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).

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A University Is Releasing A Historic Mexican Cookbook Filled With Recipes You’d Want To Try

Culture

A University Is Releasing A Historic Mexican Cookbook Filled With Recipes You’d Want To Try

UTSA

The University of Texas San Antonio is bringing the history of Mexico into our kitchens. The university is releasing cookbooks that are collections of historic Mexican recipes. Right now, the desserts book is out and online for free. Main dishes and appetizers/drinks are coming soon.

You can now taste historic Mexico thanks to the University of Texas San Antonio.

UTSA has had an ongoing project of preserving, collecting, and digitizing cookbooks from throughout Mexico’s history. Some books date back to the 1700s and offer a look into Mexico’s culinary arts and its evolution.

UTSA has been digitizing Mexican cookbooks for years and the work is now being collected for people in the time of Covid.

Millions of us are still at home and projects like these can be very exciting and exactly what you need. The recipes are a way to distract yourself from the current reality.

“The e-pubs allow home cooks to use the recipes as inspiration in their own kitchens,” Dean Hendrix, the dean of UTSA Libraries, said in UTSA Today. “Our hope is that many more people will not only have access to these wonderful recipes but also interact with them and experience the rich culture and history contained in the collection.”

The free downloads are a way for people to get a very in-depth look into Mexican food history.

The first of three volumes of the cookbooks focuses on desserts so you can learn how to make churros, chestnut flan, buñelos, and rice pudding. What better way to spend your quarantine than learning how to make some of these yummy desserts. We all love sweets, right?

If you want to get better with making your favorite desserts, check out this cookbook and make it happen.

There is nothing better than diving into your history and using food as your guide. Food is so intrinsically engrained in our DNAs and identities. We love the foods and sweets from our childhood because they hold a clue as to who we are and where we come from. This historical collection of recipes throughout history is the perfect way to make that happen.

READ: The Laziest Food Hacks In All Of The Land Would Send Your Abuela To The Chancla

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Instead Of Celebrating Her Quince, This Teen Donated It All To Help Victims Of Covid-19

Things That Matter

Instead Of Celebrating Her Quince, This Teen Donated It All To Help Victims Of Covid-19

JiromyXool / Facebook

Few days are as important or as celebrated as a teenager’s 15th birthday. So imagine the level of selflessness one must have to be able to say ‘no, I don’t want any of the celebration, I rather help out my community.’

Well, one teen in Merida, Mexico did just that this week when she told her family ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to her big quince and instead used the money that had been raised for her special day to help out her neighbors who have been impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Her party was canceled thanks to Coronavirus, so she decided to help out those less fortunate.

In many countries across Latin America, the quinceañera is a huge milestone for teenagers. Beautiful dresses, visits from the entire family, big parties, and the best gifts are the norm at most quinces. But for 15-year-old Jiromy Xool Pech, instead of spending money on a lavish birthday celebration, she opted to use her party funds to help feed the needy.

Jiromy and her family had long planned her quinceañera – she had been looking forward to it for years. But with the pandemic hitting her community in Mérida particularly hard, the teen decided to put the party aside and use everything that had been invested in the ceremony to help her neighbors who have been impacted by the pandemic.

“Instead of partying, I prefer to give food to people, to help them with that,” Jiromy told El Universal. Jiromy not only asked to donate the money for her quince to the community, but she was also out there helping distribute the food to her neighbors.

Jiromy and her family weren’t alone in helping out the community either. Much of the food that was given out was prepared from by neighbors and local businesses that came to join Jiromy’s cause once word began to spread.

Unfortunately, many quinceañeras have been canceled or postponed thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Credit: Diego Sanchez / Getty Images

One of Mexico City’s most famous markets for buying quince dresses – el Mercado Lagunilla – has been closed for three months. This ins’t just hating a major impact on dressmakers and salespeople, but it also means that young teens aren’t able to buy the dresses to celebrate their big day.

But not all is completely lost: there are those who have begun to return, like Ximena González, who came with her family to try on dresses. Her quince was scheduled for May 16, but the pandemic changed everything, and now they expect it to take place in November.

“I was scared and upset but I had to accept it. Some friends can no longer go because they are moving,” she told El Universal. She added, “I hope that when it is my party the infections have gone down and that everything is done as if nothing had happened.”

Mexico has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, including Jiromy’s hometown of Merida.

Jiromy’s selfless act to help her community comes as Mexico continues to see record breaking numbers of cases. Tens of thousands are dying and even more are losing their jobs and being forced back into poverty.

As of August 6, Mexico has more than 456,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 49,698 people have died from the virus. In Jiromy’s state of Yucatan, there have been more than 10,000 cases of the virus and it’s had a huge impact on tourism, which is a major economic force in the state. Therefore, it makes sense that the 15-year-old thought it was important to use the money raised for her party to help those who are suffering financially.

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