Saturday, December 31, 2011

Etzatlán Adventure Part 1: Street Scenes

Etzatlán's Presidencia Municipal overlooks the south side of the main plaza. Several months ago, I went with some friends to look for old haciendas. We used a route suggested by Tony Burton in his book Western Mexico, a Traveler's Treasury. A treasury it was, because in it we discovered a jewel: Etzatlán. This small colonial town lies about 2 hours west of my home in Ajijic. I had actually read a little bit about Etzatlán while doing the research for "La Rusa's Gold Mine", one of my blog postings. The book "Quilocho and the Dancing Stars" is, in part, about that gold mine. I discovered that Quilocho Retolaza, one of the main characters, had administered a hacienda near Etzatlán in the 1920s and had regularly visited the town on business and to visit the cantinas with his friends. The description of the town intrigued me, and so did that of ex-Hacienda San Sebastian where Quilocho courted the hacendado's daughter. When I found mention of both Etzatlán and the hacienda in Tony Burton's book, I was hooked. I urged my friends to include it in our hacienda tour, and that is how we discovered our jewel, set in a lush valley surrounded by volcanic mountains. For a Google map of the area, click here.

Statue of Jose Antonio Escobedo, native son of Etzatlán and former Jalisco Governor. Etzatlán figured in many of the most dramatic episodes of the history of Nueva España and Mexico from the very earliest days of the Conquest. To find out about this history, and to see more of my photos of Etzatlán, check out my earlier posting on the town. Escobedo was one of several Jalisco governors who were born here, and the town was briefly used as the state's Capital during the Revolution. I found a good deal of this fascinating history on the municipal government's excellent website. In addition to the town's history, the site covers places to visit, shopping, hotels and cabins, restaurants, fiestas, archaeological sites and much more. Although it is in Spanish, it is relatively easy to follow even for someone who doesn't know that language. I have also discovered that Google has a free browser called Chrome which will translate Spanish-language websites.

Lupita, my contact in the Tourist Office. Lupita speaks no English, so my interactions with her were an adventure in itself. I had to use my rather limited Spanish, about which she was very forgiving. Although my ability to read Spanish is improving rapidly, I confess that some of her emailed responses to my queries left me a bit baffled. Still, she was eager to help and that assistance proved invaluable as our adventure unfolded. Her small office is located on the first floor of the Presidencia Municipal right at the corner of Independencia and Escobedo. There is literature available there about the area, and the binder on the desk next to her is filled with photos and information about interesting sites to visit. One of the most valuable pieces of literature I obtained was "Hacienda de San Sebastian" (cost: $50 pesos--$3.58 USD) a small book written by Carlos E. Parra Ron, the town historian. He includes a wealth of information not only about this nearby historic hacienda, but about the structure and operations of haciendas in general. My Spanish is now at a level where I can follow it pretty well. I was so enthralled with the book that I decided I must meet the author when I next visited Etzatlán.

Plaza de Armas is a green and inviting oasis. Across the cobblestone street from the Presidencia Municipal is the large Plaza de Armas. A recent fiesta accounts for the patriotic streamers draped from the lamp posts. On my first brief visit, we were charmed by the plaza and its surrounding colonial buildings and churches. The area practically sparkled, it was so clean and inviting. I decided immediately that this place deserved another visit. As it happened, I returned twice more. Even so, I have yet to exhaust all the possible things to see and do. For a Google map of the Plaza de Armas area, including the Presidencia Municipal and the Hotel Centenario, click here.

In the center of the plaza stands an elegant kiosco. Broad brick walkways radiate out from the center, dividing lush gardens. Lining the edges of the gardens and the perimeter of the plaza are graceful wrought-iron benches. A mixture of palms and deciduous trees provides cool shade from the bright sun.

The roof of the kiosco perches delicately on iron supports. This is one of the prettiest kioscos I have seen in Mexico. Some have been more elaborate or larger, but few have been as graceful. The lacy iron filigree at the top of the slender pillars is particularly nice. The kiosco was a gift from the French government during the regime of Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz who ruled Mexico from 1876 until the 1910 Revolution.

