Thursday, November 15, 2012

Las Soldaderas: Women of the Mexican Revolution

Soldaderas march in a parade celebrating the Mexican Revolution. The colors of the skirts worn by these Mexican Army soldiers are those of the Mexican flag. They carry the Mauser rifles and wear the crossed bandoliers typically used by those who fought in one of the most brutal struggles of the early 20th Century. Since November 20 is Revolution Day in Mexico, I decided to take a break from my series on Mexico City to tell the story of the women who marched with the armies fighting on all of the many sides in that war. They are generally known as soldaderas, although they are sometimes called Adelitas after the famous campfire song about a woman who followed her man to war. The term soldadera derives from the Spanish word soldada, which was a small allowance a soldier received so he could hire a female servant. A woman who collected the allowance was therefore a "soldadera." During the Mexican Revolution, the term grew to carry a much greater meaning.

Indigenous women often went with their men to fight against the dictator Porfirio Diaz. The people above had probably been living on one of Mexico's numerous haciendas where they were treated little better than serfs. Beginning in 1910, they rose up, raging against the oppression they and their ancestors had experienced for hundreds of years. Often they killed the hacendado (owner) before they left. The women above look submissive and a bit downcast, possibly because this may have been the first photograph anyone had ever taken of them. It may also have to do with the subordinate roles that women played before (and even since) the Revolution. Most soldaderas were not combat soldiers, but still performed absolutely vital functions for the various armies. In her book Las Soldaderas, Mexican author Elena Poniatowska explained that role:

"Without the soldaderas, there is no Mexican Revolution--they kept it alive and fertile, like the earth. They would be sent ahead of the rest to gather firewood and light the fire. They kept it stoked during the long years of the war. Without the soldaderas, the drafted soldiers would have deserted....In Mexico, in 1910, had the soldiers not carried their homes on their backs--their soldaderas with their cots, blankets, pots and provisions--the number of men who would have taken off to shelter themselves in a warm corner somewhere would have meant the end of their armies."

Soldaderas carry baskets of food as they walk beside the troops of Emiliano Zapata. The Mexican armies at the start of the Revolution lacked many important facilities possessed by more modern armies: commissary and supply departments, and a medical corps. Soldaderas performed many of these functions, but on a relatively informal basis. They set up camp for their fighting men, fed them and cleaned their clothes, patched them up when they got wounded, retrieved their bodies from the field if they were killed, searched the bodies of the other dead for supplies and equipment, and performed innumerable other small tasks that made their men's lives, and the life of the whole army, more bearable. Poniatowska describes them as: 

"...slight, thin women patiently devoted to their tasks like worker ants--hauling water and making tortillas over a lit fire, the mortar and pestle always at hand. (Does anyone really know just how hard it is to carry a heavy mortar for kilometers during military campaigns?) And at the end of the day there's the hungry baby to breastfeed." 

Soldaderas ride on top of the railroad cars, while the troopers' horses ride inside. The lot of the women was a hard one. Traveling on top of a railroad car might have been preferable to walking, but it left them exposed to the sun and the weather. The army's horses were often better treated than the soldaderas because the generals viewed the women as expendable ("weren't they just women, after all?"). The horses, on the other hand, played vital combat roles. Poniatowska relates the words of a former soldadera named  Jesusa Palancares: 

"Life was difficult in those could cover your things with a canvas tarp as well as you could so that they wouldn't get wet. But it wouldn't prevent me from getting all wet. I had a cowboy hat that I wore to protect me a bit from the weather. All of us had to squat down on top of the train because the horses couldn't go without food and shelter."

As the train stops, anxious women look for their soldiers. This iconic photo is one of the most famous to come out of the Revolution. The woman on the left scans down the train for her man, while the very young, and very pregnant, girl on the right gingerly makes her way down the steps. The women behind them carry wicker baskets of provisions. They all wrap themselves in their rebozos, the ubiquitous, multi-purpose shawl still worn today by millions of Mexican women. American writer John Reed accompanied the forces of Pancho Villa in the early years. One day he asked a woman like one of those shown above why she fought with the Villistas. The woman simply pointed to her soldier and said: "Because he does."

