At this time it may have had more than 100,000 inhabitants, placing it among the largest cities of the world in this period. The civilization and cultural complex associated with the site is also referred to as Teotihuacan or Teotihuacano. Although it is a subject of debate whether Teotihuacan was the center of a state empire, its influence throughout Mesoamerica is well documented evidence of Teotihuacano presence, if not outright political and economic control, can be seen at numerous sites in Veracruz and the Maya region. The ethnicity of the inhabitants of Teotihuacan is also a subject of debate. Possible candidates are the Nahua, Otomi or Totonac ethnic groups. Scholars have also suggested that Teotihuacan was a multiethnic state.

The early history of the people who built Teotihuacan is obscure, but by 200 B.C. they emerged as the main culture in the Valley of Mexico .Their carefully planned city was laid out on a grid scale .The main thoroughfare, the " Avenue of the Dead' was 150 feet wide and went through the heart of the city .The Aztecs believed they were tombs, inspiring the name of the avenue. Now they are known to be ceremonial platforms that were topped with temples.

The most famous monument is the Pyramid of the Sun, which rises to a height of 215 feet .It was constructed around 150 A.D.It held a temple on top . A sacred cave has been located beneath the Pyramid of the Sun, which may have some relation to the Mesoamerican belief about the creation of the world .The Pyramid of the Sun covers about the same area as the Great Pyramid in Egypt, but only half its height .

The population of the surrounding countryside, were probably coerced into living in the city . The common people lived in huge apartment complexes for 60 to 100 people with open, common courtyards .

Teotihuacan temple for the plumed serpent Quetzalcoatal (the dragon looking creature is Quetzalcoatal) next to it is Tlaloc . Click here for a larger picture .

The main god was Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent . The city God has been called the Great goddess, from whose yellow hands flowed streams of shells and jade , perhaps symbols of fertility and wealth By about 650 A.D. its powered weakened, possible due to agricultural or climatic reasons and the city was sacked by its enemies and was almost completely abandoned around 750 AD..The earliest buildings at Teotihuacan date to about 200 BC, and the largest pyramid, the Pyramid of the Sun, was completed by 100 AD.

This book discusses whether symbols at Teotihuacan are a writing system or not.

A mural called the Paradise of Tlaloc ( the water god ), one of the first murals in Mexico .

The city was a center of industry, home to many potters, jewelers and craftsmen. Teotihuacan is known for producing a great number of obsidian artifacts. Unfortunately no ancient Teotihuacano non-ideographic texts are known to exist (or known to have existed), but mentions of the city in inscriptions from Maya cities show that Teotihuacan nobility traveled to and perhaps conquered local rulers as far away as Honduras. Maya inscriptions mention an individual nicknamed by scholars as "Spear thrower Owl", apparently ruler of Teotihuacan, who reigned for over 60 years and installed his relatives as rulers of Tikal and Uaxactun in Guatemala.

DVD Explores the ruins of the ancient metropolis and ceremonial complex of

Teotihuacan in the valley of Mexico and explains what life was like for the people who lived there

When Teotihuacan collapsed, three cities in central Mexico remained, these were Cholula,a holy city in the state of Puebla , Xochicalco in Morelos and El Tajin in Veracruz . They were probably client states of Teotihuacan Cholula thus remained a regional center of importance, The center of Cholula was dominated by a huge pyramid, the largest in the world . It was dedicated to Quetzalcoatl . In total volume, it was greater than the Pyramid of Cheops .

Travel to the Great pyramid of cholula

Cholula, just outside the city of Puebla, is the site of the massive Cholula pyramid (The Great Pyramid of Cholula). In the days before the Spanish conquest, Cholula was a sacred city, and also a major commercial centre. When Hernan Cortes saw it, he declared it to be the most beautiful city outside of Spain itself. The area has probably been inhabited for over 3000 years, and the original pyramid may be over 2000 years old.

Up to the time of the fall of the Aztec empire, Aztec princes were still formally anointed by a Cholulan priest in a manner reminiscent, and perhaps even analogous, to the way some Mayan princes appear to have come to Teotihuacan in search of some sort of formalization of their rulership. At the time of the arrival of Hernan Cortes Cholula was second only to the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan (modern Mexico City) as the largest city in central Mexico, possibly with a population of up to 100,000 people. In addition to the great temple of Quetzalcoatl and various palaces, the city had 365 temples.


Ruinen der Pyramide von Xochicalco Carl Nebel 1839

To view a larger image click here .

Xochicalco was first built around 200 B.C. and shows influences of Teotihuacan and the Maya .Unlike Teotihuacan, it was fortified with moats and parapets, maybe due to Olmec attacks .Most of its notable architecture built between about 700 and 1000 AD. At its peak, the city may have had a population of up to 20,000 people.

Xochicalco, Morelos, Mexico

Xochicalco, Morelos, Mexico. A fascinating pre-Columbian city with an explanation of the seemingly bizarre 260 day "Maya" calendar.

El Tajin as it appeared in its heyday . Click here for a larger picture .

El Tajin had much influence on the Gulf coast, after the fall of Teotihuacan, it was the most powerful of the three large urban areas .The famous pyramid, seen above has a niche for each day of the year .Construction in El Tajin continued to about the start of the 13th century, at which time, according to tradition, the city was conquered and burned by Chichimec invaders.

