Ancient Mexico

Photos by Walt & Gloria Fogler-Mancini

Pre-Columbian civilizations have been in Central America for over 10,000 years. One of the oldest archaeological sites is Monte Albán, 1300 feet above Oaxaca.  It was built by the Zapotecs and used as a ceremonial center from 500 BC to 800 AD. After that, the area was adopted by the Mixtecs. The Spanish arrived in the area in 1521. The site was only rediscovered in the 20th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The view from the south platform shows the scale of the mountain top site which was leveled by the Zapotecs by hand.   

The ball court shows that the Zapotecs were influenced by the Maya. 


Before the Spanish came to the central plateau of Mexico, there had been two civilizations there that dominated Mesoamerica.  Teotihuacan was just outside today’s Mexico City. It later got its name from the Aztecs and was known as “the place where men become gods”.  It was founded by an unknown people around 200 BC and reached its zenith early in the first millennium with a population of from 100,000 to 200,000 people.

Most of what we know about the culture at Teotihuacan comes from the murals (450-650 AD) that adorn the site and from hieroglyphic inscriptions made by the Maya.  The painters' artistry was unrivaled in Mesoamerica. The decline of Teotihuacan is associated with the droughts of the 6th and 7th centuries.  There are ongoing archaeological investigations on the 11 square mile site.

The Avenue of the Dead is lined with ceremonial architecture, as seen here from the Pyramid of the Moon. Temples were built on top of the ceremonial platforms. 

Several hundred years after Teotihuacan declined, the Aztec civilization developed near the center of what is today Mexico City. Much more is known of these people, the Mexica, because of the survival of their codices, Spanish accounts and archaeology.  In 1325, they fulfilled an ancient prophecy and founded Tenochtitlanon on an island that was in the center of Lake Texcoco. The lake was in a large valley surrounded by mountains and had many islands.  The city had grown to 200,000+ before the Spanish arrived in 1521. The Spanish demolished it all and built their cathedral on its ruins..  

Another very famous statue from the Templo Mayor in the museum is of the Earth goddess, Coatlicue. It is 7.8 feet tall and weighs 8 tons..  Coatlicue, known as  “she with a skirt of serpents”, was the mother to 400 gods. The sculpture illustrates her story.


Outside the Museo Nacional de Antropologia and near the Aztec’s former ceremonial center, modern day dancers and “priests” keep the Aztec culture alive. 

The Museo Nacional de Antropologia in Chapultepec Park has a large collection of important Aztec items. The Sun Stone is probably the most famous. It told the history of the Aztecs. The stone is 11.75 feet in diameter,3.22 feet thick, and it weighs about 24 tons. Originally, it was located half way up the Templo Mayor.

The Purépecha (or Tarascan) archaeological sites in the state of Michoacán near Lake Patzcuaro date back to the 13C.  The volcanic lake basin is surrounded by hills and mountains that provided building material for pyramids.


Mitla became the last important Zapotec religious center when Monte Albán faded.  Its mosaic fretwork decorations set it apart.  These geometric designs are related to ancient Pre-Columbian gods.  When the Spanish arrived in the Oaxacan state, they destroyed most of the buildings and built their 16C church, the Iglesia de San Pablo, with its stones. 

At Ihuatizo, the 13C Purépecha site probably had many uses and is where the Nahuatls were in the 10th to 13th centuries.

Tzintzunzan is the larger archaeology site at “the place of the hummingbirds”. The ceremonial center was called the “House of the Wind”.  Facing the lake were five semi-circular, “yacata”, pyramids.

The Purépecha were powerful and like the Aztecs ruled until the 16C. As their enemy, they did not help them fight the Spanish.

In the ceremonial center, the Templo Mayor was rebuilt in its sacred location seven times. It was rediscovered when the metro was being built in the 1970’s. 

The photographs were taken with Leica cameras,  All images are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without permission. We can be contacted via e-mail at   Our home page is

November 2, 2017                                                                                                                                                                                                                             wgfm

Coatlicue became pregnant with the all-powerful sun god, Huitzilopochtli, when she put hummingbird feathers in her bosom.  This made her children unhappy. As her daughter Coyolxauhqui was about to behead Coatlicue for this, her unborn son sprang from her side in full armor and dismembered his sister.  Coyolxauhqui’s body fell down the hill,

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