A soldadera greets her man as his comrades look on enviously. What happened to one of these women when her husband or boyfriend was killed or she otherwise became separated from him? There was often no place to return, and had she done so it could be very dangerous for her. Rape by passing soldiers or deserters was a common fate of Mexican women in this period. According to Poniatowska, women of every social class were kidnapped. Even those who had taken Holy Orders were not safe:

"The Carrancistas (soldiers of Venustiano Carranza) captured fifty nuns. "After a certain amount of time passed, they dropped them off at a hospital 'where they bore their offspring'". 

 Stolen women would often become soldaderas, taking care of their captors. Having been dishonored, they could not return to their villages. On the other hand, women who lost their men would often quickly form new arrangements with other soldiers. Poniatowska tells this story of soldaderas captured by the forces of Pancho Villa.

"In 1914, federal forces (that is, those of Victoriano Huerta) fled from Paredón, Coahuila, without caring that they had left more than 300 soldaderas behind. Within 24 hours, the women had created new families with the Villistas." 

Soldiers and soldaderas pose for a photo. Given his trim uniform and sword, the man on the left is probably an officer. The women wear their rebozos crossed to resemble the cartridge belts of the men. This was the badge of soldaderas. The appearance of these women indicates they were probably middle-class revolutionaries. Often such women were educated and were motivated by ideology as much or more than a simple desire to accompany their men.  

Followers of Emiliano Zapata, including two armed soldaderas. This photo has several interesting aspects. It is dated "Tuesday, 23 April, 1912" during the heady days of Zapatista victories. Both of the soldaderas in the front row wear cartridge belts rather than rebozos, indicating they were combat soldiers. The one on the left holds a rifle, while the one on the right wields a sword as she clinks her glass with the man in the center. Directly behind them is a soldier carrying a violin, who appears ready to play one of the soldiers' ballads, called corridas. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Emiliano Zapata was a true social revolutionary rather than a simple opportunist. Poniatowska notes that he was famed for his respectful treatment of women. "Both women and men, female and male colonels, formed part of the Zapatista Army." Rosa King, a foreign woman who lived in Zapata's home state of Morelos during the Revolution, described Zapata's forces as "not an army, but a people in arms."

As time went on, more and more women became actual combatants. Most of these middle class women appear to be armed with lever-action Winchesters, a weapon very popular early in the war. Later, the German Mauser became the weapon of choice because of its greater range and accuracy. Unlike an indigenous woman who might spontaneously pick up the gun of her wounded or dead spouse and plunge into combat, these woman appear to have been mobilized as a unit. Such units began to appear more often as the war dragged on. Generals (other than Zapata) were initially reluctant to accept a combat role for women, much less to give them leadership positions. Poniatowska tells about one young woman fighting under Pancho Villa who disguised her sex in order to be allowed to fight, and to gain promotion. Her name was Petra Herrera, but she called herself "Pedro" to maintain her deception:

"...Herrera blew up bridges and demonstrated extraordinary leadership abilities...having gained a reputation as an 'excellent soldier', one day she showed everyone her braids and shouted 'I'm a woman and I will continue to carry out my duties as a soldier using my real name!' ... Petra Herrera continued to fight in combat and took part, together with some 400 other women, in the second Battle of Torreón in May 30, 1914...Perhaps it was because her worth as a soldier was never formally recognized that Petra was motivated to form her own brigade which quickly grew from 25 to 1,000 women."