El Tajín is a pre-Columbian archeological site and one of the largest and most important cities of the Classic era of Mesoamerica. A part of the Classic Veracruz culture. The archeological site is known by the local Totonacs, whose ancestors may also have built the city, as El Tajín, which was said to mean "of thunder or lightning bolt". Related to this is their belief that twelve old thunderstorm deities, known as Tajín, still inhabit the ruins. El Tajín was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1992 .

The 'Pyramid of the Niches', a masterpiece of ancient Mexican and American architecture, reveals the astronomical and symbolic significance of the buildings." A replica of the temple can be seen at the end of the movie From Dusk till Dawn by Quentin Tarantino .The site is one of the most important in Mexico and the most important in the state of Veracruz.The Totonac people resided in the eastern coastal and mountainous regions of Mexico at the time of the Spanish arrival in 1519. Today they reside in the states of Veracruz, Puebla, and Hidalgo. They are one of the possible builders of the Pre-Columbian city of El Tajín, and further maintained quarters in Teotihuacán.

Video of the Pyramids of El Tajín

The ball game, ollama, was extremely important to the meso-Americans of this region and all the major centers had one or more ball courts. The length of the court could vary, on a wall was a stone ring into one tried to knock a eight inch rubber ball through without using ones hands .Some games had religious significance, with the losing team being sacrificed.

Skeleton Stalagmite Reveals Human Inhabitants in Mexico At Least 13,000 Years Ago

A prehistoric human skeleton found on the Yucatán Peninsula is at least 13,000 years old and most likely dates from a glacial period at the end of the most recent ice age, the late Pleistocene. A German-Mexican team of researchers led by Prof. Dr Wolfgang Stinnesbeck and Arturo González González has now dated the fossil skeleton based on a stalagmite that grew on the hip bone.

"The bones from the Chan Hol Cave near the city of Tulúm discovered five years ago represent one of the oldest finds of human bones on the American continent and are evidence of an unexpectedly early settlement in Southern Mexico," says Prof. Stinnesbeck, who is an earth scientist at Heidelberg University. The research findings have now been published in PLOS ONE.

Cave diver hovering in one of the grand decorated hallways of the cave system from Cenote Chan Hol in Mexico. ( Alison Perkins/Underwater Project )

The early settlement of the Americas is a subject of controversial debate. A longstanding hypothesis claimed that the first migration took place 12,600 years ago through an ice-free corridor between retreating North American glaciers, via the ice-age Bering Land Bridge between Siberia and Alaska. In recent years, however, this theory is being increasingly called into question by new finds from North and South America. They indicate that people arrived there earlier, explains Prof. Stinnesbeck. However, these finds were mostly artifacts or open hearths, their age being dated by using the sediment they contained. It has been extremely rare so far to find human bones older than 10,000 anywhere in the Americas.

The Beringia (Bering) Land Bridge is the accepted route for the earliest migrations to the Americas. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

The water-filled caves near Tulúm on Yucatán -- a peninsula separating the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea -- offer a rich area for finds. Seven prehistoric human skeletons have already been documented in the intricate cave system near the coast in the eastern part of the peninsula, some of them previously dated by other researchers. The caves along Yucatán's Caribbean coast were not flooded until the worldwide rise in sea level after the ice age. They contain archaeological, palaeontological and climatic information hidden there from the time before the flooding, which is extremely well preserved, according to Wolfgang Stinnesbeck.

A cenote in Tulum, Mexico. (Christine Rondeau/ CC BY 2.0 )

It was, however, difficult to exactly determine the age of the human skeletal material using conventional radiocarbon dating, because the collagen in the bones had been completely washed out due to the long period spent in water. Prof. Stinnesbeck and his German-Mexican team of earth scientists and archaeologists therefore chose another method. By dating a stalagmite that had grown on the hip bone, they were able to narrow down the age of the human bones from the Chan Hol Cave.

The analysis of the uranium-thorium isotopes gave the skeleton a minimum age of 11,300 years. However, the climatic and precipitation data stored in the stalagmite showed a clearly higher age. It is measurable in terms of oxygen and carbon isotope ratios and was compared to "environmental archive" data from other parts of the earth. Aged at least 13,000, the Chan Hol Cave inhabitant presumably dates from the Younger Dryas. "It represents one of the oldest human skeletons from America. Our data underline the great importance of the Tulúm cave finds for the debate about the settling of the continent," says Prof. Stinnesbeck.

The Chan Hol II archaeological site prior to looting. The arrow points to the CH-7 stalagmite analyzed by the researchers. ( Nick Poole and Thomas Spamberg )

According to the Heidelberg earth scientist, the enormous urbanisation and growth of tourism in this region threaten the palaeontological and archaeological archives preserved in the caves. Shortly after the discovery of the human skeleton in February 2012 the site of the find was looted unknown divers stole all the bones lying around on the ground of the cave. Only a few photos and small fragments of bones bear witness today to the original find situation. The hip bone investigated by the German-Mexican researcher team only escaped being stolen through the protection provided by the rock-hard lime-sinter of the stalagmite.

Before and after looting at the cave site in Mexico. ( Stinnesbeck et al ) Only about 10% of the skeleton remained on site, including the pelvis covered by stalagmite.

Top image: Prehistoric human skeleton in the Chan Hol Cave near Tulúm on the Yucatán peninsula prior to looting by unknown cave divers. Source: Tom Poole/Liquid Jungle Lab

The article, originally titled ‘ Human bones in south Mexico: Stalagmite reveals their age as 13,000 years old’ was originally published onScience Daily .