It's a dog's life. This pooch was deep into a nap when I happened by with my camera. He never opened an eye, although I am sure he knew I was there. It's hard to match the sense of relaxation a dog can convey. Mexico abounds in dogs, including some that are abused or neglected. However, many dogs that foreigners assume are strays are, in fact, someone's pet, whether or not they wear a collar as this one does. The pets tend to be sleeker and somewhat cleaner. Most of the Mexican dog owners I have encountered don't lock up their animals, or keep them on leashes. As a result they tend to be much better socialized to people and other dogs than the pampered and often highly neurotic pooches found north-of-the-border. The down-sides are widespread dog poop and a high incidence of dogs killed or injured by passing cars.

Arched portales line Calle Juarez on the west side of Plaza de Armas. This photo, taken on my first visit, shows white blotches on the yellow wall. These are plaster patches, made in preparation for a fresh paint job. You can tell a lot about a Mexican town by how it takes care of its plaza. The one in Etzatlán gives evidence of great civic pride. The design of this walkway is very old. In the 17th Century, Spanish King Phillip II decreed that such covered walkways should be provided around plazas throughout Nueva España. He wished that those doing business should be protected from sun and rain. Phillip II was the same king who ordered the Spanish Armada to lead the invasion of Queen Elizabeth I's England. His action becomes more understandable when we remember that Queen Elizabeth was sponsoring pirate raids by men such as Sir Francis Drake. They raided Spain's New World colonies, plundering, raping, and murdering everywhere they went. Fortunately, they never reached as far inland as Etzatlán.

The Juarez portales, post-paint-job. On my second visit, I discovered that the portales along Calle Juarez had been painted a pleasing shade of green. Etzatlán, like most Mexican towns, has a plaza that is surrounded by government offices, the Parroquia church, and small businesses like cell phone stores, ice cream shops, etc. Above, my fellow hacienda explorers engage in a bit of window shopping. They are the two tall guys with broad-brimmed hats. Mike is on the left in the shorts, and Dave is on the right in the blue shirt.

The "whatever" store. A little further along was a store I nicknamed the "whatever" store. Want a bird cage? How about a plastic bucket? Maybe a hoola hoop or artificial flowers or a broom? This store has an amazing and eclectic variety of goods. I was attracted to the bright, jumbled colors and the sheer mass of the goods packed together in a relatively small space.

These three pretty girls wanted to try their English on us. They were of high school age and, as I recall, they had some kind of school project that required the use of English. I missed most of the exchange since I had been photographing the colonial Capuchina Convent (to be seen in a future post). They were already walking away when I emerged, so I called them back for a photo, and they were happy to oblige me. I don't believe I saw any other foreigners during my 3 visits to Etzatlán. Everyone treated us with great courtesy and respect, quite royally in fact. People seemed delighted that foreign tourists were interested in their town and definitely wanted to attract more.

Everybody loves a puppy. An older woman was toting this little guy down the street, wrapped in what looked like a diaper. The puppy drew attention where ever she went. Dog-lover that I am, I just had to get a photo of this cutie.

"Tortilla, anyone?" As I passed by this open-front restaurant, I took a quick photo of the women preparing comida, the traditional mid-afternoon meal. I raised my camera and one of the cooks gave me a warm smile and raised a tortilla in salute. The casual warmth of the people here makes Etzatlán a very attractive place.

Look, but don't ride! My eye caught this fine-looking saddle outside a leathershop on Calle Escobedo. Etzatlán is vaquero (cowboy) country, and saddles, boots, and horses are everywhere. The sign on the saddle says "Please, don't mount your children." Apparently many a small, would-be vaquero has persuaded his parents to do just that.

A street musician and his daughter entertain passersby. As I have said more than once in this blog, I love that my life in Mexico is accompanied by a live musical soundtrack. Street musicians are everywhere in Mexico. Often they will be accompanied by an assistant like this young girl who will encourage people like me to contribute. I nearly always do. It's a hard way to make a living and they give great value for the money.