Even the little girls in this photo are armed to the teeth. Many of the women are not only aiming rifles, but have pistols strapped around their waists. Children accompanied many of the armies, and sometimes participated actively in the battles. It is hard for people from the US or Canada (but probably not for Europeans) to imagine the cataclysm that gripped Mexico during the Revolution. In 1910, the country had a population of 15 million. Of these, as many as 2 million people died or left the country before the fighting ended. This amounts to 1 out of 7 Mexicans! By comparison, the US would have to lose 40 million of its current 300 million population. The physical destruction and social disruptions were immense. On the positive side, Mexicans freed themselves from a dictatorship. They ended a hacienda-based feudal aristocracy and freed themselves from the foreign corporations that dominated much of Mexico's industry and resources. Workers gained undreamed of rights, campesinos won the right to own the land they tilled, and the status of women improved immensely--although there was still a long way to go. 

The ballad of Adelita could have been written about a soldadera like this. Mexicans have always loved music, and a form of ballad called a corrida became popular around army campfires. One such corrida told the story of a soldadera called Adelita. The song was so popular among soldiers that the name became synonymous with the term soldadera. Adelita--probably a mythical person--was a beautiful young woman who followed her man into Pancho Villa's army. According to one version of  the corrida (there were many), she died gloriously by blowing herself up to prevent Diaz' forces from seizing Villa's ammunition supply. The corrida about Adelita became wildly popular in Villa's army. Later, it spread to other, opposing armies who had soldaderas of their own. 

Demure and stylish in her felt hat, a soldadera poses in a wooded area. It is hard to imagine anyone going into combat in an outfit like this, but Poniatowska reports that the soldaderas wore whatever they possessed or could loot from ruined haciendas their army overran. John Womak, in his book "Zapata and the Mexican Revolution", describes women like the one above:

"In Puente de Ixtla, Morelos, the widows, wives, daughters and sisters of the rebels formed their own battalion to 'seek vengeance for the dead.'  Under the command of a stocky former tortilla-maker by the name of China, they carried out incursions throughout the Tetecala district. Some dressed in rags, others in elegant stolen clothes--silk stockings and silk dresses, huaraches, straw hats and cartridge belts--these women became the terror of the region."

A young officer stands in a railroad yard, posing with a sword and a flag. The sword and her expensive boots mark her as an officer, perhaps of the cavalry. Although generals on all sides eventually accepted the help of soldaderas in battle, they often tried to hide or minimize the important role the women played. But history shows the women everywhere, as simple soldiers, as commanders of all-female combat units, even commanding male units. Poniatowska details the roles of several famous soldadera fighters:

"Rosa Bobadilla, a Zapatista colonel and the widow of Casas, played an indispensable role in more than 168 armed encounters. Juana Ramona ('The Tigress'), Flores' widow, participated in the capture of Culiacan, Sinaloa. Carmen Parra de Alanís ('La Coronela Alanís') joined the anti-reelectionista movement, acted as Madero's messenger, fought against Huerta's troops, was part of the Villista ranks during the Battle of Juárez, (and) became a Convencionista and a messenger for Emiliano Zapata."

A group of soldaderas relaxes in a box car while a stern-faced young woman stands guard. In viewing photos of the Mexican Revolution, I have often been struck by how many of them were taken with a train or railroad tracks in the background. Railroads played an immense role in the struggle. One of the major accomplishments of the pre-Revolution Diaz regime was to crisscross Mexico with railroad tracks. These railroads were built, operated, and owned by foreign corporations. It is difficult to appreciate the importance of rail travel in the Mexico of those days unless you understand how mountainous and difficult much of the country really is. Up until the mid-20th Century, regular roads were often little more than dirt paths barely passable by ox carts. With a railroad, armies could travel distances in hours that would have taken them weeks on foot. Poniatowska compares a train to a soldadera:

"The locomotive is the great heroine of the Mexican Revolution. She, too, is a soldadera who moves with confidence, huffing and puffing, arriving late, true, but only because she's overloaded. She lets off steam and comes to a stop at the platform so that the men can penetrate her again with their rifles held up straight. There the troops get on and sit on top of her. She bears everything."