Source: Wolfgang Stinnesbeck, Julia Becker, Fabio Hering, Eberhard Frey, Arturo González González, Jens Fohlmeister, Sarah Stinnesbeck, Norbert Frank, Alejandro Terrazas Mata, Martha Elena Benavente, Jerónimo Avilés Olguín, Eugenio Aceves Núñez, Patrick Zell, Michael Deininger. The earliest settlers of Mesoamerica date back to the late Pleistocene. PLOS ONE , 2017 12 (8): e0183345


This is the Ancient Origins team, and here is our mission: “To inspire open-minded learning about our past for the betterment of our future through the sharing of research, education, and knowledge”.

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  • Rain poncho (just in case)
  • Hat for protection from the tropical sun
  • Comfortable walking shoes

Note: For your protection, your tour guide will have a basic first aid kit for any unforeseen minor bumps & scrapes. He or she will also have emergency numbers for local medical facilities.

El Tajín

El Tajín is a pre-Columbian archeological site in southern Mexico and is one of the largest and most important cities of the Classic era of Mesoamerica. A part of the Classic Veracruz culture, El Tajín flourished from 600 to 1200 C.E. and during this time numerous temples, palaces, ballcourts, and pyramids were built. From the time the city fell, in 1230, to 1785, no European seems to have known of its existence, until a government inspector chanced upon the Pyramid of the Niches.

El Tajín was named a World Heritage site in 1992, due to its cultural importance and its architecture. This architecture includes the use of decorative niches and cement in forms unknown in the rest of Mesoamerica. Its best-known monument is the Pyramid of the Niches, but other important monuments include the Arroyo Group, the North and South Ballcourts and the palaces of Tajín Chico. In total there have been 20 ballcourts discovered at this site, (the last 3 being discovered in March 2013). Since the 1970s, El Tajin has been the most important archeological site in Veracruz for tourists, attracting over 650,000 visitors a year.

It is also the site of the annual Cumbre Tajin Festival, which occurs each March featuring indigenous and foreign cultural events as well as concerts by popular musicians.


The site is located in Mexico in the highlands of the municipality of Papantla in modern-day Veracruz, not far from the city of Poza Rica, which lies northwest of the port and city of Veracruz. The city is set in the low rolling mountains that lead from the Sierra Madre Oriental to the Gulf coast near the Tecolutla River. In ancient times, this city was located in the northeast corner of what is called Mesoamerica, and controlled an area from between the Cazones and Tecolutla Rivers to the modern state of Puebla. The main city is defined by two streams which merge to form the Tlahuanapa Arroyo, a tributary of the Tecolutla River. These two streams provided the population’s potable water. Most of the buildings are at the southern end, where the land is relatively flat and the two streams converge. The site extends to the northwest where terraces where constructed to place more buildings, mostly for the city’s elite. However the city also had communities located on the hills east and west of the main city, with mostly lower-class dwellings. Total site extends for 1,056 hectares (4.08 sq mi).

The area is rainforest, with a hot wet climate of the Senegal type. Average temperature for the year is 35 °C with hurricanes possible from June to October. It is also affected by a weather phenomenon called “nortes.” These are cold fronts with winds that come from the north and down the Tamaulipas and Veracruz coasts. The site has no major settlements located next to it. Surrounding it are tobacco fields, banana plantations, apiaries and vanilla groves. The closest settlement of any real size is Papantla.

When it was rediscovered by officialdom in 1785, the site was known to the local Totonac, whose ancestors may also have built the city, as El Tajín, which was said to mean “of thunder or lightning bolt”. Related to this is their belief that twelve old thunderstorm deities, known as Tajín, still inhabit the ruins. However, a series of indigenous maps dating from the time of the Spanish conquest, found in nearby Tihuatlan and now known as the Lienzos de Tuxpan, suggest that the city might then have been called “Mictlan” or “place of the dead”, a common denomination for ancient sites whose original names have been lost. This name also appears in the Matricula de Tributos, a surviving Aztec tribute record, which later formed part of the Codex Mendoza. This may therefore be linked to another Totonac meaning claimed for El Tajín: “place of the invisible beings or spirits”.

History of the city

Chronology studies at Tajín and nearby sites show that the area has been occupied at least since 5600 B.C. and show how nomadic hunters and gatherers eventually became sedentary farmers, building more complex societies prior to the rise of the city of El Tajin. The pace of this societal progression became more rapid with the rise of the neighboring Olmec civilization around 1150 B.C., although the Olmecs were never here in great numbers. It is unclear who built the city. Some argue in favor of the Totonacs and the Xapaneca however, there is a significant amount of evidence that the area was populated by the Huastec at the time the settlement was founded. In the 1st century CE Monumental construction started soon after and by 600 CE, El Tajín was a city. The rapid rise of Tajin was due to its strategic position along the old Mesoamerican trade routes. It controlled the flow of commodities, both exports such as vanilla and imports from other locations in what is now Mexico and Central America. From the early centuries, objects from Teotihuacan are abundant.

