Xochicalco Archaeological Site


Location: 40 km (25 mi) Southwest of Cuernavaca, Morelos    Map

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Xochicalco is an archaeological site that is located between the limits of the municipalities of Miacatlan and Temixco in the state of Morelos, Mexico, 38 km southwest of the city of Cuernavaca. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.

The apogee of Xochicalco takes place in the so-called Epiclassic period (650 - 900). During this period most of the monumental architecture visible today was built; its development and emergence should be understood from its relationship with Teotihuacán, the dominant settlement in Mesoamerica throughout the classic period.

According to some researchers, Xochicalco emerged after the abandonment of Teotihuacán to fill the economic and political power vacuum caused by that fact. In fact, this center had its heyday between the years 650 and 900 after Christ, right between the fall of Teotihuacán and the rise of Tula.


Ruins of Xochicalco

This archaeological ruin, is located in the valley of Morelos, reached its maximum splendor as a result of the weakening of Teotihuacan. It is considered the cradle of the cult and deification of the God Quetzalcoatl, of great importance for later cultures, such as the Toltec and the Mexica. The city was built on the top of several hills, modified by moats and artificial terraces. The rugged topography of its elevations allowed the construction of a fortified city, guarded by watchmen and with a large Citadel with pyramidal foundations, palaces and ball games.

The growth of Xochicalco was due to its strategic location, which allowed it to establish exchanges with the regions of Michoacán, Guerrero, Oaxaca, the Mayan area and the Gulf and Pacific coasts.

The architectural iconography with war themes, astronomy and the refined material culture, which includes complex cosmogonic messages, such as the reliefs of the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent, made this center a reference of the Mesoamerican cultural synthesis and the emergence of militaristic cities.

Development time. Its development was consolidated during the Epiclassic (650-900 AD) and was abandoned around 1100 due to internal rebellions.



Xochicalco, a Nahuatl word meaning "in the place of the house of flowers”, is an urban center of Mesoamerica carefully laid out and built on a series of artificial terraces on a group of hills (such as La Bodega, La Malinche and Xochicalco) whose location coupled with the construction of moats, walls and other defensive elements would contain possible attacks.

Due to its geographical location, Xochicalco enjoys worldwide fame and is very visited, especially at the beginning of summer, when the sun's rays penetrate perpendicularly and illuminate the caves in a particular way, creating a mysterious atmosphere.

Xochicalco was the city that dominated the west of Morelos following the abandonment of Teotihuacán. The main temple has ornaments with reliefs referring to the cult of Quetzalcoatl (the feathered serpent). The hieroglyphs that we managed to observe were those that represented the relationship with Oaxaca, Veracruz and a large part of the Mayan area.



The archaeological site of Xochicalco was originally built on three limestone hills. The Xochicalcas carefully planned the structure of the buildings, as the hills were modified through various processes, such as rock extraction, coating and decoration, among others. All of the above, with the purpose of creating the esplanades, on which the buildings, driveways and stairs were established that allowed access between the terraces, roofs and drainage.

What stands out most about the structure is its defensive character, because there are moats on the perimeter of the lower part of the hill, in addition to high and flat walls that cover the terraces, which prevented them from being climbed. As for the interior, you can still see fortifications that were used to guard the entrance, as well as walls, porches and stairs to restrict movement.

On the summit of the hill there are religious and administrative buildings that connect with each other. The Acropolis, the central administrative precinct of Xochicalco, served as the ruler's palace. To the east of the Acropolis you can see the Ceremonial Plaza, where the Pyramid of the Feathered Snakes known as Quetzalcoatl is located, as well as other religious temples. The Great Pyramid of Xochicalco is located in the Main square, where they gathered to witness public ceremonies.

Among the housing complexes, on the one hand there are the "palaces", where the ruling nobility resided, located to the north of the Main Square. On the other hand, on the lower floors, the rooms were built with more humble qualities, mainly in the size and quality of the materials.

Other buildings that stand out are the three ball game courts, which respond to different architectural plans, since they were used for different purposes: from rituals in worship to drought-rain, to those associated with day and night. These courts are located, respectively, in the Northern, Eastern and Southern parts of the Area.

On the west side is the observatory, which was designed and drilled into the rock, with the purpose of signaling both the summer solstice, and the movement of the Sun.



It is speculated that Xochicalco must have had a community of artists from other parts of Mesoamerica.