A young girl stands, cold and tired, but determined and ready for combat. This girl couldn't be much older than her very early teens. She is armed with a Winchester and a pistol in her belt and wears bandoliers of ammunitions crisscrossing her chest. The fierceness of these young girls is hard to believe, yet testimony of it exists. In 1916, a girl named Elisa Griennesen Zambrano was living in Parral, Chihuahua when US troops arrived, looking for Pancho Villa. The US Government had initially backed Villa, even inviting him to give a talk on tactics at a US Army base in Texas. Then they betrayed him, changing sides and backing his opponent Carranza. In retaliation, Villa attacked the border town of Columbus, New Mexico. US President Wilson sent an army into Mexico in pursuit, one of numerous US invasions of Mexico over the years. Thirteen-year-old Elisa was outraged when the local Mexican men did nothing as American troops arrived. So, she took charge:

"What? Aren't there any men in Parral? If you can't kick them out of here, we, the women of Parral, will! Elisa Grienssen got the women and children together. She asked them to bring whatever was at hand: weapons, sticks, and stones. Infuriated, with their arms in the air, the women surrounded the American commander and forced him to shout 'Viva Villa, Viva Mexico' as he ordered a retreat."

A female soldier poses for a portrait in a photographer's shop. She looks tough and capable. To make sure everyone knows she means business, she carries a pistol stuffed in her front pocket. In her book, Poniatowska describes just such a female warrior:

"Carmen Amelia Robles, flatter than a board, accentuated her masculinity with a buttoned up shirt and knotted tie. With a sullen expression under her black felt hat, even in her sleep she wouldn't stop caressing the pistol she carried strapped to her right thigh. She'd shoot with her right hand and hold her cigar with her left. She became a colonel and participated in many battles."

Two young girls pose, their expressions fierce. Poniatowska tells a story about another fierce young woman named Petra Ruiz who still managed to keep a sense of humanity. To disguise her sex, she adopted the pseudonym "Pedro". 

"They nicknamed her 'El Echa Balas' (The Shooter) because of her violent character. She'd shoot her carbine squatting behind adobe walls, her aim better than that of a torpedo. On one occasion, two soldiers argued over who would be the first to rape a young girl they had kidnapped when 'Pedro' rode up to where they were and claimed her 'for himself'. The soldiers, afraid of her aim and her knife-handling skills, let 'Pedro' take her. Once they were far enough away, Petra Ruiz opened her blouse and said 'I'm also a woman like you', and allowed the confused girl to go free."

Soldadera images of later times. As soon as they safely could, most of the revolutionary generals disbanded their female units and rid themselves of women of all ranks, despite their military value and the proven heroism of individual soldaderas. It was simply too much for the macho leaders of the time to handle. The story of these women was suppressed, distorted, or simply forgotten. Aside from being summarily dismissed, many were denied promised pensions for their own service or that of their slain husbands. The public image that remained of the soldadera was gradually taken over by film makers and marketers and so was further distorted. Above, you see female revolutionary soldiers as femme fatales, curvaceous and long-legged, holding their weapons suggestively as they gaze seductively back at the viewer. How little they resemble the pair in the previous photo! 

Soldaderas on the march, by muralist José Clemente Orozco. Above, Orozco captures the feeling of a long, dusty march as the weary women trudge behind their soldiers. Their heavy bundles contain the food and other household goods that will make their man's life in the field a bit easier. This image is a detail from a mural that I photographed in the city library of Jiquilpan de Juarez on the east end of Lake Chapala. Although accurate as far as it goes, the image reinforces the other major perception of soldaderas as simple, unthinking camp followers, women of easy virtue who might even be prostitutes. As I hope I have shown in this posting, the real story was much more complex, interesting, and sometimes heroic.

