Thursday, December 4, 2014


In my previous post I mentioned the archaeological site of Xochicalco which is located about 50 miles to the southwest of Mexico City.  I had never visited the site until Alejandro took me there on a trip that I made in April of 2013.  I was expecting interesting but minor ruins, so I was quite surprised by how expansive and impressive Xochicalco is.

The city was founded around A.D. 650 by the Olmeca-Xicalanca, a tribe related to the Mayas.  They originated along the Gulf coast and had a reputation as merchants.  As the great city of Teotihuacan fell into decline, Xochicalco rose to prominence as one of the most important commercial and religious centers of central Mexico.  It was at its height between A.D. 700 and 900 when it may have had a population of around 20,000.  Around 900, the city was burned and destroyed.  Recent archaeological studies suggest that the city fell victim to internal class warfare.  This theory is based on the fact that in the upper-class sections of the city many of the household items appear to have been deliberately smashed.  In the poorer sections of the city, however, such damage is not found. 

The site has a small but interesting museum displaying items from the city.

It is quite a hike from the museum to the ruins.  That's the museum off in the distance.
The city was built on top of a flattened and terraced mountain.  The location provided an excellent defensive position overlooking major trade routes.

The ruins include numerous small pyramids and temples as well as the remains of residences.

Two ball courts have been excavated.

The most exceptional structure at Xochcalco is the Temple of Queztalcoatl.  This temple is adorned on all sides with outstanding carvings of Quetzalcoatl, the Feather Serpent god.  The building shows influence from both Teotihuacan and the Mayan culture.

One unusual feature of Xochicalco is the so-called Observatory.  This is a modified cave with a chimney-like hole in the ceiling.  Between April and August a beam of sunlight falls through the hole onto the floor of the cave, and the priest-astronomers could study the movement of the sun.

Although Xochicalco does not receive many foreign visitors, it is certainly among the most important archaeological sites of central Mexico.


  1. Xochicalco is one of my favourite set of Mexican ruins. It's slightly off the beaten track for most tourists so it's quite quiet. We had the place almost to ourselves. It's definitely up there with Palenque and Teotihuacan. I was pretty fortunate with the timing of my visit. It was a beautiful day during rainy season. Everything was a fantastic lush green. Almost England-esque.

    1. When we were there on a weekend, there were a fair number of Mexican visitors, but hardly any foreigners... and nothing close to the hordes of people that go to Chichén Itzá.
      Unfortunately, I was there in April toward the end of the dry season, so the countryside was not lush. In addition to that, many of the farmers were burning their fields in preparation for planting, You can see the haziness in some of the photos. Nevertheless, I was very impressed with the site.