Culture

Ancient Mesoamerican Culture Comes Alive At These Top 10 Pyramids Across Mexico

Mexico’s pre-Columbian civilizations—the Olmecs, Mixtecs, Toltecs, Zapotecs, Aztecs (or Mexica), Maya, and others—can be hard to keep straight, but they all shared a few common traits. Most of their archaeological sites include ball courts, they considered corn an essential crop, and they all built pyramids. 

Sadly, the pyramids in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan are long gone, but dozens of others throughout Mexico still stand. The following 10 sites, which were constructed over roughly two millennia (from around 900 B.C.E. to about 1000 C.E.), are among the most spectacular and culturally important in the country. Many are even located near Mexico’s major destinations, making it easy for visitors to spend a day exploring the country’s ancient past.

La Iglesia and El Castillo, Coba

The ancient Maya city of Coba, which peaked between 800 and 1100 C.E., is home to two impressive pyramids—the Iglesia and the Castillo (the second largest pyramid on the Yucatán peninsula). Half-ruined and covered in plants, both structures look as if they’ve recently been unearthed, creating a mysterious, almost magical atmosphere.

Getting There: Coba is just over two hours by car from Cancún and 45 minutes from Tulum. If you’d rather not drive, many tour operators offer excursions.

Castillo de Kukulcán, Chichén Itzá

The Castillo de Kukulcán, with its nine stepped platforms, is the centerpiece of Chichén Itzá, a Maya city that flourished from around 700 to 900 C.E. The pyramid functioned as an enormous calendar and was designed so that, on the equinoxes, the play of sunlight and shadow would create the illusion of a snake descending to earth. While visitors are no longer allowed to climb the steps or access the Temple of Kukulcán at the top of the pyramid, they can tour other ball courts, temples, and palaces throughout Chichén Itzá. 

Getting There: Given that it’s halfway between Cancún and Mérida, this UNESCO World Heritage site is often crowded with tourists and vendors. The plus is that you can experience Chichén Itzá as it was during its peak—a bustling city.

Pyramid of the Magician, Uxmal

The Maya were never centralized in one capital, as were the Aztecs and the Toltecs. Instead, the civilization resembled ancient Greece, with competing, independent city-states that shared a language and religious beliefs even as they developed different styles of architecture and their own distinct characters. The contrast between Chichén Itzá and Uxmal is impossible to miss. The structures at Uxmal, including the Pyramid of the Magician, were built in the Puuc style, with highly stylized motifs and a decorative richness not typical of other Maya cities. 

Getting There: A drive of about 70 minutes, on two well-maintained highways, will take you from modern Mérida to ancient Uxmal.

Pyramid of the Inscriptions, Palenque

The buildings at Palenque, in the state of Chiapas, are impressive less for their size than for the elegance of their design. The 89-foot-high Pyramid of the Inscriptions is topped by a temple with piers covered in Maya hieroglyphs—hence the “inscriptions” in its name. Archaeologists estimate that only 10 percent of Palenque has been excavated and other wonders are surely waiting to be unearthed. 

Getting There: With the opening of the Palenque airport in 2014, it’s become easy to visit this once remote site. Interjet offers twice-weekly flights (on Wednesdays and Saturdays) from Mexico City.

Great Pyramid of La Venta

Located in the state of Tabasco, La Venta is home to Mexico’s oldest known pyramid, built around 900 B.C.E. The structure isn’t particularly tall at 100 feet and, since it was built of clay instead of stone, its original rectangular shape has been softened by the ages, making it appear more like a rounded hill. Still, it’s fascinating to behold, as is the sophisticated urban planning of La Venta, which served as a forerunner to Teotihuacan, Tula, and other ancient capitals. 

Getting There: You have to work to visit La Venta. The site is located in a wet, humid corner of Mexico about 90 minutes by car from Villahermosa, which is already off the beaten path. Bring insect repellent.

Monte Albán Pyramids

Situated along the Pacific, the state of Oaxaca was, and still is, the center of the Zapotec people. Monte Albán served as the capital for more than a millennium, from around 500 B.C.E. to 800 C.E., and traded frequently with Teotihuacan—another Mesoamerican city with a similarly large ceremonial center. Today, visitors can explore the site’s “truncated” pyramids, which look like raised platforms topped by temples, as well as several famous tombs and stone carvings. 

Getting There: Sitting five miles from the city center of Oaxaca, Monte Albán is easy to reach by bus or taxi.

Pyramid of the Niches, El Tajin

In the state of Veracruz, El Tajin is one of the most important sites from the so-called epiclassic (or late classic) period, dating from around 900 C.E. The city’s residents were avid ballplayers—more than 60 ball courts have been excavated here. You’ll also see one of Mexico’s most unusual buildings, the Pyramid of the Niches. The relatively short pyramid, 59 feet high, consists of six platforms, each lined with carved niches that were most likely used to track the days of the year.

