Located not far from the city of Cuernavaca in Central Mexico, the ruined city of Xochicalco is a must-see for history buffs and anyone interested in pre-Colombian cultures.
From Cuernavaca, it’s possible to organize a day trip (which could include a visit to the charming city of Taxco) with a tour agency, or it’s easy to get there by public transportation. Go to the market/bus terminal and catch a bus for “Cuautepec.” They leave every half hour or so and the trip itself takes an hour.
The Xochicalco Museum
Tickets to the site must be purchased at the museum, so it makes sense to go there first anyway. The museum was designed by a well-known Mexican architect who only used natural light to illuminate the various signs and displays. The museum contains a wealth of information about the site and its history as well as some of the stone carvings, pottery and other relics that have been found at the site.
History of Xochicalco
Xochicalco means “House of the Flowers” and was located at a crossroads of Maya culture to the south, the influence of the mighty city-state of Teotihuacan to the north and the Matlatzinca culture of the Toluca Valley: the city was a melting pot of these cultures. Experts estimate that the site was inhabited as early as 200 BC. By 700 AD it was a thriving, important city. It was destroyed in 900 AD and details are sketchy as to just what happened.
After its destruction, the site was abandoned but locals always knew of it and the city was never really “lost.” Historical dignitaries such as Maximilian of Austria and Alexander Von Humboldt were some early visitors. Today, it’s an important archaeological and visitor site. In 1999 it was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Highlights of the Xochicalco Ruins– The Observatory
Xochicalco is home to a special underground observatory once used by native priests to observe the sun. From April 30 to August 15, sunlight comes through a small hole in the ceiling of the cave. On May 15 and July 29, the sun is directly overhead and shines straight down onto an image of the sun on the cave floor. On those days, the observatory (and Xochicalco in general) is packed with tourists.
The Xochicalco Ball Court
Most pre-Hispanic cities in Mexico and Central America had ballcourts, and Xochicalco’s is in particularly good shape. The ball game was a religious activity, not so much a competitive or recreational one. Players would try to keep the ball moving and keep it from hitting the ground and could score points by getting it through a stone hoop, hitting certain objects on the court or by making good plays. The outcome of the game had religious and political significance for the inhabitants of Xochicalco.
The Temple of the Feathered Serpent
The most impressive structure at Xochicalco, the Temple of the Feathered Serpent occupies a place of honor in the highest area of the city. Only the most important priests and rulers were allowed in that part of the city, although the common people may have come up for special religious ceremonies. The Temple features wonderful stone carvings, including of course several of Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent God. Experts speculate that the temple may have been built to commemorate a summit held between the Maya and other cultures to synchronize the calendar used by the different cultures.
A visit to Xochicalco is a great way to spend a day in Central Mexico. Plan on a half-day to see the museum and the ruins.