This completes Part 1 of our Etzatlán adventure. Next week we'll take a look at the historic Hotel Centenario, the gorgeous place with a fascinating history where we stayed on my 3rd visit. We'll also sample a few of the excellent restaurants we found. Anyone considering an overnight stay in Etzatlán should find this next posting very useful, as well as being being interesting for the general viewer. If you would like to leave a comment, please do so in the Comments section below, or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim  

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Lake Chapala's Ajijic pueblo, a photographer's delight

Ajijic's Iglesia de San Andrés.  Also known as the Parroquia, the present church was built in 1749. A hurricane destroyed the original church, which had stood since 1535, shortly after the Conquest. A Parroquia, or "parish church", is the main Catholic church in a geographic area, usually named after the patron saint of the town or village, in this case San Andrés (St. Andrew). Depending on a town's size, there may be satellite churches or chapels that are serviced by a Parroquia, as there are in Ajijic.

I took this photo during the Worldwide Photo Walk on October 1. Thousands of people in communities around the globe gathered in groups to walk around and photograph their communities. Ajijic was one of these, and about 20 or so photographers gathered in the late afternoon around the kiosco in the center of Ajijic's plaza. The idea was that everyone would submit their best photos for a world wide competition. Due to a technical glitch, my name never got properly entered, so I didn't submit my work, but I didn't really care. It was a beautiful evening, and I was joined by good friends who are fellow photographers. It seemed like a fun occasion. The photos in this posting are some of those I took during that golden fall afternoon.

Veronica and Jay, two of my favorite people in Ajijic. Veronica is Mexican and Jay is from the US. Both are photographers, but Jay is a professional, and a true artist. They live together and operate a photographic gallery called Studio 18 on Calle Colon, just south of the Plaza on the way to the Ajijic Pier. Veronica is a remarkable young woman, not only lovely and sweet but smart and ambitious. She taught herself English so she could sell real estate to the many foreigners who come here. She has done remarkably well, even in Lake Chapala's extremely difficult real estate market. Jay is gifted with a camera. He captures not only the beauty of people and places, but often the humor of a situation. For a look at some of Jay's work, click here.

Exotica Bar, over the Jardin Restaurant at the Plaza. Frankly, I was dubious that there might be anything interesting on the route we were to take that I hadn't shot several times before. I was prepared to enjoy an afternoon simply hanging out with friends. To my surprise, I found lots of photographic subjects, some new since I had last wandered the area with a camera, and some things I had just never noticed before. Photography is like that. It forces you to really look at your world. In the photo above, I was initially attracted by the flags, Canadian, Mexican, and US. They are nicely framed by the steep, jungly mountains that abruptly rise a few blocks north of the Plaza. Then I noticed the row of drain spouts on the right, each surmounted with a ceramic lizard. I am really more of a photojournalist than an artist like Jay, and I like to use my pictures to tell a story. The shot above captures the international flavor of the area, the nature of the landscape in which we live, and the quirky art with which we are surrounded.

Sculpture/painting of egrets at the Jardin Restaurant. The artist is Bruno Mariscal, whose murals and other public art can be seen all over Ajijic. I have done some other postings showing Sr. Mariscal's work, as well as on the egrets, both Great White and Snowy, that inhabit the shores of Lake Chapala. Sr. Mariscal has perfectly captured their essence, both in motion and standing still. The Great White Egret in the foreground is actually a relief sculpture set into the painting, giving the whole work a three-dimensional appearance. The Jardin Restaurant is one of the chief "watering holes" for expats in Ajijic. If you should visit the restaurant, take a moment to closely examine Sr. Mariscal's work. I guarantee you will be impressed.

Hands up, Señor! In the Artist's Alley that connects the Plaza with Calle Marcos Castellanos, I found myself looking down the business end of a pistol gripped by Pancho Villa. Beside him stands Emiliano Zapata, another of Mexico's beloved heros from the Revolution. This is a detail from a long wall mural celebrating Mexico's Bicentennial. The Revolution began in 1910, and the War of Independence exactly 100 years before it, in 1810. Artists in Ajijic and elsewhere were encouraged to create murals and other works as part of the celebration. This mural was painted by Bruno Mariscal and includes famous figures from both events. Among them is Marcos Castellanos, a local priest who led the resistance to the siege of Mezcala Island, about 20 miles east of Ajijic, a couple of kilometers off the shore of Lake Chapala.

