Templo Mayor | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Templo Mayor

Mexico City, Mexico City, Mexico

Sarah Roller

24 Nov 2020
Image Credit: WitR / Shutterstock

About Templo Mayor

Templo Mayor was a temple in the capital city of the Aztecs, Tenochtitlan, in what is now Mexico City.

History of Templo Mayor

The Templo Mayor would have been the most important building – some even argue it would have been seen as the centre of the universe – in the thriving Aztec (Mexica) city of Tenochtitlan, which once had a population of over 200,000 people. The city was conquered by Hernán Cortés in 1521, and he subsequently razed much of it to the ground – including the Templo Mayor. In its place, the imposing 17th century Catholic cathedral of Mexico City was built as an assertion of power and dominance over native peoples.

Templo Mayor was built by the people of Tenochtitlan as a shrine to the deities Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc, and there’s extensive evidence of human sacrifice taking place here, including a tower made from over 650 human skulls that had been written about by conquistadors but its existence had never been confirmed. Archaeologists believe there may well be royal Aztec tombs to be uncovered, but as yet nothing has been discovered of this sort.

Templo Mayor today

The Templo Mayor site is well worth visiting today. The remnants of the temple can be wandered around (you’ll have to pay to go inside), and there’s an excellent museum on site which houses much of the material found during excavations.

Seemingly every time any digging is done in the area, new masterpieces are uncovered. In the 1970s, electricity workers discovered a huge stone depicting the decapitated goddess Coyolxauhqui, who was murdered by her brother Huitzilopochtli, the god of war and human sacrifice. Climb the stairs to view it from above to get the full effect.

Guides lurk by the entrance – if you want one, check they have official ID. They can be extremely enlightening and make a tangible difference to your experience and understanding of the site. The site is closed on Mondays.

Getting to Templo Mayor  

The Templo Mayor site is in the historic heart of the city, just off the Zocalo and next to the imposing Spanish baroque Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven. It’s believed more of the Templo Mayor site are located underneath the cathedral but cannot be excavated today.

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