Sunday, April 04, 2010

The church built on the pyramid in Cholula

We´ve been reading a lot of books on Mexican history, and we wanted to visit the site of one of the most notorious acts of cruelty that took place in Cortez´s conquest of Mexico in 1519.

Cholula had a population of about 100,000 at that time and was a major city. Today it is part of the Puebla metropolitan area.

Cortez invited the nobles of the area to a meeting. They were unarmed. He and his native allies ambushed and slaughtered them and then sacked and burned the city. Thousands were killed.

Supposedly Cortez wanted to send a message to Moctezuma, the Aztec emperor, about what was to come. Moctezuma´s city, Tenochtitlán (where Mexico City is today), later suffered a similar fate.

Cholula is also known for its great pyramid, supposedly the largest in the world. The Spaniards built a church on top of it in 1596, Nuestra Señora de los Remedios. In the photos you can see where part of the pyramid and its lower platforms have been excavated.

Cindy is climbing the stairs at the base, which gives you some sense of the massiveness of the pyramid. The church is out of sight behind the top of the structure.

The church itself is very impressive inside, which helps explain why it was not removed so the pyramid could be completely excavated.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Good Friday honors Our Lady of Sorrows

Some Mexicans celebrate Good Friday with a slightly different twist. While they recognize the day Christ was crucified, they also place a heavy emphasis on his mother, Our Lady of Sorrows.

They honor her for all the pain and suffering she endured in allowing her son to be sacrificed to save humanity. In the photo above, women marching in the procession in Puebla crank noisemakers in the shape of a cross.

The event attracted thousands to the Zócalo, the main square in front of the Cathedral. The procession included representatives from four parishes carrying images of Christ or the Virgin.

In the week before Good Friday, it is a tradition in at least some parts of Mexico to erect altars like the one above to honor Our Lady of Sorrows, whose small statue is at the top.

In a mixing with native myths and traditions, the altar celebrates Our Lady as a fertility goddess, with offerings of fruit, corn, seeds and flowers. We have seen a number of altars like this one.

The air was filled with the smell of incense, which put me in mind of days as an altar boy serving Mass during Holy Week.

Each parish has a marching band. It gets pretty noisy as you´ll see in the 1-minute video below.

Young people play a prominent role in all the Holy Week rituals.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Cacaxtla and Xochitécatl: murals and pyramids

Above you see an artist´s depiction of one of the murals at the Cacaxtla archeological site as it might have looked when it was just painted. Below you see the actual painting on which it was based, showing a Bird Man with a snake-headed staff. The mural is about 1,300 years old. What is amazing about all the murals at this site is that they have survived. They´re among the best preserved in Mexico.

If you´ve ever seen the murals from Bonampak in Chiapas, you will recognize the Mayan influence in the colors and the depiction of the face. Archeologists say the sites represent a blending of influences from the Gulf Coast and from the central plain near Mexico City.

Cacaxtla was excavated starting in around 1975 after some grave robbers opened up the pyramid. Across a ravine, about a half mile away, are the pyramids at Xochitécatl, which were excavated only about 15 years ago.

We hiked through this ravine from Xochitecatl (background). It´s steeper than it looks. The guard there told us it was "no recomendable" to walk between the sites, and it was, indeed, a bit rough.

From the top of this pyramid you can see three big volcanoes on a clear day. It was hazy when we were there, so our photos barely showed the outline of Popocatépetl, Iztaccíhuatl and Malinche. Say those first two names fast.

Spiral pyramids are rare in Mexico. This is one of the biggest.

These two sites are breathtaking yet don´t seem to attract a lot of tourists. They´re located about 90 minutes by bus from Puebla. Industrialized marketing and tourism haven´t taken hold yet.