Of particular interest are the sculpted reliefs on the sides of some buildings. The temple of the Feathered Serpent has fine and stylized representations of the deity, in a style that includes an apparent Teotihuacan and Mayan influence.

The main attraction of the archaeological site is the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent. Also, there is a remarkable observatory inside a cave with carved steps towards the interior, where at the Equinox the solar rays illuminate it creating an extremely bright beam of light. Out of this day and the zenith hour; the ray of light that has a focus point of approximately fifty centimeters of floor, if the observer decreases the distance of the focus point of the shadow by moving closer, for example the hand to the ground, an optical phenomenon is created that diffuses the beam sideways creating on the ground a diffuse shadow with more light to the center of the object giving the radiopaque appearance of the bones of the fingers and arms as if it were an X-ray, this being only an optical illusion.

The other monuments on the site are: the pyramidal temples, palaces, three ballgames, temazcales, an unusual row of circular altars. There are also some stelae sculpted with the names and scenes of three kings of Xochicalco. Some stelae have been removed from their original places, and are now on display at the National Museum of Anthropology and History in Mexico City or at the site museum.

Central Square. It was possibly the most important civic-religious space in the city. In the center of the square there is an adoratory that contained a stela with two glyphs, on the sides the East and West buildings, and in the background the Great Pyramid, which is the largest construction of the site.

I hurt her. In this area is located the South Ball Game, the largest of the three that are known on the site, as well as twenty round altars and one square that perhaps were used for the calculation of the ritual calendar of 260 days, and a set of rooms known as The Palace, which was perhaps occupied by a group of nobles.

Main Square. With a basically political and ceremonial character, this space had extremely restricted access. Inside there are the most important structures of the site, such as the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent, a building of extraordinary beauty and enormous significance, decorated with reliefs on its four sides; the Temple of the Stelae, where the three stelae related to Quetzalcoatl were discovered and which are currently exhibited in the National Museum of Anthropology, and the Acropolis, residence of the main lords of the city, which is located in the highest part of the site.

This Set. In it we find the East Ballgame, the Ramp of the Animals, composed of 255 slabs with representations of animals, and the Central Set, an area where a polychrome altar is located, a temazcal or steam bath and a cistern to store rainwater, which was distributed to the entire set, through an elaborate drainage system.

West Set. Composed of structures located above the cave of the Observatory, which was used for astronomical exploration.


Astronomical site

The large number of caves that are found on the slopes of the hill, are not natural, were excavated by the Xochicalcas to obtain materials for construction; many of them were conditioned to be used for different purposes, such is the case of the cave where the Observatory is located, where the movement of the sun was studied. It presents inside a corridor and a large chamber with a fireplace measuring from the base to the surface 8.7 meters, whose draft mouth is hexagonal; this shot has a slight inclination so that the rays penetrate and the hexagon projected on the floor of the cave is visible, it was also covered with stucco and painted in black, yellow and red colors.

In the period of 105 days, which runs from April 30 to August 15, the sun penetrates through the mouth of the chimney. In the movement of the sun towards the Tropic of Cancer and on its return, respectively on May 14/15 and July 28/29, the star is at its zenith and at astronomical noon: the beam of light falls directly through the tube projecting the image of the sun on the floor of the underground. Probably taking advantage of the solar phenomenon, the place was also used for religious ceremonies. The observatory is currently open to the public, and the conservation work has already been completed.



A very important aspect in Xochicalco is that it has a series of storm drains to store water in cisterns and thus be used at the time it was required due to the lack of rain, which is approximately 7 months a year. All these drains were made with pre-built pipes that were assembled in a very similar way to those of today. These drains could be used to develop a cult towards the deity of rain.


Temple of the Feathered Serpent

The pyramid was intervened by the archaeologist Leopoldo Batres in 1909-1910; he restored the structure as we know it today and did a magnificent job, considering the missing stones that the landowners took to build their farms and to install the machinery required in the manufacture of sugar.

The structure had a first constructive stage, consisting of a small porticoed room of 10 by 11 meters; later a small extension is made to the front and then it is covered to build the pyramid that marked the most important site of Xochicalco, being the axis of the design of the city. This construction consists of a basement with sloping walls, crowned by a wall with a cornice and on it would have been the temple of which only a row of sloping stones remains; the wonderful carved on ashlar assembled of basalt and andesite with which the building was made were joined without using any type of mortar.