From 600 to 1200 C.E., El Tajín was a prosperous city that eventually controlled much of what is now modern Veracruz state. The city-state was highly centralized, with the city itself having more than fifty ethnicities living there. Most of the population lived in the hills surrounding the main city, and the city obtained most of its foodstuffs from the Tecolutla, Nautla and Cazones areas. These fields not only produced staples such as corn and beans but luxury items such as cacao. One of the panels at the Pyramid of the Niches shows a ceremony being held at a cacao tree. The religion was based on the movements of the planets, the stars and the Sun and Moon, with the Mesoamerican ballgame and pulque having extremely important parts. This led to the building of many pyramids with temples and seventeen ballcourts, more than any other Mesoamerican site. The city began to have extensive influence starting around this time, which can be best seen at the neighboring site of Yohualichan, whose buildings show the kinds of niches that define El Tajin. Evidence of the city’s influence can be seen along the Veracruz Gulf coast to the Maya region and into the high plateau of central Mexico.

At the end of the Classic period, El Tajín survived the widespread social collapse, migrations and destructions that forced the abandonment of many population centers at the end of this period. El Tajín reached its peak after the fall of Teotihuacan, and conserved many cultural traits inherited from that civilization. It reached its apogee in the Epi-Classic (900-1100 C.E.) before suffering destruction and the encroachment of the jungle.

El Tajín prospered until the early years of the 13th century, when it was destroyed by fire, presumably started by an invading force believed to be the Chichimecas. The Totonacs established the nearby settlement of Papantla after the fall of El Tajín. El Tajín was left to the jungle and remained covered and silent for over 500 years. While the city had been completely covered by jungle from its demise until the 19th century, it is unlikely that knowledge of the place was completely lost to the native peoples. Archeological evidence shows that a village existed here at the time the Spanish arrived and the area has always been considered sacred by the Totonacs. However, there are no records by any Europeans about the place prior to the late 18th century.

History of its rediscovery

In 1785, an official by the name of Diego Ruiz stumbled upon the Pyramid of the Niches, whilst looking for clandestine tobacco plantings breaching the royal monopoly in this isolated area rarely visited by the authorities. He made a drawing of the pyramid and reported his find to a publication called Gaceta de Mexico. He claimed the natives had kept the place secret. The publication of the pyramid’s existence in the Gaceta influenced academic circles in New Spain and Europe, attracting the attention of antiquarians José Antonio Alzate y Ramírez and Ciriaco Gonazlez Carvajal, who wrote about it. It also gained the interest of several academics, who compared the pyramid with the constructions of ancient Rome. The pyramid was further advertised by Italian Pietro Márquez in Europe and by Alexander von Humboldt.

Since its discovery by Europeans, the site has attracted visitors for two centuries. German architect Charles Nebel visited the site in 1831 and was the first to graphically and narratively detail the Pyramid of the Niches as well as the nearby ruins of Mapilca and Tuzapan. He was also the first to speculate that the pyramid was part of a larger city. His drawings and descriptions were published in a book named Voyage pittoresque et archéologique published in Paris in 1836.

The first archeologists reached the site in the early 20th century and included Teobert Maler, Edward Seler, Francisco del Paso y Troncoso and Herbert and Ellen Spinden. With the discovery of oil in the area came roads that were built and improved from the 1920s to the 1940s. This allowed for more intensive investigation of the area. In 1935-38 the first formal mapping, clearing and exploration was done by Agustin Garcia Vega. The first building to be completely cleared of jungle growth was the Pyramid of the Niches. He eventually cleared 77 acres (310,000 m2), uncovering more buildings and proposed that it be called “The Archeological City of El Tajín.” Starting from 1938, excavation and reconstruction work was sponsored by INAH and headed by Jose Garcia Payon, uncovering platforms, ballcourts and part of Tajín Chico with its palaces. He continued to explore the site for 39 years until his death in 1977 despite the challenges of working in the jungle and the lack of funds. By this time, he had uncovered most of the major buildings and established that Tajín was one of the most important cities of ancient Mexico. By the 1970s, the site was one of the few in Veracruz state that attracted significant numbers of tourists. From 1984 to 1994, Jürgen K. Brüggemann built on the work of García Payón, uncovering 35 more buildings. It is believed that only half of El Tajin archeological site has been uncovered.

World Heritage Site

El Tajín was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1992, because of its historical significance and architecture and engineering. “Its architecture, which is unique in Mesoamerica, is characterized by elaborate carved reliefs on the columns and frieze. The ‘Pyramid of the Niches’, a masterpiece of ancient Mexican and American architecture, reveals the astronomical and symbolic significance of the buildings.” The site is one of the most important in Mexico and the most important in the state of Veracruz.

Its significance is due to its size and unique forms of art and architecture. The borders of the city’s residential areas have not yet been defined but is the entire site is estimated at 2,640 acres (10.7 km2). To date, only about fifty percent of the city’s buildings has been excavated, revealing a series of plazas, palaces, and administrative buildings within a two-square-mile area. Unlike the highly rigid grid patterns of ancient cities in the central highlands of Mexico, the builders of El Tajin designed and aligned buildings as individual units. There are several architectural features here which are unique to the place or seen in only rarely in Mesoamerica. Adornment in the form of niches and stepped frets are omnipresent, decorating even utilitarian buttresses and platform walls. Stepped frets are seen in other parts of Mesoamerica but rarely to this extent. The use of niches is unique to El Tajin.