This completes my posting on Las Soldaderas. I hope you have enjoyed it and perhaps learned something new about an important era of Mexican history. I always encourage comments and/or corrections. If you would like to leave one, 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

Friday, November 9, 2012

Mexico City Part 3: The Aztec House of Eagles, Tzompantli, and Red Altar

This magnificent stone eagle can be found in the Templo Mayor museum. Unearthed in 1985, the sculpture is large, about 1.22 m (4 ft) long and 1 m (3 ft) high at the beak. The piece is called a cuauhxicalli, a Nahuatl word meaning "eagle's drinking gourd." A large bowl set in the eagle's back once received sacrificial human hearts and blood. The fine feathers radiating from around the eagle's eye represent sunbeams and indicate a connection with the sun and therefore with the most important Mexica (Aztec) deity, Huitzilopochitli. Probably carved around 1502 AD, the cuauhxicalli is one of numerous sculptures that glorify eagles. Many of these have been found in or around ruins that archaeologists call the House of Eagles, located in an area known as the North Patio next to the massive Templo Mayor. For a look at the Templo Mayor and the Mexica capital city of Tenochtitlán, see the previous posting.  (Photo taken at Templo Mayor museum)

The House of Eagles

The House of Eagles is protected from the elements by a large metal awning. In the foreground you can see the various levels of the North Patio that were built up over the centuries as Lake Texcoco periodically flooded the ancient island city. Also known as the Palace of Eagle Warriors, the House of Eagles was destroyed during the Spanish assault on Tenochtitlán, which may also have caused the damage you can see on the eagle in the previous photo. The Eagle House was one of the most important structures in the Sacred Precinct of the city. This was where the Mexica elite, which included the Eagle Warriors, conducted ceremonies, meditated, prayed, and rendered offerings. It was a large complex, spread out over a broad platform with columns, meeting rooms, and patios. The initial House of Eagles was built in 1430 AD and then was enlarged in 1470 by the Emperor Axayócatl. The third and final structure was finished in 1500. After the Spanish conquered Tenochtitlán in 1521, they built the Church of Santiago Apóstol on top of the ruins of the Eagle House. Since this had been one of the key centers of power in the Mexica Empire, the Spanish wanted to obliterate any memory it. They were successful until the 1980s when it was rediscovered during the excavation of the Templo Mayor area. (Photo taken at the Templo Mayor archaeological site)

Wearing an eagle-beak helmet, a stern-faced warrior scowls fiercely across the centuries. If the Mexica were the Nazis of their era, given their industrial-scale human sacrifice program, the 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)

Eagle heads bracket the broad staircase leading up to the main platform. The L-shaped platform was discovered in 1981. Inside the platform is an older substructure built in 1469 AD. Only part of the House of Eagles has been fully excavated because the rest lies under an adjacent street. Tunnels have been built into that section, revealing rooms with wall murals and long benches with carved friezes of warriors. (Photo taken at the Templo Mayor archaeological site)

Life-sized statues of Mictlantecuhtli, the God of Death, once flanked interior doorways. This 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. Mictlantecuhtlithe 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)

Inside the Eagle House is a series of rooms where the walls are lined with long benches. Only the Eagle Warriors and similar elites were allowed in this special place. They sat on the benches as they observed, participated in, or led various rituals. The benches show a strong Toltec influence. (Photo taken at the Templo Mayor archaeological site)

An interesting example of the God of Death dressed as an Eagle Warrior. The skull-like face wears a toothy grin and has a bone through its nose. Human hands dangle as earrings from his ears and he wears others as a necklace. His face peers from a huge eagle beak helmet and his right hand holds a weapon raised to strike. In his left hand, he carries a typical round Mexica shield decorated with geometric designs and edged along the bottom with feathers. Extending from his right knee is a set of eagle claws, a typical part of an Eagle Warrior's costume. (Photo taken at the National Museum of Anthropology)

Four pillars once stood at the corners of this small sunken patio. At the top center of the photo is the base of another pillar with a carved flower decoration. Extending along the wall to the right is one of the many benches typical of these rooms. It is likely that ceremonies were conducted within the sunken area while spectators observed from the benches. (Photo taken at the Templo Mayor archaeological site)

