Templo Mayor: Aztec Site in Mexico City

Aztec Archaeological Site in the Heart of Mexico City

Mexico, Mexico City, Tenochtitlan, Walls Of Skulls and Great Temple in Aztec Ruins with Metropolitan Cathedral In Background
••• Templo Mayor, Mexico City. John Coletti / Getty Images

Templo Mayor, the great temple of the Aztecs, stands in the heart of Mexico City. Many tourists miss out on visiting this outstanding archaeological site because they don't realize it is there. Although it is right beside the Cathedral, and a stone's throw from the Zocalo and the Palacio Nacional, it is easy to miss if you're not looking for it. Don't make that mistake! It is a worthwhile visit and will put the city's long history into greater context.

 

The Main Temple of the Aztecs

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. Each of these pyramids was 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. 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 on the site.

Templo Mayor Archaeological Site:

Visitors to the site walk over a walkway that was built over the remains of the temple, so they can see sections of the temple's different construction phases, and some of the decorations of the site. Little remains of the final layer of the temple which was built around 1500. 

Templo Mayor Museum:

The Templo Mayor museum contains eight exhibit halls that narrate the history of the archaeological site. Here you will find displays of the artifacts discovered during within the temple ruins, including the monolith of the moon goddess Coyolxauhqui, as well as obsidian knives, rubber balls, jade and turquoise masks, reliefs, sculptures and many other objects that were used for ritual or practical purposes. The collection shows the political, military and aesthetic relevance of the city that dominated Mesoamerica before the arrival of the Spaniards.

Designed by Mexican architect Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, the museum opened on October 12, 1987. The museum was designed based on the shape of the 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.

Highlights:

  • Model of Tenochtitlan
  • Monolith of Coyolxauhqui
  • Monolith of Tlaltecuhtli

Location:

In Mexico City's historical center, the Templo Mayor is located on the east side of Mexico City's Metropolitan Cathedral at #8 Seminario street, near the Zocalo Metro station.

Hours:

Tuesday through Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm. Closed Monday.

Admission:

Admission fee is 70 pesos. Free for Mexican citizens and residents on Sundays. The fee includes entry to the Templo Mayor archaeological site as well as the Templo Mayor museum. There is an extra charge for permission to use a video camera. Audioguides are available in English and Spanish  for an extra charge (bring an identification to leave as a guarantee).

Contact Information:

Phone: (55) 4040-5600 Ext. 412930, 412933 and 412967 
Web Site: www.templomayor.inah.gob.mx
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