second largest-- by volume--in the world. Only the pyramid of La Danta, at the El Mirador ruins of northern Guatemala is larger than the one at Cholula. As you can see above, the pyramid was not so much tall as it was broad. It stands 66 meters high (217 ft) and extends 450 meters (1480 ft) on each side. The total volume is estimated at an astonishing 4.45 million cubic meters. By contrast, Egypt's Great Pyramid at Giza contains 2.5 million cubic meters, although, at 138 meters (455 ft), the Giza pyramid is taller. Archaeologists believe that the Great Pyramid was dedicated to Quetzalcoatl, the creator-god worshipped by many Mesoamerican civilizations from the Olmecs (contemporaries of the ancient Greeks) to the Aztecs of the early 1500s.
In this posting, and the one that follows, I will use various cutaway models and site maps because the Great Pyramid complex is so vast that without them it would be difficult to appreciate how anything fits together. We'll begin with the church at the top, then look at some of the complexes and altars on the south side of the pyramid. In the next posting, we'll first complete viewing the south side and then examine Building F on the west side. Next we'll move around to the ruins found on the north side, as well as taking a peek at the vivid murals found during excavations by archaeologists.
Church of Our Lady of the Remedies
In 1594, construction of the church began, work that lasted until 1666. Over time, the church became a religious shrine noted for its power of healing, hence the name. It drew pilgrims from considerable distances. In a town that celebrates many religious festivals during the year, Cholula's September fiesta for Nuestra Señora de los Remedios is the most important. Apparently the site also continues to draw worshipers of Quezalcoatl, and today rites to that ancient god are performed at the pyramid. Because the Great Pyramid complex is holy to adherents of both religious beliefs, the site has not been completely excavated.
The South side Complex
4 cardinal directions, considered holy by the ancients. The south side has the greatest accumulation of religious and ceremonial structures, dating from various periods of Cholula's history. Briefly, the arm that extends to the east (toward the top of the photo) is part of the Edificio Teotihuacano. Below it is a large patio constructed in the shape of a "C" called the Patio of the Altars. At the open end of the C is a square, sunken shrine called the Altar Mexica (pronounced May-sheey-ka). Below the Patio are Buildings 2 and 3 containing various shrines and murals. At the bottom, in the angle between Building 3 and the long arm extending west, is a small square structure called the Atlar of Sacrifices. In this post and the next, we will take a close look at all of these structures.
the great city of Teotihuacan (north of today's Mexico City) and was unquestionably influenced by its spectacular civilization. In fact, Cholula's population of 100,000 made it the next largest city in Mesoamerica after Teotihuacan with its 200,000+. In Europe, this was the period of the Dark Ages, with Rome, Paris, and London little more than muddy villages dominated by filthy, fur-clad barbarians.
Toltec Empire, which lasted from the late 9th Century until the 11th Century AD.
Patio of the Altars
Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent. At the open bottom (south) side of the Patio is a slightly off-center square, recessed into the ground and containing the Altar Mexica.
Mexica (Aztecs). In the 14th Century AD, they founded Tenochtitlán (modern Mexico City), to the west of Cholula. The Mexica were part of the last great wave of Chichimec invaders who arrived a century or two after the fall of the Toltec Empire. They, too, came to share the widespread reverence for Cholula's ancient, pyramid complex. Various offerings have been unearthed at the Altar Mexica, including some human remains. It is not clear whether the remains are from people who were sacrificed or simply buried here. Although the Great Pyramid and its complex were largely abandoned by the time of the Mexica's arrival, Cholula itself was not and it continued as an important city up to, and after, the arrival of Hernán Cortés.
El Tajin, a ruined ancient city in the northern part Vera Cruz State. The stela's center area is blank, and was probably covered with painted decorations. The brick structure behind the somewhat fragmented stela is modern and only for support purposes. When found, the stela had been shattered into twenty-two pieces. The altar is set in the middle of a long rectangular cobblestone area, in front of a broad staircase. This pattern of an altar in front of a staircase is repeated around the Patio.
Olmec style from the Gulf Coast. This blending of styles--from the Olmec to the Totonacs of El Tajin, to Teotihuacan, to that of the Zapotecs--came about because of Choula's location. It was a great commercial center situated at the strategic intersection of the trade routes between the Gulf and Central Mexico and between Monte Alban in the south to Teotihuacan and the Toltec's Tollan in the north. Nearby Puebla was built by the Spanish in the 16th Century for exactly the same reasons.
This completes Part 7 of my Puebla series. In the next part we will complete the tour of the Great Pyramid complex. Following that I'll give you a look at some of the remarkable artifacts found here, along with some spectacularly costumed Aztec dancers we fortuitously encountered. In the next part after that, I'll walk you through a bit of the Centro Historico of Cholula. As always, I welcome feedback. If you'd like to leave a comment, please do so in the Comments section below, or email me directly.
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Hasta luego, Jim