One notable aspect of the construction at El Tajin is the use of poured cement in forms. Surviving roof fragments from Building C in the Tajín Chico section is an example of cement roof constructions. Due to the lack of beams or other materials to prop it up, this roof had to be very thick to support itself. To lighten the load and to bind the layers of cement, pumice stones and pottery shards were mixed into the cement. The cement could not be poured all at once but rather in successive layers. It has been suggested that the buildings were filled with earth to support the roof as it was being poured and dried. The finished roofs were nearly a meter thick and almost perfectly flat. While this kind of cement roof is common in modern times, it was unique in the Mesoamerican world. Impressions of baskets, tamale wrappers and other items have been found in the dried cement. The poured cement was used in the only building with two floors at the site, Building B, as a roof and as a separator between the ground and upper floor. The only other known example of two story construction is in the Mayan territories. Another feature shared only with the Mayans is the use of a light blue paint. (wikerson45) Another feature unique to El Tajin is that a number of the residences have windows placed to allow cool breezes to enter on hot days.

While ballcourts are common in Mesoamerica, El Tajin distinguishes itself by having seventeen. Two of these ballcourts contain sculpted panels which depict the ball game and its ritual significance. The most impressive of these panels are on the South Ballcourt which contain images of underworld deities and a ballplayer being decapitated in order to approach the gods and ask for pulque for his people.

Since becoming a World Heritage Site, research and conservation efforts have been made to promote knowledge of and protect the site. There have been a number of research projects as well as reconstruction projects and projects to make more of the site accessible to visitors. However, the director states that more needs to be done to conserve the site, especially its fragile murals, and to balance the needs of tourists against the need to conserve the site in general. Each year since 1992, the number of visitors to the site increases which now stands at 653,000 annually.

Air pollution from oil-drilling platforms and power stations along the coast causes high levels of acid rain in the region, which is eroding the intricately carved reliefs on the soft limestone buildings “at an alarming rate”, according to Humberto Bravo of the University of Mexico’s Center for Atmospheric Sciences in 2007.

Major monuments

The entrance and site museum

The entrance to the site is located at the south end. In being named a World Heritage Site in 1992, new facilities have been added to this area, such as a cafeteria, information services, a park and administrative offices. The site museum is also located here. In addition, the Danza de los Voladores is enacted at the entrance to the site and is considered a requirement for visitors. The voladores appear every half-hour at the pole and circle erected just outside the main gate.

The park is named Parque Takilhsukut and is located about one km outside the site proper. It is a modern facility with the aim of being a center of Veracruz indigenous identity. It covers 17 hectares with a capacity of 40,000 people. It hosts fairs, conventions and other events, including part of the annual Cumbre Tajín cultural festival which is held in March. There are also facilities for workshops, exhibitions, alternative therapies, seminars and ceremonies.

The site museum is divided into two parts: an enclosed building and a roofed area covering large stone sculpture fragments. The enclosed room is for smaller objects that have been found during the years the site has been explored, most coming from the Pyramid of the Niches. One of the most interesting objects on display is an altar from Building 4. It is a large stone slab sculpted to depict four individuals standing in pairs with a figure of intertwined snakes between the two pairs. The snakes represent the ball game marker called the tlaxmalacatle in Aztec times. The main exhibits of the roofed area are the fragments recovered from the Building of the Columns, with a number partially reassembled. One tells the story of 13 Rabbit, a ruler of El Tajin who probably had the building constructed. The scene shows as dual procession with 13 Rabbit seated on a wooden throne and his feet on a severed head. In front is a sacrifice victim with his entrails slung over a frame. 13 Rabbit’s name glyph appears above as well as an attendant named 4 Axe. The rest of the procession consists of warriors holding captives by their hair.

Arroyo Group

This is called the Arroyo Group because two streams surround it on three sides. This area is one of the oldest sections of the city, and is more than 86,100 square feet (8,000 m2). It is flanked by four high buildings, named Buildings 16, 18, 19 and 20, which were topped by temples. Stairways lead from the plaza floor to the temples above. Unlike the rest of the city, these four buildings are uniform in height and nearly symmetrical. The pyramids here are primitive in comparison to the rest of the site, with niches that are not as finely formed. The east and west pyramids of the arroyo group each held three temples at the top. Another unusual feature is that this plaza has no smaller structures such as buildings or altars to break up the space. It has been determined that this was the city marketplace because of the large plaza space for stalls and for a deity found here that is related to commerce. The merchant deity found here has features more in common with this kind of deity in the central highlands of Mexico than of Tajín. The market that filled this plaza consisted of stalls made with sticks and cloth offering regional products such as vanilla as well as products from other parts of Mesoamerica such as jaguar skins, exotic birds such as the parrot and the macaw and quetzal feathers. Slaves for service and sacrifice were also sold here. West of the building on the south side is a large ball court with sloped sides and sculpted friezes depicting the god Quetzalcoatl. When the city fell, most of the sculptures in this area were smashed or defaced with some being reused as building stone.

The Pyramid of the Niches

This pyramid has as a number of names including, El Tajín, Pyramid of Papantla, Pyramid of the Seven Stories and the Temple of the Niches. It has become the focus of the site because of its unusual design and good state of preservation. It was prominent in ancient times as well. A large quantity of sculpture was recovered from this pyramid. The building is mostly constructed of carefully cut and crafted flagstones, the largest of which is estimated to be about eight metric tons in weight. The stones, especially around the niches are fitted together as to need a minimum amount of lime and earth mortar. The structure originally was covered in stucco which served as the base for paint.