Let's start with the reading of this monument, on the slope of the pyramid on the east, south and north sides there are six feathered snakes, separated from each other by interlaces and two smaller ones on the west side; the large heads of the reptile are crowned with feathers, as well as the entire body and finishing the tail with a skull and a bouquet of long feathers, its body is undulating and studded with snails.

In the first and second meander is a man sitting on a small cushion; his head is deformed with erect tabular deformation characteristic of the Mayan area, for clothing he wears his truss, a necklace of beads, earmuffs with beads and a large reptilian headdress with long feathers. In front of the face is the sign of the word qualified with feathers and that should be read as a beautiful speech. On the third meander is the date "9 reptile eye”, adorned with smoke scrolls; the reptile eye sign was baptized with that name by the researcher Hermann Beyer; however, Alfonso Caso identifies it for the Mexica Calendar as the sign of the wind. In turn, the wisps of smoke surrounding the glyph are interpreted as the sign of the new fire (52-year cycle).

The Feathered Snakes on the front of the pyramid are the same as the six previously described, but they are found framing two of the important events of the monument. On the front of the left and reading from right to left, you can see the sign of the year “6 cane" (the cartridge has a handle in the frame that means tied of days); it continues a square with a monkey head that presents eleven circles on its right and upper margins, which refer to the day “11 monkey”. The date is tied with a rope, being pulled by one hand towards the glyph "9 or 10 house” (the presence of the numeral 9 or 10 in the date house, refers to that they did not remember the date exactly) and behind this another hand is observed, leaning on a square that has a circle. This has been interpreted as a calendrical adjustment.

On the front of the right side and reading from right to left, you can see the glyph of a circle crowned by the year sign, and then, a seated man in simple clothes who has no head (because the carved body is on the board where the spike of the lost head was embedded) carrying the priest's bag, his name is “2 movement” and his nickname is because he is represented as a man carrying half a ball game, “Charger of the Universe” (because it is in the ball game where the stars play, and sometimes they lose and others win). Between the character and his name there is a date that is the year “10 solar ray”, equivalent to the flint day of the Mexica Calendar, according to Alfonso Caso, followed by the day “9 reptilian eye”, which probably refers to the inauguration of the pyramid or the date on which it is ordered to be built. This character is mentioned in other monoliths, so he must have been a very important ruler of Xochicalco.

The facing of the East side or the back of the building, is divided into eight rectangles, where each one has (or had, in the case of the missing ones) a priest sitting with his legs crossed, holding a censer, and accompanied by a day sign with its numeral and on this is a place name that alludes to the town where said character comes from. The priests and their place names, which were found all over the wall, must have been 28 representatives, considering the size of the rectangles and calculating those that can fit all over the wall. Starting from the center of the back to the right. The first priest is accompanied by the day "5 and unidentified glyph“ (the glyphs to which we give the qualification of ”unidentified" refer to calendrical signs that do not appear in the postclassic period, that is, in the Aztec calendar) and on this, a toponym representing a hand or claw. The next priest has the day "6 and unidentified glyph“ and on it some closed hands that touch each other by the knuckles, on the wrists they have ribbons that hang; the next two rectangles do not exist. Towards the left side, the same priest is repeated, but the date is "13 mono". The place name on the brazier is represented by some unidentifiable incomplete scrolls. The next priest has the date "3 cane”, and his locative is a female figure wearing a quexquémitl accompanied by some feathers. The next priest, the figure also carries an elongated virgula, the speech sign, the eclipse glyph and above this, the toponym with the representation of the back of a mammal and its tail; in the last square there is only a fragment of priest.

Continuing the reading on the north side of the pyramid, on the upper wall there are a series of rectangles in which a seated character with crossed legs is seen who has the virgula of the word, carries an elongated bag typical of a priest, a headdress with the year sign with feathers and in front of him there is a place name of his place of origin and, below this, an open mouth that wants to swallow a circle divided into quadrants, which symbolizes an eclipse that was seen in Xochicalco occurred on May 1, the year 664 d . C. In the northeast corner the first rectangle does not have the priest, but its toponym consists of a ball of down, a skein of thread or leaves in a basket and a cane; the next toponym does not exist; another continues with an arm throwing a spear; the one that follows is a crested animal, possibly a chameleon; then a coyote with a feather that runs from ear to nose; the next place name consists of the lower extremities of a person, shod with huaraches crossing a river, continues an element that is something that runs away, but the absence of color makes its identification impossible; in the penultimate place name we can observe a plant vine with a flower, while in the last one, the lower limbs of a person shod with huaraches on birds are engraved.

