El Tajin | Attraction Guides | History Hit

El Tajin

Ojital Viejo, Veracruz, Mexico

Sarah Roller

24 Nov 2020
Image Credit: Leonid Andronov / Shutterstock

About El Tajin

El Tajin in the state of Veracruz in Mexico is an impressive archaeological site which originally formed the capital city of the Totonac state. In fact, the name “Tajin” refers to the Totonac deity of thunder, lighting and rain. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is open to the public, although much of it is yet to be excavated.

History of El Tajin

El Tajin was founded following the abandonment of the city of Teotihuacan. Built and inhabited from 800AD to 1200 AD, El Tajin was a thriving city of major ceremonial importance, a fact illustrated by the numerous Mesoamerican pyramids and other ceremonial structures still seen there today.

Despite the fact that it is thought to have been greatly damaged, if not mostly burnt to the ground following an attack by the Chichimecs in the thirteenth century, much of El Tajin is extremely well-preserved offering a great many things to see.

The city was ‘discovered’ by Europeans in the late 18th century, and major archaeological excavations took place in the early 20th century which uncovered more of the city that lay beneath the jungle.

Amongst the most famous attractions at El Tajin is the Pyramid of the Niches, an incredibly impressive six-stepped pyramid which would once have been crowned with a temple. The tiers are full of niches – 365 to be precise – one for every day in the solar calendar. Stone reliefs and friezes around the site offer an insight into the lives of those who lived in El Tajin.

A particular pastime for which the city was renowned in its time was ball games, as depicted in numerous reliefs. 17 ball courts have been discovered at El Tajin: the most at any one site to date. In an ominous twist, the reliefs also seem to show that these ball games were related to human sacrifices which took place at El Tajin, leading some to believe the ball was in fact a decapitated head.

El Tajin today

A visit to the whole site lasts around 2 hours, and guides are available for a small extra fee. El Tajin has an interesting, albeit small museum with explanations in English, Spanish and also – fittingly – in the Totonac language.

El Tajin is often extremely quiet: it lies far enough off the gringo trail to almost guarantee minimal visitors, and with a tropical jungle backdrop, it’s a seriously atmospheric place.

Getting to El Tajin

El Tajin is easily accessible from the nearby town of Papantla: it’s about 10km away.  Taxis, buses or colectivos will get you there. You can also catch a bus from the larger city of Poza Rica, which is about 20km away.

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