The pyramid has seven stories. Each of these consists of a sloping base wall called a talud and a vertical wall called a tablero, which was fairly common in Mesoamerica. What is unusual about this construction and others in the city are the addition of decorative niches with the top capped by what Jose Garcia Payon called a “flying cornice,” a triangular overhang. The stones are arranged in controlled lines and delicate proportions. Originally the structure was painted a dark red with the niches in black intended to deepen the shadows of the recessed niches. Niches are also found underneath the stairway along the east face, which indicates that the stairway was a later addition. The niches on the original structure, not counting those on the later stairway, total 365, the solar year. At the top of the pyramid there were tablets framed by grotesque serpent-dragons.

The ritual function of the building is not primarily calendaric. The deep niches imitate caves, which long have been considered to be passageways to the underworld, where many of the gods reside. Caves, especially those with springs, have been considered sacred in much of Mexico with offerings of flowers and candles being traditional. As last as the mid 20th century, remains of beeswax candles could still be found left on the first level of this pyramid. There is a popular belief that each niche contained an idol or effigy but archeological work here has ruled this out. The most important part of the structure was the temple that was on top of this pyramid however, this was completely destroyed and little is known about what it might have looked like.

Sculpture from the temple is largely fragmentary. The larger tablets have depictions of the rain god, or a ruler dressed as the deity, involved in several ritual or mythological scenes. This seems to have been the most important god of the culture as other depictions are found in other places at the site. His appearance here underlies the significance of this pyramid. The stairway to the temple is adorned on the sides with frets, which are called xicalcoliuhqui. It is thought to symbolize lightning and while it is common in Mesoamerica, it is a very prominent motif here. These frets were probably painted blue as they were on other buildings, where remains of paint have been found. At the top of the stairway were probably two large three-dimensional stelae. One has survived mostly intact and is now in the site museum. Off the stairs and leading east from the pyramid are large round stone with holes in the middle, in which were probably placed banners. The interior of the pyramid is rocks and earth. This fill is strained between the sloping walls which become the taluds of each level of the pyramid. Buried under all of this is a smaller stricter with taluds but no niches.

The pyramid is flanked by two smaller structures named Building 2 and Building 4. Both are small temple-like platforms. Building 4 contains a smaller, older structure inside it that may be among the earliest structures at the site.

Tajin Chico

Tajin Chico is a multilevel portion of the site that stretches north-northwest from the older parts of the city up a hill. Much of this section was created by using massive amounts of landfill. It is an immense acropolis composed of numerous palaces and other civil structures. There are relatively few temples here. It is also more easily defended than other parts of the city. Tajin Chico is so named because it was initially thought to be a separate but related site. It is now known that it belonged to the center of the city. However, as the term was already in the literature about the site, it has stuck.

Building C was not a temple but its function is not entirely clear. Nearby buildings A and B were palaces. It is probably that this building was used by priests or rulers to receive visitors, petitioners and others. The roof of Building C was more than 1,600 square feet (150 m2) in size and covered two rooms on the west side as well as main room which opened to the east through five piers. The entire exterior of the building is covered in stepped frets, with these frets arranged to give the appearance as niches. To further this effect, the inside of the frets were painted dark red and the exterior portion light blue, similar to turquoise. The broad eastern stairway was also painted with cloud-like scroll motifs.

Building B is a two story structure that was used as a residence and classified as a palace. Like other structures nearby, its roof is a thick slab of cement and there is another slab that separates the ground and upper floors. The entrance to the building from the plaza was through a divided stairway, leading to a single room 32 by 24 feet (9.8 by 7.3 m) in size. This space is broken by six stone and cement pillars which support the floor above. These columns were thickened over time as it became apparent to have stronger bracing for the weight of the two floors. The upper story is reached by narrow stairway. This floor is more spacious even though there are columns here as well. This is the only multistoried palace found outside the Mayan areas.

Building A has two levels, stepped frets and niches and is reminiscent of structures found in the Yucatán. However, the lower level of the building is not rooms but a solid base. The lower level is adorned with large rectangular panels which appear to have been painted red. The entrance is on the south side of the building and is quite elaborate. The upper level contains a corridor that goes all the way around and a number of rooms. The upper level was adorned with stepped frets and scrolls as well. These were painted yellow, blue, red and black. The panels inside were painted with murals, of which only fragments survive. At the east and west side of the corridors are entrances to the rooms, two interconnected rooms on each side of the building. Building A is constructed over older buildings that were buried when this area was filled in, some aspects of the building, like the buttresses been damage due to settling where there are no buildings below. The facade depicts a false stairway and balustrades of stepped frets capped by niches. It is unknown if the similarity between this building and the Pyramid of the Niches indicates a relationship between the two. The false stairs were originally adorned with scroll motifs done in blue and yellow paint, but very little remains. At the center of the false stairway are true stairs leading upwards under an arch to the first level of the palace.

The Building of the Columns dominates the highest portion of Tajin Chico. It is part of one of the last building complexes built at El Tajín. These buildings are situated on a platform-terrace with was formed on natural contours and filled in spaces. The other structure on this platform is called the Annex or the Building of the Tunnels, as it is connected to the Building of the Columns by a passageway. Behind these buildings is a large plaza with small low structures on its edges. This building is named for the columns that adorned the east facade of the structure. The columns were made by stacking circles cut from flagstone. Then the surface of the columns was sculpted with scenes celebrating a ruler named 13 Rabbit, who probably had this structure built. Most of the remains of these columns are on display at the site museum. This structure also had a cement roof, which was arched in the “porch” area between the columns and the inner rooms. There is an inner courtyard and ornately decorated, with stepped frets, other symbols in stone and cement which were painted. This complex was one of the last to be built and it also shows evidence if fire and other damage from the fall of the city.