On the south facing, there are four priests preceded by the eclipse sign; only the fourth one has a toponym and consists of a rabbit standing on its hind legs with a small virgula. On the left front face of the pyramid, the priests continue, the eclipse glyph, but the place names are not identified. And on the right, there is only a carved stone in the corner that must have been from somewhere else in the pyramid, possibly from the upper temple.

On the front of the upper temple we have, on the left side, a coyote with a strange object, a warrior and the date new fire 10 cane; while, on the right side, we have a tree with a large root, a warrior and the date new fire 8 cane. While on the jambs or sides of the temple there are two standing human figures dressed in trusses, huaraches and a ribbon under the knee, which the players used to kneel during the ball game. Next to the one on the left jamb, there is a coyote, a backpack and a pot with herbs, while the one on the right jamb, is accompanied by a small female deity (because of the nose it carries, it looks like a pulque deity) and three cones with foam.

On the wall of the temple that crowned the pyramid there is only one scene that presents a warrior woman with her Macuahuitl and in front of her, a seated warrior with three arrows, his chimalli, command staff in his left hand and a date 7 cane. Of the rest of the temple wall, there are only a few carved stones left in which you can see several warriors associated with eagles and felines, probably the beginning of what the Mexica would call eagle warriors and jaguar warriors. In addition, there are several calendar dates that are easily identifiable in terms of the name: caña, cipactli and casa, but as for the numeral we are not sure if it is complete since missing ones can be observed in the final carving. There is also a glyph that appears in the murals of Cacaxtla that is a feathered eye. Finally, there are two place names, one in the southeast corner, which consists of a river and inside is the head of a woman and in the northeast corner another that is a small man.

The pottery of the pyramid has carved the ventral scales of the snakes; probably the ophidian head was at the top and at the bottom the skulls. On the sides of the alfarda there is a great warrior sitting on what could be a large bench with support, carrying his chimalli and all this on a cultivated field.



In 1962, the archaeologist Juan A. Sáenz discovered three quadrangular stelae in Structure A. The stelae have elements such as designs, numbers, names and Caledaric signs. They also have a religious connotation, in which it is proposed that they represent the gods of the sun, the earth and the rain. Other proposals point out that it may be the exploits of rulers.

Stela 1 is a rectangular sculpture with the main representation of the god Quetzalcoatl emerging from the jaws of a snake, in the stela a well-known Nahua myth is told about the creation, the human beings of the Fifth Sun or Cosmic Era. It is linked to the cycle of the planet Venus, which in the creation myths is the herald of the Sun for being the first star that appears in the morning, once the darkness has disappeared. At the top there is a square with the glyph 7 reptilian eye. On the lower part a face with fire symbols emerging or opening to exit completely, on the back there are symbols of 9 tochtli and 5 acatl in ascending order to a temple; on the sides there are corresponding symbols for tochtli, acatl, calli and a lying character similar to a Chac mool.

Stela 2 is a rectangular cubic sculpture with a basal spike. On the front face to the center it has the god Tlaloc with a headdress of the symbol of time; on the bottom there is a moustache, the characteristic fangs of this deity, on the sides glyphs alluding to water and a bifid tongue were carved; on the top a square with an aquatic element and the numeral 7. On the back side it has the numeral 9 ray of the sun, an arrow, an ear of corn, 2 feet ascending and the symbol of time, ending in the numeral 13 ray of the sun, the symbol of time and a buzzard head.

Stela 3 is a rectangular cubic carved sculpture in low relief on its 4 sides. On the front side there is the representation of Quetzacóatl with the symbol Nahui ollin (4 movement), and a heart from which 3 drops of blood come out (this same element appears in the murals of Cacaxtla) and the numeral 4; on the back side the numerals 10 and 13 cane with a pair of feet ascending each and on top a crenellated temple. On the sides it has various numerals (cane, house, kin, monkey) and the representation of a feline with a forked tongue.

Stela 3 sculpture interpreted as the self-sacrifice of Quetzalcoatl to create the fifth humanity. The upper part has the symbol 4 movement, while in the lower part there is a trilobed heart, similar to those represented in Teotihuacan, from which three drops of blood flow.