The colors of life in Mexico. The deep blue skies and the intense orange flowers of the Tabachin tree (Delonix regia) exemplify the wonderful colors that surround us here. When foreigners first encounter Mexican art, crafts, or textiles, they are sometimes startled, even a little put off, by the vibrant and often wildly contrasting colors. This is especially true if the objects are encountered out-of-context, perhaps in a Canadian or US gift shop. The effect can be jarring. However, a visit to the source is revealing. Mexicans create vividly colorful objects because the natural colors of Mexico are riotous. Where we live, the climate is perpetually spring, so flowers bloom year-round. Bright colors that in a north-of-the-border context would seem to clash with each other blend easily and grow around us everywhere, in gardens and in the wild.

A study in blue, found on Calle Ocampo. This is an example of a scene that one might walk by every day without a second thought. Something about the blue, almost turquoise, color caught my eye. It reminded me of the Maya Blue found in the colors of murals in ancient sites I recently visited. The twisting edge where the broken plaster ends and the brick begins reminded me of a winding river seen from a great height. The bricks themselves, covered and recovered by successive plaster layers, suggested a long history partially revealed. I also liked the way the bricks abruptly end and deep shadow begins. Had I passed this spot any other time than late afternoon, with its slanting light and deep shadows, I probably would never have noticed it.

Quetzal bird adorns a stained glass window. Another example of the lovely art one encounters at every turn in Ajijic. This one adorns the front of a house at the corner of Calles Nicolas Bravo and 16 de Septiembre. Quetzals are found in the high humid forests and woodlands of Mexico and Central America. They were considered sacred by the ancient people, and the creator god Quetzalcoatl is half Quetzal bird and half snake. The bird's feathers, especially from the long tail, were often used in the huge head dresses worn by the nobility and priests of ancient times. The Quetzal is considered so important by modern Guatemalans that they gave its name to their basic unit of currency.

Ancient pictograph symbols at the corner of Javier Mina and 16 de Septiembre. Painted symbols like these have been found in caves and on rock overhangs frequented by nomadic people beginning in the Archaic period (10,000-8,000 BC). This home was obviously decorated by someone with an interest in both art and archaeology. Many of the symbols are quite accurate in their representation of the ancient styles. As shown above, the ancient artists often painted over previous art. They also often left outlines of human hands, perhaps the signatures of the artists. Pictographs, in which the artists used paint, are not to be confused with petroglyphs, in which the artist carves into the surface of the rock.

A quiet afternoon at the corner of Javier Mina and 16 de Septiembre. I liked the way in which this corner is flattened and not right-angled, and is sheltered by the luxuriant palm. The small windows across the street are all barred, but the bars are decorative and painted a pleasing blue. This place possessed a very 19th Century feel, and I half expected a troop of mounted Mexican lancers to come clattering around the corner.

Barred window, Calle 16 de Septiembre.  I enjoy the way people here take something that could appear mundane or even ugly, and turn it into a thing of beauty. Bars on doors and windows are an unfortunate necessity here, because burglaries are common, although very few occur when people are home. However, the people who operate the many local herrerias, or iron worker shops, can turn a necessity into a work of art using nothing more than a simple sketch.

A lion's head breaks the tedium of a long blank wall, Calle 16 de Septiembre. I liked the way the setting sun cast a shadow along this wall, emphasizing the lion's wavy mane and fierce countenance.

The vaquero and the and the señorita. I couldn't tell what was being said here, so I let my imagination run with it. This fellow would no doubt like to become much better acquainted with the pretty girl whose horse he was leading through the streets. By the look of her expensive sunglasses and boots, she is probably an affluent city-girl from Guadalajara. Many Mexican tourists from that city descend upon Ajijic and other parts of Lake Chapala's north shore on the weekends, among them a lot of pretty señoritas like this. There are plenty of local cowboys who bring strings of horses into town in hopes of renting them to the visitors. Sometimes, fortune smiles.

A small vignette on Calle 16 de Septiembre. When I really pay attention, I constantly find interesting little vignettes like this one, about 1/2 way between Calles Morelos and 5 de Mayo. I was interested in the combination of aged, crumbling adobe, a porthole window, and an antique lamp, all nicely framed by brick, which is itself lit up by the rosy glow of the setting sun.

