archeological site of Cacaxtla is located 30 km (19 mi)
North-west of Puebla in Tlaxcala state of Mexico. The site was
probably first settled in 400 AD by the Mayan explorers. The
city reached it peak during Late Classic period around AD 600-
900 with population of over 10,000. Most of its inhabitants were
from Olmeca- Xicalanca Native tribes. Decline of Cacaxtla Archaeological Site is largely blamed to the same
reasons as many other Mayan cities. Changes in the ecological climate caused decrease in crops and
subsequent population drop of Cacaxtla. People began to abandon the
settlement after hunger and disease started to kill people.
Although the city was still partly inhabited by a small number
of people at the arrival of the European conquistadors, the city
was rather a mere shadow of its former glory.
Historian Diego Muñoz Camargo in the 16th century described the ruins of the
city, but over time they were forgotten and covered by
surrounding jungle. The site was rediscovered in 1940s and
excavated by Pedro Armillas. He discovered beautiful
colorful frescoes in Cacaxtla that depict humans and animals. In fact one of
the murals gave the city its modern name. During excavation one
of the first images that were uncovered was that of a trader or
a merchant with a pack on his back. Thus the archaeologists gave
this nameless site its name Cacaxtla which means "place of a
merchant's pack" in local dialect of Nahuatl.
Today a metal
roofing have been installed over structures known as
Gran Basamento that
contain these murals to keep them from destruction from natural
elements like sun rays and rain. This platform stands 25 meter
high and 200 meter long. It was the center of religious and
civil life of the city. Archaeologists believe that the original
area of the city covered over 180,000 square feet. However
only central plaza have been sufficiently excavated. Today this Mayan site is open to the
public at a cost of $46 MXP for admission. Cacaxtla site also
contains a museum devoted to its history with models of the city
and how it looked like in the ancient times.
Temple (Templo de Venus) (Cacaxtla Archaeological Site)
One of the most beautiful frescoes that are found in this
archaeological site are found in the Red Temple protected by a
roof. Most of the depictions include items from the various
aspects of the rural life. Agriculture was a main reason why
such populated area could support a large number of people. Additionally there are strange figures of people wearing
skirts as well as scorpion tail at the back.
Battle Mural (Mural de la Batalla) (Cacaxtla
The Battle Mural or Mural de la batalla is painted at the entrance to
the northern plaza of the central complex of Cacaxtla. It was created
around the 8th century AD. It depicts warriors of the two Mayan armies
that fight each other. One type of soldiers are dressed in jaguar skins
and colorful helmets. Another army of warriors- eagles are covered by
feathers taken from parrots and quetzal birds. Despite centuries of abandonment the colors are
still very vivid and bright.
Cacaxtla was the capital of region inhabited by
the Olmeca-Xicalanca people. The origins of the Olmeca-Xicalanca are
not known with certainty, but they are assumed to come from the Gulf
coast region, and were perhaps Maya settlers who arrived in this
part of central Mexico around 400 CE.
"Olmeca-Xicalanca" was first mentioned by Tlaxcalan historian Diego
Muñoz Camargo at the end of the 16th century. This historian
described Cacaxtla as the principal settlement of the “Olmeca”,
although what we today refer to as the Olmec culture ended ~400 BCE,
that is, almost 800 years earlier.
After the fall of the
nearby city Cholula (ca. 650 - 750) — in which the Cacaxtlecas might
have been involved — Cacaxtla became the hegemonic power in this
part of the Tlaxcala–Puebla valley. Warriors from Cacaxtla appear to
have taken over Cholula for a time, but they were ultimately
expelled by the Toltecs. Its ascendancy came to an end around 900 CE
and, by 1000, the city had been abandoned.
Modern history of
the site The site was rediscovered in 1974 by looters, but
quickly came to the attention of archaeologists that same year.
Archaeologists Eduardo Merlo Juárez, Diana Lopez-Sotomayor and
Daniel Molina-Feal dedicated over six years of their life excavating
the site. The first work to be done in the area consisted on
clearing the original tunnel opened by the looters, Archeologist
Diana Lopez-Sotomayor, later appointed project manager, recalled her
first view of the life-sized characters depicted in the murals as an
overwhelming experience. As further figures appeared on the mural,
the area of excavation had to be enlarged and several constructive
stages were discovered. The first area to be excavated was the main
mural, known as the "Gran Basamento", and the immediate purpose of
the work was to protect and secure the murals and other structures
from the weather and looters.