Templo Mayor: Planning Your Visit

Templo Mayor Archaeological Site and Museum

 TripSavvy / Taylor McIntyre

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Templo Mayor Museum

Address
Seminario 8, Centro Histórico de la Cdad. de México, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06060 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Phone +52 55 4040 5600

The Templo Mayor stands in the heart of Mexico City and was once the great temple of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. It was discovered by accident in the 1970s and despite being one of the most important archaeological sites in Latin America, many tourists miss out simply because they don't realize it's there. Whether you're passionate about ancient Mexican civilizations or just curious to learn more about the city's fascinating history, the Templo Mayor is a worthwhile visit and obligatory stop on your next trip to Mexico City.

History

The Mexica people (also known as the Aztecs) founded Tenochtitlan, their capital city, in 1325. In the center of the city, there was a walled area known as the sacred precinct. This is where the most important aspects of Mexica political, religious, and economic life took place. The sacred precinct was dominated by a large temple that had two pyramids at the top with each one dedicated to a different god. One was for Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, and the other was for Tlaloc, the god of rain and agriculture. Over time, the temple went through seven different construction stages with each successive layer making the temple larger until it reached its maximum height of 200 feet.

Hernan Cortes and his men arrived in Mexico in 1519 and after just two years they conquered the Aztecs. The Spaniards then demolished the city and built their own buildings on top of the ruins of the former Aztec capital. Although it was always known that Mexico City was built over the city of the Aztecs, it wasn't until 1978 when electric company workers uncovered a monolith depicting Coyolxauqui, the Aztec moon goddess, that the Mexico City government gave permission for a full city block to be excavated. The Templo Mayor Museum was built beside the archaeological site so visitors can now see the remains of the main Aztec temple, along with the excellent museum that explains it and contains many items that were found at the site.

Highlights

Visitors can walk right up to the ruins and see sections of the old temple from the street, but those who really want to learn about Aztec culture should enter the Templo Mayor Museum, which contains eight exhibit halls that narrate the history of the archaeological site. Here you will find displays of the artifacts discovered during excavations that show off the power of what was once one of the most powerful empires in the Americas.

  • The Museum Building: Designed by Mexican architect Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, the museum opened on October 12, 1987. The museum was designed based on the shape of the actual Templo Mayor, so it has two sections: the South devoted to aspects of the worship of Huitzilopochtli like war, sacrifice, and tribute, and the North dedicated to Tlaloc, which focuses on aspects such as agriculture, flora, and fauna. In this way, the museum reflects the Aztec world view of the duality of life and death, water and war, and the symbols represented by Tlaloc and Huitzilopochtli.
  • Monolith of Tlaltecuhtli: It's the largest Aztec monolith ever discovered, measuring 13 feet by 12 feet. The deity Tlaltecuhtli is also known as the "earth monster" because the Aztecs believed that Tlaltecuhtli gobbled up the planet before being torn apart and used to form the new earth.
  • Monolith of Coyolxauhqui: The Monolith of Coyolxauhqui is a massive stone disk that was accidentally discovered by electrical workers in 1978, which then set off the excavation of the entire Templo Mayor.
  • Sacrificial Items: Human sacrifice is one of the most well-documented aspects of the Aztec Empire, and there's an entire room inside the museum dedicated to this gory practice. You'll find human skulls, knives used for sacrificial offerings, and other funerary ritual objects.

Visiting the Aztec Temple

While the Templo Mayor no longer has the grandeur of still-intact pyramids like those of nearby Teotihuacan, its importance in Aztec culture and the history of Tenochtitlan makes this attraction a must-see stop on your visit to Mexico City.

  • Location: The Templo Mayor is located in the heart of Mexico City in the Plaza de la Constitución, also known as the Zócalo, right next to the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral and across from the National Palace.
  • Hours: Visitors can walk up and see the ruins at any time of day, but the Templo Mayor Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Admission: It's free to see the remains that are visible from the street. Entrance into the museum costs 80 Mexican pesos, or about $4, with free admission for kids under 13 and students. Audioguides are available in Spanish and English for an extra fee.

Getting There

If it's your first time in Mexico City, the Plaza de la Constitución is one of the top attractions in the city and you're to guaranteed to pass through it at some point. However, it's easy to miss the Templo Mayor if you aren't looking for it. The massive cathedral was built by the Spanish on top of the original temple, so walk to the right side of the church and look down to see the excavated remains.

Traveling around Mexico City can feel overwhelming but getting to Templo Mayor is easy on public transportation. Just take the metro to the Zócalo stop and it's a five-minute walk from the station exit.

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Templo Mayor: Planning Your Visit