Getting There: El Tajin is pretty remote, but if your travels take you to Veracruz, it’s a four-hour drive to the site.

Great Pyramid of Cholula

The largest pyramid in the world (in terms of volume) is not in Egypt, but outside the city of Puebla. Upon first glance, however, the Great Pyramid of Cholula looks like something else entirely, covered in vegetation and topped with a 16th-century church constructed by the Spanish. Visitors can access some of the restored sections of the pyramid, then explore the nearly five miles of tunnels excavated by archeologists throughout the surrounding ancient city. 

Getting There: Cholula is four miles outside of Puebla, which is famous for its colonial buildings, cuisine, and the recently opened International Museum of the Baroque.

Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon, Teotihuacan

Teotihuacan, which flourished from roughly 100 B.C.E. to 550 C.E., was one of the most influential cities in Mesoamerica, with a population of nearly 200,000 at its peak. Dominated by the enormous Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon, and a citadel, which sit along the 2.5-mile-long Avenue of the Dead, the site awed even the Aztecs, who wondered what vanished civilization could have created such a monumental city. 

Getting There: Located an hour north of Mexico City, Teotihuacan is a popular day trip (visit midweek for smaller crowds). Many tours stop en route at the Basilica of Guadalupe for a glimpse into another aspect of Mexican culture.

Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl, Tula

The Toltecs stepped into the vacuum created by the fall of Teotihuacan, establishing their capital at Tula (or Tollan), which reached its peak between 950 and 1150 C.E. The most impressive structure here is the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl, fronted by a colonnade and topped by imposing, 13-foot-tall statues of Toltec warriors, but you’ll also want to explore the vast ceremonial plaza, the palace, and the ball courts. 

Getting There: Tula is another easy day trip from either Mexico City (roughly 90 minutes by car) or the colonial city of Querétaro (just under 2 hours).

El Chapo Is Rumored To Have A Billion Dollar Fortune And Now His Family Wants To Use It To Fund A University For Indigenous Students

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El Chapo Is Rumored To Have A Billion Dollar Fortune And Now His Family Wants To Use It To Fund A University For Indigenous Students

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El Chapo may have just been sentenced to multiple life sentences for crimes committed by his drug empire. His alleged billion dollar fortune is being fought over by both the US and Mexican governments. But the former drug lord’s family is hoping to use a large portion of El Chapo’s fortune to fund a university in his home state of Sinaloa.

The drug lord’s family announced that they would launch a university in the drug lord’s home state of Sinaloa.

José Luis González Meza, a lawyer for Joaquin Guzman, revealed in September that “El Chapo” wants his money to go Mexico’s indigenous communities. In an interview, he also said that Guzmán’s family will receive financial support from a range of foundations in order to open the university in the ex-narco’s birthplace.

It will be designed by Guerrero painter Hugo Zúñiga and have several different faculties, he said.

It looks like Mexico’s President is also supportive of the initiative.

González said that he was hopeful that President López Obrador would make the time to travel to Badiraguato and preside over a groundbreaking ceremony during his tour of Sinaloa this weekend.

“What we’re hoping for is that . . . he’ll go to Badiraguato and along with Chapo’s mom, María Consuelo, he’ll lay the first stone and the work to build the university will finally start,” he said.

The president said in February that his government was committed to the establishment of a new public university in the town that will specialize in forestry, while this week he pledged to extend the agroforestry employment program Sembrando Vida (Sowing Life) to parts of the country where illicit crops are grown, including Badiraguato.

But the university is just one of several projects the family wants to develop to benefit the country’s marginalized communities.

Another project will involve the family overseeing the revival of a chain of affordable food markets that will sell meals at 50 percent below cost.

The stores will sell cheap food, coffee, tequila, beer and mezcal. Similar stores had existed during the days Joaquín Hernández Galicia ruled over the powerful oil workers union.

El Chapo’s family want the Mexican government to finance the project through two trusts allegedly left behind by Hernández Galicia. He died in 2013 after spending nine years in prison after troops stormed his home and arrested him on manslaughter and weapons charges in 1989 in what the government described as a crackdown on corruption.

The last plan will develop a pharmaceutical industry which will provide affordable medicine to Mexico before expanding its service throughout Central America.

González Meza claims the family is wanting to ‘provide low-cost food and medicine for Mexicans’ and is not concerned with making money for themselves. Both the association and pharmaceutical company will be headed by farmers and indigenous people.

All of this depends though on when, if, and how much of El Chapo’s fortune is seized by the US and Mexican governments.

El Chapo wants his entire fortune, which is estimated in the billions of dollars, to go to Indigenous communities across Mexico. However, his wishes aren’t likely to be granted according to government officials.

Prosecutors will not disclose how and where they will seek this fortune, but the former head of anti-money laundering for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, Duncan Levin, gave the Observer an insight into how they might proceed.