Just east of Tajin Chico is an area of valley floor. There are numerous buildings in this section but many are not accessible to visitors due to the lack of trails and many have yet to be explored. Two have been partially explored. The first is the Great Xicalcoluihqui, or the Great Enclosure. This is a wall, which from above forms a giant stepped fret and encloses about 129,000 square feet (12,000 m2). This structure is unique among Mesoamerican sites and contains two or three small ballcourts. The sides of the enclosure are formed by a slender platform with sloping sides and free standing niches, resembling the Pyramid of the Niches. There are more than a hundred niches in this wall, broken up by a number of entrances. The other structure is the Great Ballcourt, the largest court at El Tajin. It is located at the northwest corner of the Great Xicalcoluihqui and at the base of Tajin Chico. It has vertical sides and is about 213 feet (65 m) long. Unlike other ballccourts, there are no carved panels and no sculptures have been associated with this structure.

Buildings 3, 23, 15 and 5

Building 3 or the Blue Temple has some features that set it apart from other pyramids at the site. Except for six benches on the staircase and at the top of the balustrades, probably later additions, there are no niches. The seven stories of the pyramid are composed of gently sloping walling divided into panels of varying widths. The unreconstructed north side has a large indentation made by looters before the site was protected by guards. No sculpture is known to have come from this building and nothing of the temple at the top remains. The building was covered in cement several times over its history, and each layer of this cement was painted in blue rather than the more common red. Remnants of this paint can be seen on part of the stairway and on the side facing east toward Building 23. Blue is most often associated with the rain god but there is no other evidence to support this.

While the Blue Temple was a fairly early construction, the pyramid next to it, Building 23 was built very late in Tajin’s history. It consists of five stories in near vertical talud without niches. The original staircase was destroyed then reworked into its present form. The divider in the center is a buttress to hold the fill behind the stairs in place. The stairs are made from a mixture of lime, sand and clay without a stone core. The interior of the building is composed of loose stone, mostly rounded river boulders. At the top, there the temple was located, is a series of stepped merlons which look like medieval European battlements.

Just south of Buildings 3 and 23 is Building 15, which is only partially excavated. It faces west and appears to have a civil function much like Building C in Tajín Chico. It has stairways on both the east and west sides that lead to the top of the second level. The third story begins with a wall of niches and no visible stairs. The two lower levels are adorned with larger niches as is the top of the stairway divider. Beneath the larger niches is a line of seven panels. Under the fourth panel, an older panel was found. Deeper excavation found an older, damaged structure which was covered over by the visible structure. This building is thought to the last built with niches.

Building 5 is considered to be the stateliest of the El Tajin site. While located next to the Pyramid of the Niches, its visual appeal is not lost to its more famous neighbor. It is located in the center of a pyramid complex and consists of a truncated pyramid rising from a platform that is over 32,000 square feet (3,000 m2) in size. Access to the first level of the pyramid, which is lined with niches, is via a single staircase on the west side or a double staircase on the east side. Access to the top of the pyramid, where the temple once stood, is via a double staircase on the east side. The top of the pyramid contains two platforms, both of which are decorated with stepped frets. Between the two sets of staircases on the first level on the east side is a tall column-line sculpture. It had been thrown down from the top of the pyramid in ancient times and broken. Archeologists reassembled it at the spot in which it was found. The sculpture is similar in style to the carved stone yokes of Veracruz. The figure seems to be an allegorical representation of a seated figure with a severed upper torso and a skull for a head. The arms are holding a serpent like form and the body contains scrolls, which may signify sacrificial blood. The small buildings that surround this pyramid are meant to compliment it. However, the one on the northeast side has been completely destroyed due to centuries-old trail that was used when this area was still jungle.

The North and South Ballcourts

The North Ballcourt is constructed by three layers of large flagstones. There are six carved panels with ritual scenes and an ornamental frieze that runs along both walls. The court is 87 feet (27 m) long, which is considered to be unusually small and has vertical rather than sloping walls. It is probably one of the oldest structures at Tajín.

Portions of the panels and friezes are worn to the point that large areas are incomplete. The four end panels have scenes relating to the ritual of the ball game that result in entreaties to the gods. The central panels depict the gods responding or performing a ritual of their own. Variant forms of the god of pulque appear over each of the end panels, suggesting that the drink was an important part of the ritual. The southeast, east and northwest panels show a ruler on a throne. The southwest panel has a figure dressed as an eagle seated in a vat of liquid, probably pulque, and being fed by a female figure on the left and a male on the right. The deteriorated north central panel shows two cross-legged figures facing each other. One is seated on a throne and the other by a pulque vat. In the center are two intertwined serpents which seem to form the shape of a tlaxmalactl or ball game marker. The friezes running along the upper edges of the court are composed of interlocking scroll figures, each containing a central element of a head and an eye. Many have feathered headdresses and reptilian attributes and a few are human like.

The South Ballcourt, like the North Ball court, has only vertical walls which are sculpted. The sculpted panels on these walls remain largely intact and show in step-by-step fashion how the ball game was played here, complete with ceremonies, sacrifice and the response of the gods. The court has a general east-west alignment and is 198 feet (60 m) long and 34.5 feet (10.5 m) wide. Spectators could watch events from Building 5 to the north and Building 6 to the south as well as from stands built on one side of the court. The court is made of stones of up to ten tons in weight many of which came from outside the valley. Once the court walls were built six panels were sculpted at the corners and centers of the two walls. The panels on the ends show scenes from the ballgame itself and the center panels show responses from the gods.

