Cacaxtla Archaeological Site

Cacaxtla Archaeological Site


Description of Cacaxtla Archaeological Site

Location: 30 km (19 mi) North-west of Puebla, Tlaxcala Map

Open: 8am- 5:30pm

Admission: $46 MXP

Tel. (246) 416 0000



Ancient 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.

Venus 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 Archaeological Site)

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.


History Cacaxtla

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.

The term "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.