The House of Eagles
Eagle Warriors were their SS troopers. They were the elite of the elite, totally dedicated to warfare and enamored of the symbols of death. Male children of noble families were given high levels of education, including extensive military training. Many of these young men aspired to become Eagle Warriors, a status they could only gain by capturing a large number of enemy warriors in two successive military engagements. Capturing enemies was considered much more glorious than killing them, because they could then be used to feed gods that were ever-hungry for human blood. (Photo taken at the National Museum of Anthropology)
clay and stucco figure, created approximately 1480 AD, represents the God of Death who was the Lord of the Underworld called Mictlan. It was a cold, damp place somewhere in the north that was the lowest part of the universe. Mictlantecuhtli, the Lord of Mictlan, was the most important of the several gods and goddesses of death the Mexica worshipped. This statue and a similar one were found when the ruins of the House of Eagles were excavated. I have seen a number of different sculptures of Mictlantecuhtli at various museums, and he is nearly always shown in a similar posture, with a skull-like face and hands raised like claws. This statue shows the God of Death with half of his flesh stripped away, as if from a rotting corpse or one that has been flayed, leaving his skull and ribcage exposed. Below his ribcage, his liver hangs down. The liver was thought by the Mexica to be the home of the spirit, a belief shared by prehispanic people back to very ancient times. While modern people might view such a sculpture with horror or revulsion, the Mexica saw such skeletal figures as symbols of fertility, health, and abundance. They believed that death and rebirth were closely associated with the cycles of the seasons. (Photo taken at Templo Mayor museum)
Palacio Quemado (Burned Palace) has similar rooms with very similar benches to these lining its walls. For political reasons, the Mexica wanted desperately to connect their present with the past greatness of the Toltecs whose empire had fallen hundreds of years before the Mexica arrived on the scene. They scoured the ruins of Tollan for architectural and sculptural artifacts to emulate. It has often been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. (Photo taken at the Templo Mayor archaeological site)
tzompantli is the structure in the lower right section of the photo with rows of skulls carved into the stone. In the background, the huge Metropolitan Cathedral occupies one whole side of the the Zócalo, as the central plaza of Mexico City is known. All the current buildings surrounding the Zocalo were built over the ruins of the Mexica's Sacred Precinct temples, pyramids, and palaces. (Photo taken at the Templo Mayor archaeological site)
Chichen Itza closely resemble those found at Tollan. There is no doubt, however, that the Mexica copied the Toltecs in many aspects of their culture.The site shown above is clearly related to human sacrifice, it is not where the actual skulls of sacrifice victims were displayed, however. (Photo taken at the Templo Mayor archaeological site)
The Red Temple
Other features near the Templo Mayor
Quetzalpapalotl Palace at Teotihuacan there is a wall mural of a jaguar blowing a conch shell under the image of Tlaloc. Conch shell trumpets were often used ceremonially to summon Tlaloc so that he would bring needed rain.
Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent, goes back at least to the Pre-Classic era, and gained prominence at Teotihuacan (100 AD-650 AD) where there is a massive palace dedicated to the snake god. The Mexica believed that Quetzalcoatl ruled the sun during the second of the five successive worlds. He was a relatively benevolent god of creation who gave humans the gift of maiz (corn). They also believed a legend passed down from the Toltecs that he had ruled over Tollan for a time, before being betrayed and driven out. He was said to have departed toward the east from the Gulf Coast on a raft of snakes, pledging to return one day. The Mexica Emperor Moctezuma may have initially treated Hernán Cortés with kid gloves, believing the Spaniard might be the fulfillment of the legend, arriving as he did by sea from the west. However, some historians now dispute this story as a creation of Franciscan friars who arrived after the Conquest.
This completes Part 3 of my Mexico City series. Next week I will explore some other aspects of Mexica life along with photos of some of the remarkable and beautiful objects the artisans of this lost world crafted. I always encourage feedback and corrections. If you would like to leave a comment, please do so in the Comments section or email me directly.
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Hasta luego, Jim