“Forfeiture is part of a sentence,” says Levin. “If there are assets in the US, they can go right after those assets.” He adds that a US law from 1957 provides for any asset partly funded by criminal money to be seized in its entirety. “The way they did business was very pervasive,” he says. So that any business in which the Sinaloa cartel is found to have invested is fair game.

But, according to Levin, “the vast bulk of assets are likely in Mexico” and the search for them “would be greatly helped by working with the Mexican government”, despite current political tensions.

New Study Shows That Mexican Teenagers Are Among The Most Addicted To Their Cellphones

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New Study Shows That Mexican Teenagers Are Among The Most Addicted To Their Cellphones

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We don’t need a research study to tell us that we’re more addicted to our phones than ever before. Still, the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism united with nonprofit Common Sense to give us The New Normal: Parents, Teens and Mobile Devices in Mexico,” and the findings are interesting. The survey is based on more than 1,200 Mexican teens and their parents and was led by Dean Willow Bay and Common Sense CEO James P. Steyer. Mexico is just the fourth country surveyed in a global mapping project to better understand the role smartphones play in “the new normal” of today’s family life.

The study found that nearly half (45 percent) of Mexican teens said they feel “addicted” (in the non-clinical, colloquial way) to their phones. That’s 15 percent higher than found in the United States and 265 percent higher than in Japan. Now we want to know how Latino-Americans stack up because this all feels pretty familiar.

1. Checking mobile devices has become a priority in the daily lives of teens and their parents.

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Interestingly, more parents than teens reported using their phones almost all the time. That’s 71 percent of parents and 67 percent of their children reporting near-constant use of their phones. Nearly half of parents and their teens report checking their phones several times an hour. Meanwhile, only 2 percent of the respondents said they never feel the need to immediately respond to a text, social media networking messages, or other notification.

2. Most teens (67 percent) check their phone within 30 minutes of waking up in the morning. For some, their attachment to their phone interrupts their sleep.

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In fact, a third of teens and a fourth of parents check their phone within five minutes of waking up. More than a third of teens (35 percent) and parents (34 percent) wake up in the middle of the night at least once to check their phone for “something other than the time: text messages, email, or social media,” according to the report

3. Parents and teens alike are judging each other’s phone use.

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Somos chismosos by heart, so of course, 82 percent of parents think their child is distracted daily, often several times daily, by their phone use. Over half of teens feel the same way about their parents. Seriously, how much Candy Crush is too much Candy Crush? On top of that, 64 percent of parents believe their child is “addicted” to their phone while 31 percent of teens feel their parent is “addicted” as well. That said, only 40 percent of teens felt their parents worried too much about their social media use, but 60 percent of teens said their parents would be “a lot more worried if they knew what actually happens on social media,” according to the study.

4. If a parent feels “addicted,” they’re more likely to have a child that “feels addicted,” too.

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Half of both parents and teens self-identify as feeling addicted to their phones. That said, three quarters of the 45% parent pool who reported feeling addicted ended up having a teen who self-reported as feeling addicted, too. That means there are about a third of households where everyone “feels addicted” to their device. In a similar vein, that meant that roughly 2 in 5 Mexicans are trying to cut back their time spent on their phone. 

5. Mexican teens’ favorite way to communicate with friends was via text (67 percent)…not hanging out in person.

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Only half (50 percent) of teens said one of their favorite ways to communicate with friends was in person, which narrowly beat social media (49 percent) by just one percentage point. Talking on the phone (40 percent) didn’t come in the last place though. That slot is reserved for video chatting at 22 percent.

6. If they had to go a day without their phone, the majority of respondents said they would feel happy or free.

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While the majority of teens said they would feel at least somewhat happy (73 percent), free (67 percent), or relieved (64 percent), they also expected to feel at least somewhat bored (63 percent), or anxious (63 percent), or lonely (31 percent). Compared to teens, more parents reported that they’d expect to feel happy (79 percent), free (77 percent), or relieved
(73 percent). 

7. The majority of both parents and teens think device use is hurting their family relationships.

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Nearly a third of parents said they argue once a day with their teen about their excessive use of their phone, and that screen use, in fact, ranks third behind bedtime and chores as their regular conflicts. “My parents are very concerned about this,” teen Guadalupe Mireya Espinosa Cortés told Common Sense Media. “They are all the time telling us, ‘Oh, don’t use the phone while we are eating together. Hey, we are on vacation. Don’t use the phone, please’ and I agree. I think there are priorities and we have to be intelligent to know when and where to use our phones.”

Overall, most Mexican families still agree on the benefits of the technology, citing tech skills, access to information, building relationships and keeping in touch with extended families as reasons that mobile devices are worth their while.

READ: Facebook Wants To Add Latinas In Tech To Their Teams And Offer Them A Slice Of Their Big Salary Earning Pie