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Xochicalco Morelos

Xochicalco Archaeological Site

The name Xochicalco, in Nahuatl, means “Place of the House of Flowers.” The Mesoamerican city rose to power in the Late Classic period (AD 700—900) during the power vacuum created by the demise of the great metropolis Teotihuacan, several hundred kilometers to the northeast. Surrounded by a fortified wall and moat, Xochicalco was built atop a series of low hills, undoubtedly for defensive purposes.

Although this area had poor soil not well-suited for crops, the Xochicalcos obtained what they needed by trading and also by controlling surrounding towns, which produced food and also provided manual labor and raw materials. Archaeologists guestimate that at the height of civilization Xochicalco accommodated at least 15,000 inhabitants.

The bureaucratic city was a center of trade with other cultures near and far, including the Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Maya, and people from the Gulf Coast. This association with other cultures influenced Xochicalco (and other Central Plateau cities such as Tula), and naturally, vice versa. An example of the cross-pollination of ideas is the importance in both Xochicalco and Maya cultures of the cult of Quetzalcoatl (called Kukulcan by the Maya). According to the Official Guide from the National Museum of Archaeology in Mexico City, the cult of the god-king Quetzalcoatl is believed to have originated at Xochicalco.

Xochicalco’s Temple to Quetzalcoatl is the most striking of the buildings found throughout the extensive site. Eight representations of the Feathered Serpent, covered in cloud symbols, are carved around its slanted base. (Quetzalcoatl’s legendary father was named “Cloud Serpent.”) Wearing breast-plates and plumed headdresses, the figures carved above and below the serpents’ undulating bodies are depicted in Maya style. The figure is labeled in hieroglyphics as “9 Wind,” the birthdate of Quetzalcoatl. The temple was mostly likely consecrated---with great ceremony and many visitors from far-away tribes---in the year AD 743, to mark a solar eclipse.

The Quetzalcoatl Temple is one of a series of buildings sharing the most important and highest part of Xochicalco. Accessible only to the city’s elite, this part of the city housed the Acropolis, a central altar, and a palace as well as a temazcal (ritual steam bath) and other important buildings.

Adjacent to this important ceremonial area is a cave modified to create an underground observatory. Although it was unmanned when we visited, the observatory is supposedly open to visitors between 10AM and 5PM. If you visit around May 14—15 or July 28—29, you may be able to witness the phenomenon of a beam of light (from the sun at its zenith) passing through a manmade slit to illuminate the interior. This is most likely another idea imported by the Maya. In his book Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs, the archaeologist Michael D. Coe suggests that Xochicalco forms a kind of bridge between Classic and Post-Classic central Mexico, influenced---or even directed---by the Maya.

Three ball courts survive at the site. The ritualized game symbolized such concepts as good and evil, life and death. A heavy rubber ball was kept in play by hips (and possibly other body parts) with the object of putting it though one of two stone rings located on either side of the ball court.

Throughout the site are placards giving information about the various ruins in Spanish, English, and Nahuatl.

The site’s ecologically correct museum is well worth a visit; we recommend stopping by on your way in, not on your way out, when you may be hot, thirsty, and tired. The six rooms have interesting archaeological pieces on display as well as information, in Spanish only for the most part, about Xochicalco’s history. The museum boasts solar lighting, is turbine cooled, and captures rainwater for use in the lavatories.


Places to Stay - Click here for price key

The obvious choice is Cuernavaca, about 40 minutes away, with hotels in every price category.

The 12-room La Casa de las Flores ($$$, Km 10 1/2, Carretera Alpuyeca--Grutas de Cacahuamilpa, Poblado el Rodeo s/n, Municipio de Miacatlan, Tel. 737/374-4084, www.xochicalco.net), which we have not visited, offers a small spa and temazcal steam room as well as restaurant-bar. It’s about a 20-minute drive to the archaeological site and therefore most suitable for those with a car.

How to Get There & Away

The Xochicalco archaeological site is 36 km (26 mi) southwest of Cuernavaca.

From Cuernavaca or the south side of Mexico City, take Federal Hwy 95 (the Mexico City—Acapulco Hwy) to the exit at the village of Alpuyeca (ask toll-booth operator, as the village is not signed) toward Miacatlan. Go 8 km more and then take the 4-km entrance road. By bus from Cuernavaca you take the Coatlan del Río bus; get off at the Xochicalco entrance and from there take a taxi or walk the 4 km to the site.

More Info

The entrance fee to the archaeological site and the museum is approximately 40 pesos, about twice that if you have a video camera.

There’s a large parking area, but it’s a walk from there to the entrance booth and then more walkies along a flat but shadeless path to the site museum and the structures beyond. Make sure to bring sunscreen and water and a shade hat or umbrella.

For more information call 777/314-3654 or 777/314-3920, ext. 15.

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