A puffy-cheeked 17th Century nobleman gazes out from an old door. There were a pair of these tall, narrow, wooden doors at the front of a house on Calle 5 de Mayo, at the corner of 16 de Septiembre. The other door had a matching face. The doors appear to be 17th Century originals, probably transplanted from some grand home elsewhere. In the 17th Century, there were few if any homes in the humble pueblo of Ajijic that could have justified a door like this. This is another example of something easily missed, unless you pay close attention to your surroundings.

Roof tiles and chimneys of the Old Posada. Clay tiles roof a local landmark called the Old Posada, a restaurant next to the Ajijic Pier at the end of Calle Morelos (also known as Calle Colon further north). Clay tiles just like these have been in use since the time of Mycenaen Greece (700 BC-650 BC) when Homer wrote his epic poem about the Siege of Troy. They became popular throughout the Mediterranean area, and were eventually brought to Nueva Hispaña from Old Spain. The condominium where we live is roofed with similar tiles. The rich and brightly contrasting colors seen here are typical of many homes and businesses in Ajijic and elsewhere in Mexico. The Old Posada itself has a long history. Hernán Cortéz awarded what is now Ajijic to his cousin, a man named Saenz (Cortés liked to keep things in the family). Saenz used the site where the Old Posada is now as a mill, and called the indigenous people to work with a trumpet made from a conch shell. The mill operated under various owners from the mid-1500s to the 1950s. Eventually it became a hotel, under the ownership of the Eager family. Later they moved the hotel further east on the lakeshore and called it the Nueva Posada. The Old Posada became a restaurant, as it is today.

Blankets and other textiles displayed in front of the Old Posada. Several local indigenous women weave these textiles, sometimes with back-strap looms, a technology that goes back thousands of years. Other pieces are woven using foot-powered looms, relatively unchanged since the Spanish introduced them into Nueva Hispaña in the 16th Century. Notice the bright, wildly contrasting colors on some pieces, a style that mimics the natural world here in Mexico. The women usually arrive in the late morning and hang their goods from the huge old eucalyptus trees that grow in front of the Old Posada, and Yves, a neighboring restaurant.

Vino Blanco waits for lunch outside Yves Restaurant. This little white burro has become the mascot of the lakefront. I've never been quite sure who owns her, since various people seem to attend to her needs. She is very gentle and affectionate, and loves to be petted and fed treats like carrots or pieces of lettuce. The purple substance on her nose is medicine for a persistent skin condition. During fiestas, she is sometimes hitched up to a small cart to pull children in the parades. On those occasions, her hooves are painted pink and she wears a gaily flowered straw hat. She seems very patient about it all. Most of the time, however, she grazes on tufts of grass beside the pier and waits for the next group of tourists to fawn over her. If her lunch is not timely, she is known to bray plaintively.

The Ajijic Pier and a tourist boat sporting a small Mexican flag. Afternoon shadows were growing long when I took this shot. This was one of those crystal-clear winter days when you can see the individual folds of the mountains 12 miles across the lake, and the golden light makes everything seem to glow.

Water sparkles as the sun drops low in the west. A fellow photographer set up her tripod to catch the light as it moved over the mountains across the lake. I decided to make her the subject of my shot. The lovely new malecon (waterfront walkway) is a real addition to Ajijic. This one and several others were built in the last couple of years. The local governments who funded the construction were probably spurred by the anticipation of tourists coming to attend the Pan-American Games, some of which were held at Lake Chapala in the last half of October in 2011.

As night falls, swallows gather on telephone lines. Jay and Veronica and I walked from the pier up to Studio 18 at dusk. As we moved up Calle Colon, the noise of birds chattering and flapping their wings attracted our attention. Overhead, hundreds of swallows were settling in for the evening on the lines. It had been a lovely day. I didn't think I had gotten very many decent shots until I downloaded to my computer that night. In the end, I was quite pleased with the results of the day.

This completes my posting. I hope you enjoyed this leisurely stroll around Ajijic as much as I did. If you'd like to leave a comment, please do so in the Comments section below, or email me directly. 