Carved stone flowers decorate some of the pillars. The four petals of the flower represent the four cardinal directions of the world, each related to its own god. To the East was Tlaloc, the god of rain, life, and fertility. To the West was Chaichihuitl, related to fertility and to jade. To the North was Mictlantecuhtli, the god of death, with whom we have already made acquaintance. To the south was Xochipilli, the god of dance, music, art, beauty, and flowers. In the center was Tonatiuh, the god of the sun whose face appears in the center of the famous Aztec Calendar. (Photo taken at the Templo Mayor archaeological site)

A corner of one of the benches reveals a colorful bas relief carving. At Tollan, the Toltec capitol, the 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)

The benches show processions of warriors in full, feathered regalia. Traces of the ancient paint can still be seen. On the lip of the bench above the warriors are what appear to be a series of serpents pursuing each other. This is also a common Toltec theme. The warriors are converging on a zacatapayolli, which was a ball of dried moss or grass used to hold the bloody spines that the elite class utilized in self-sacrifice ceremonies. (Photo taken at the Templo Mayor archaeological site)

A tripod bowl contains spines similar to those used in self-sacrifice rituals. In the ritual, the person would use the spines to pierce his own tongue or genitals. This produced blood for offerings as well as exquisite pain leading to a trance state allowing communication with the gods. In addition to needles like these, the Mexica used spines from the maguay plant, manta ray spines, and obsidian knives. (Photo taken at the National Museum of Anthropology)

The Tzompantli

A tzompantli altar stands adjacent to the House of Eagles in the North Patio. The 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)

Detail of the tzompantli, showing the skull rows. The altar was carved with 240 skulls set in rows around the sides. One one side is a stairway flanked by balustrades. A tzompantli very similar to this one stands next to the great Maya Ball Court of Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula. There is a great archaeological controversy about the exact relationship between the Maya of Chichen Itza and the Toltec Empire, located in faraway Central Mexico. Mysteriously, many archaeological aspects of 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)

A selection of the offerings left in the interior of the North Patio tzompantli altar. The interior area of the altar contained offerings including the skeletons of a puma and a wolf, as well as human skulls, musical instruments, jewelry, and other objects.  (Photo taken at Templo Mayor museum)

The Red Temple

The Red Temple is so-named because of the red paint used throughout. The Red Temple is adjacent to the House of Eagles and was used by the Eagle Warriors. This temple is interesting for the very strong influence of Teotihuacan. which the Mexica named "The Place Where The Gods Were Born." Like the Toltec ruins at Tollan, the Mexica ransacked the ruins of Teotihuacan. In fact, they mistakenly thought that Teotihuacan, located about 56 km (35 mi) northeast of Mexico City, was a Toltec ruin itself. The Red Temple uses the signature Teotihuacan talud-tablero architectural forms. These involve a rectangular framed space set above a sloping wall. Above, the cylindrical structure in the middle of the temple was the altar.

Another Teotihuacan feature is this row of red-painted rings. Such circular features are called chalchihuetes, and can be seen at the Temple of the Jaguar along the Avenue of the Dead at Teotihuacan.

Other features near the Templo Mayor

An exquisitely carved stone replica of a conch shell was recently discovered in the area. This may have been one of those reported to have been used as decorations on the temple to Tlaloc atop the Templo Mayor. Conch shells were often turned into trumpets in ancient Mesoamerica. This may be yet another connection between Teotihuacan and the Mexica. At the 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.

Snake heads stud the walls in many parts of the Templo Mayor. Worship of 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.

We encountered this small altar on the edge of the North Patio.  There was no sign or other indication of which god was worshiped at this altar. Visible just above the platform is the weathered head of an animal.

A frowning beast with a curly mane peers out from the wall of the small unidentified alter. There appears to be a hole extending into the wall below him, and another on the top of the stone head. My best guess is that copal incense was burned in the lower hole, with the upper acting as a chimney.

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.

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

Hasta luego, Jim