Stela of the two glyphs made of limestone rock is located in an adoratory in the center of the central Square, it represents on one of its faces two calendrical glyphs: 10 reed and 9 reptile eye. It is likely that its importance lies in the allusion to the founding of the city.


Trade and Craft Specialization

The exchange networks between Xochicalco and other regions were fundamentally for its development. This city established relations with Oaxaca, Guerrero, the Pacific coast and the Mayan area, which allowed it to become a city with a complex artisanal specialization controlled by the elite



The control of the exchange routes of goods such as seashells, green stones, obsidian or cocoa generated that militarism developed significantly during the Epiclassic. The location of Xochicalco accounts for the political intensity of the time, as the site is located on top of several hills from which it was possible to monitor the intrusion of enemies who will seek to destabilize the power of the elite.

The war for the protection of the temple terraces, walls, moats and caverns were built for the defense of the temple.


Luxury goods

They were those that each society considered special and that grant a status to those who owned and used them, so they were probably exclusive to the elite or those who presided over ritual ceremonies. They usually came from foreign regions and involved a great effort to get and work. The most recurrent were marine shells and snails, ornaments and monuments made of green stone and metal, as well as mica, pyrite and turquoise.



The Xochicalco Site Museum is the first ecological museum in the world. His project began in 1993, and was developed by Rolando J. Dada y Lemus, a Mexican architect. The investigations of the indigenous city and the construction of the museum were part of the government program to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage. The work was completed on November 30, 1994 and the museum was inaugurated on April 10, 1996. The Archaeological Zone of Xochicalco was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999.

The museum is located on a plot of 12,676 m2, which does not have urban drinking water, drainage, or electricity services. Therefore, it should have been conceived as a self-sufficient building in its services and air conditioning.

The museum is composed of three areas: The entrance, the parking lot and the exterior gardens, with an area of 4,550 square meters. The entrance courtyard and the three interior gardens, whose area is 1,237 square meters; and by the covered spaces: the introductory lobby, whose large window allows admiring the indigenous city as if it were part of the museum; its six exhibition halls, whose innovative hexagonal figure provides an overview of three rooms at once and reduces the visitor's routes, compared to a rectangular room; the administrative; and the restaurant and the services. These covered spaces have an area of 1,870 m2.

The museum can receive, simultaneously, about 600 people, 70 cars and 14 buses. Its cost - 1994 - was $6'000,000.00 Mexican pesos, then equivalent to 1’818,000 American dollars.

The entire museum, from the parking lots to the exit to the archaeological zone, is equipped for disabled people. A condition that was unusual in Mexico. The ecological devices that the museum has are: Collection of rainwater that falls on the roofs and its conduction to the cisterns, whose capacity is 556 cubic meters. 100% natural lighting, by means of zenith domes, whose ducts are formed by mirrors. When sunlight decreases, the lighting is supplemented by electricity generated by photovoltaic cells. The interior temperature is controlled by double walls with an intermediate space, which are perforated at the bottom to allow fresh air to enter, which - when heated - rises and passes through a double roof, to go outside at the top of the towers, through the chimney draft effect. On the outside of the lobby, there is a concrete lock that prevents the passage of the setting sun to the bay window, which has a gray glass-filter to the outside; an intermediate space to allow the elevation of the air that penetrates through the separations of the aluminum handle that holds the clear glass that overlooks the lobby. The conformation and its appearance tend to mimic the museum with the mountains that surround it and minimizes its presence so that the museum does not visually compete with the archaeological zone.

On the hill near the main esplanade of the ceremonial center, the building is located under very defined concepts in terms of its form and function. From the parking lot there is access to a large space that, through a large window, offers us an amazing panoramic view of the archaeological zone.

This way you enter the first room where you can see, at the intersection of the main axes that generated the project, the model of the area and start the tour of the other rooms. There is also a thousand-year-old stone model in that introductory room.

The almost triangular shape of the halls and their perpendicular lighting system, invites us to make the tour in the order that the museographers have arranged and thus we see different pieces that lead us through the history of the ceremonial center.

At the exit of the museum, you reach a small square where you can take a cobbled road to the ruins, or go back, going around the building and passing by the cafeteria, to the parking lot.

In the rooms and corridors, natural lighting is used by diffusing it through prisms that direct it to where it is required, reducing the need for artificial lighting.