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Monday, December 19, 2011

Puebla Part 15: Cacaxtla's Venus Temple and the Battle Murals

The Bird Priest in Cacaxtla's North Platform. This is a detail of one of Cacaxtla's most striking murals. Standing on either side of a doorway are two figures who may be priests or rulers. One is dressed as a bird, the other as a jaguar. The juxtaposition of birds and jaguars is also found in the great battle murals which line the central plaza of the city. In the mural above, a tall figure wears a head dress in the shape of a bird's beak and flowing wings attached to his shoulders and upper arms. He is richly dressed, and carries in his arms a large shaft whose lower end is a gaping snake's mouth. These are the oldest mural paintings in Mesoamerica featuring human figures who share features from a variety of cultures, including Maya, Totonac, and that of Teotihuacan. They were created by the Olmeca-Xicalancas who inhabited Cacaxtla between 600 AD and 900 AD. This was during the period of Cacaxtla's greatest power. The Bird Priest seen above represents Quetzacoatl, the creator god who taught humans about the arts and agriculture. For the historical background of Cacaxtla and its even older sister city of Xochitécatl, please scroll down to the previous two postings.

The Venus Temple

The Venus Temple contains two dancers, a male and a female. The Venus Temple is found on the west side of the Gran Basamente, the great platform on which Cacaxtla rests. A male and a female dancer can be seen on two parallel supporting structures.

The male dancer is the least damaged of the two. He is naked from the waist up, but wears short pants of jaguar skin, and a kind of flaring skirt over those. The belt holding up his skirt has buckle that is a symbol for Venus, hence the name of the temple. On his ankles he wears dancing rattles. Notice also that he has a scorpion tail which extends behind him between his legs and off to the right side of the column. There is a wicked-looking stinger at the end.

Urn found at Cacaxtla with the figure of a dancer on the side. Notice the similarities between the figure on the urn and the painted dancer.  He wears a similar skirt and rattle anklets and his head dress bears some similarity to the painting. I thought this was a particularly fine piece of pottery

The female dancer also wears a jaguar skin underskirt. Unfortunately, this painting is more damaged than that of the male. Similar to the male figure, she also has an overskirt held up by the Venus symbol. The reference to Venus indicates an astronomical phenomenon or a calendrical date associated with Venus. To the people of this culture, Venus represented warfare and sacrifice.

The Battle Mural

The Battle Mural runs along the north side of the central plaza. It can be seen just under the row of broken pillars in the background. The two halves are separated by a broad staircase in the middle leading up to the North Platform and the temples and ritual rooms it contains. The Battle Mural stretches about 22 meters (72 ft.) along the central plaza's north side. It contains extraordinary scenes of bloody combat and human sacrifice.

Skull found at Cacaxtla. There was no sign indicating whether this was from a sacrifice or a simple burial. There appears to have been plenty of both at Cacaxtla. The city grew up in the wake of the fall of Teotihucan. That great empire had stabilized Mesoamerica for 500 years, and its sudden collapse around 600 AD left a great vacuum of power and authority. Into that vacuum rushed a host of small cities, vying for control of the resources of their areas. Cacaxtla had the good fortune to occupy a key strategic position on the trade crossroads between the Gulf Coast and the inland civilizations, as well as the route leading from the Zapotec civilization around Oaxaca up to the northern high plains. Such a position naturally created conflict with its envious neighbors. Warfare during this period was fierce.

The Battle Mural panels located to the right of the central staircase. The mural dates from the period prior to 700 AD, in the century immediately following Teotihuacan's fall when regional conflicts were at their height. These and other murals were discovered in the 1990s by local looters looking for pots and other objects to sell. Word quickly got out about a major discovery. Because they were buried, the vivid colors of the murals survived for 1100 years after Cacaxtla was abandoned. The Mexican archaeological authorities have left them in place, but otherwise have taken great care that they should not be damaged by weather or vandalism.

Jaguar Warrior spears an Eagle Warrior. The Jaguar Warrior is in the center of the photo above. He carries a round Maya-blue shield and is thrusting his spear point into the chest of an Eagle warrior who is lying down, leaning on his elbows. Military cults associated with Jaguars and Eagles appear in several Mesoamerican civilizations, including the Toltec Empire based in Tollan (Tula), and the Itzá rulers of Chichen Itzá.  These cults reached their peak in the Aztec Empire where they were the elite units who led the fight against Hernán Cortéz.

The dirty work got done with obsidian weapons like these. On the left is a spear point, while the blade on the right may have been part of a long knife or thrusting weapon. Obsidian is volcanic glass, a substance that can be shaped into very sharp tools or weapons. The cutting edge on some obsidian weapons has been found to be many times sharper than modern steel surgical instruments.