The southeast panel illustrates the opening ritual when the principal participant is elaborately dressed and is being handed a bundle of spears. This is part of an initial activity before the game itself starts. Overlooking this scene is the death deity who rises from a vat of liquid, perhaps pulque. The glyphs above the deity identify it with the planet Venus. Next is the southwest panel in which a different ceremonial preparation is depicted. The principal participant is supine on a kind of a sofa. Two musicians are playing a turtle shell drum and clay rattles. A figure dressed as an eagle dances in front while a skeletal deity flies above and the death deity rises from liquid. The northwest panel shows the beginning of the ballgame. Two participants are standing in the center of the court with speech scrolls emerging from their mouths. One holds a large knife in his left hand and gestures with his right. Between them are intertwined slashes, the symbol of the ballgame and a ball. At their waists are the protective and ritual accoutrements which are very similar to the stone yokes, palmas and hachas common in elite burials. Behind the players are two figures, one with a deer head, who are watching from the court walls as well as the death deity again above. The northeast panel indicates that the game has been played and one of the participants is about to be sacrificed by having his head cut off. The three figures are all dressed in the garments and symbols of the ballgame. The center figure has his arms held back by the one on the left. The figure on the right holds a large knife which is at the center figure’s neck. There are scrolls indicating speech from the sacrifice as well as a depiction of the skeletal god.

After this point, the panels deal with the response of the gods. The north central panel represents the continuation of the ritual in the afterlife, and shows how the events of the game connect the society of El Tajin to the gods. At the center of the scene is a temple with the rain and wind gods seated on top and a vat of liquid within. The sacrificed player appears here, whole and with a pot under his arm. He points to the vat and addresses the rain god. The liquid is protected by a reclining chacmool, who is speaking. What is being requested is pulque, indicated by a glyph indicating the mythical origin of the drink and a split image of the god of pulque above the scene. On the south central panel is depicting a scene after the sacrificed ball player has received the pulque with the same temple, glyphs and depiction of the pulque god. The differences are a depiction of the moon as a rabbit, the rain god in front of the temple and the level of the liquid in the vat lowered. The rain god is shown in a rite of auto sacrifice running a spike through part of his penis. The blood falls into the vat and to refill it with pulque.

The Cumbre Tajín event

The Cumbre Tajin is an annual artistic and cultural festival which is held at the site in March. The Cumbre Tajin is considered to be an identity festival of the Totonacs, who are considered to be the guardians of El Tajín. Events include those traditional to the Totonac culture as well as modern arts and events from cultures from as far as Tibet. Some of the events include musical concerts, experiencing a temazcal, theatrical events and visiting El Tajin at night, with a total over 5,000 activities. Many of the cultural, craft and gastronomic events occur at the adjacent Parque Takilhsukut which just located just outside the archeological site. In 2008, 160,000 attended the event which featured Fito Páez, Ximena Sariñana and Los Tigres del Norte. Thirty percent of the revenue the event generates goes toward scholarships for Totonaca youth.

In 2009, the event added the Encuentro Internacional de Voladores (International Encounter of Voladores). For five days, voladores from various places perform at the poles erected at the site. The objective is not only to see the different costumes and styles of the groups but to share experiences about the fertility ritual. Voladores come from as far as San Luis Potosi and Guatemala.

The Cumbre Tajín has been criticized for its emphasis on modern shows rather than on cultural events. One criticism is the illumination of pyramids at night without any kind of cultural historical instruction. The criticism is that it disrespects the site and the Totonac people. There are also fears that large numbers of visitors to the site for events such as concerts by names such as Alejandra Guzmán damage the site. However, the Centro de Artes Indígenas de Veracruz states that it works very hard to preserve and promote Totonac culture through the event, sponsoring events such as traditional cooking, painting and the ritual of the Voladores.

El Tajin Archaeological Zone and Museum

El Tajin is the most important pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican city on the north coast of Veracruz. Its influence covers the basins of the Ríos Cazones and Tecolutla from the Sierra Norte de Puebla, where its influence is clearly seen in the archaeological zone of Yohualichan, to the coastal plain of the Gulf of Mexico.

From the urban point of view in El Tajin, the large open spaces delimited by temples and slopes were privileged. In addition to the decorations with niches, reliefs, and mural painting. One of the most interesting constructions is the so-called Pyramid of the Niches, so-called because the boards that make up its facades were decorated with niches that make a total of 365, which is why it has received attention from scholars in Mesoamerican calendars and worldview.

El Tajin is the city with the highest number of ball games: 17, which has been interpreted as a necessity given the cultural diversity that, according to the time, could inhabit the city.

Chronology: 300 to 1200 AD. C. Main chronological location: Epiclassic, 600 to 900 AD. C.

There are five main accesses: from the southeast (coming from Veracruz, Ver.), From the north (coming from Tampico, Tamaulipas), from the west (coming from Mexico City, DF), from the southwest (coming from the city from Puebla, Puebla) and to the south (coming from Xalapa, Veracruz). Whatever the route, take the state road that leads to the community of El Chote, it is approximately 10 kilometers to where the entrance of the archaeological zone is located. The visitor can arrive at the site by means of public transport.

Watch the video: Lankasipi El Sendero Totonaca Reportaje Completo (February 2023).

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