Another Jaguar Warrior raises his spear for a deadly thrust. The meaning of the Battle Mural is in dispute among archaeologists. Some see it as a genuine battle, with the Jaguar Warriors apparently emerging victorious. Others believe that the scenes represent a mass human sacrifice, possibly of captives from a battle. The evidence offered for this is that many of the Eagle Warriors appear to be unarmed and are dismembered. What appears to be the head of an Eagle Warrior lies just in front of the left foot of the Jaguar Warrior shown above. I don't have an opinion in this dispute. What seems clear to me is that the Jaguar Warriors represent a victorious and triumphant Cacaxtla. The Battle Mural may portray an actual battle, and ancient cities didn't tend to celebrate their great defeats.

A snarling stucco figure may portray an ancient warrior-ruler. The museum at Cacaxtla contains a number of figures dressed in fantastically complicated garb, like the one shown above.

The Bird and Jaguar Priests

The Bird Priest. This is the full panel containing the Bird Priest, seen in close detail in my first photo of this posting. In addition to the priest and the feathered snake upon which he stands, there are many interesting details to this mural. I wondered about the purpose of implement he holds in his arms, but the sign at the site held no explanation. The border of the panel surrounding the priest contains many further details.

Detail of the Bird Priest mural. Here you an see the serpent, with green/blue feathers along his back. This is a clearly a reference to Quezalcoatl, the famous "feathered serpent", a deity whose origin goes back at least as far as the earliest period of Teotihuacan, around 100 BC. The "business end" of the device held in the priest's arms is the head of another snake, which seems about to devour the head of the feathered serpent. Note also the feet of the priest, represented as the talons of a bird. My interpretation of this scene is that the priest is using the device to intimidate the snake on which he stands, or perhaps as a tool to direct it. This may be intended to emphasize the ability of the priest to make the god do what he wants. Of course, this is only my speculation. I invite anyone who has information about the meaning of this image to leave a comment. Notice the plants and animals along the border below the feathered serpent. There are at least 27 different plants and animals represented in this and the other murals around Cacaxtla.

The Jaguar Priest is both similar and different from the Bird Priest. To the left of the doorway leading to the inner sanctum, facing the Bird Priest, stands the Jaguar Priest. Their postures are similar, and they both carry large shaft devices with which they appear to be directing or influencing the creatures on which they stand. In the mural above, the Jaguar Priest stands upon an elongated jaguar. Jaguars were viewed as powerful symbols throughout Mesoamerica all the way back to the Olmecs. Interestingly, drops of water appear to be cascading from the device down onto the head of the jaguar. Water was a very important element in prehispanic life and, as such, carried very powerful symbolic meanings. Like the Bird Priest, the Jaguar Priest has the feet of an animal, in this case the claws of a jaguar.

Bust of a ruler/priest found at Cacaxtla. The figure, which appears to be speaking, or even shouting, wears an elaborately feathered head dress and a large necklace of some sort.

Hutches to raise animals, but what kinds? Again, there seems to be a dispute among archaeologists about these small stone enclosures. One source holds that they were for raising parrots, whose brightly colored feathers were valuable throughout the ancient world. Another asserts that these are rabbit hutches used to raise food for the noble elite who lived in the Cacaxtla complex. I suppose it is also possible that their use could have changed from one to the other over time.

A figure with the face of a tipsy clown. Although this fellow wears the garb of an important figure, his face is anything but solemn with authority.

Xochitécatl's Pyramid of the Flowers, seen from Cacaxtla's North Platform. This ancient pyramid was built, according to some, as early as 700 BC. It is part of a separate complex that is much older than Cacaxtla. If you missed my Xochitécatl posting, it is Part 13 of this series and you can just scroll down. This photo gives you a sense of the close proximity of the two sites, and of the woods and small fields that surround both. From each site, one has a vast, 360 degree vista of the surrounding valley and volcanos in the distance.

This completes Part 15 of my series on Puebla and is the end of the series itself. My next posting will be entirely different: a whimsical, photo-walk around Ajijic, the Mexican village where I live. I think you'll enjoy the change. If you have any comments on this or any of my other postings, please leave it in the Comments section below or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim