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Pre-Hispanic Cities Reproduced the Narration of the "Sacred Mountain" with Construction of Great Temples
Pyramid of the Inscriptions, in Palenque, Chiapas. Photo: DMC INAH. H. MONTANO.

MEXICO CITY.- The majestic pyramids of the Sun, in Teotihuacan, Estado de Mexico, of the Niches in El Tajin, Veracruz, and of the Inscriptions, in Palenque, Chiapas, are clear examples of the symbolic representation that Prehispanic peoples made of the “Sacred Mountain” myth, which refers to the beginning of time, when a creational couple joined forces to make a huge mountain emerge from the ocean.

This was explained by Diana Magaloni, director of the National Museum of Anthropology (MNA) at the first of a conference series that complement the exhibition Six Ancient Cities of Mesoamerica.

As an introduction to the myth that supported the Prehispanic world view, the restorer explained the beginning and planning of the 6 ancient cities of the exhibition – Monte Alban, Palenque, Teotihuacan, El Tajin, Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco -, which developed parting from a great temple in the shape of a mountain: the pyramid.

“As synthetic and symbolic reflex of the order principles of the gods, each of the cities built great temples in the shape of mountains, sometimes constructed over a spring or a cave, according to Nahua, Maya, Zapoteca and Mixteca original myths.

“Foundational myth narrates that in the beginning everything was dark and silent; sky and water were united by chaos, nothing moved and sunlight did not exist; all traditions refer to a creational couple, who, when uniting their force, made a huge mountain emerge from the depths of the ocean.

“Therefore, Mesoamerican cities represented the idea of the great alive mountain through great pyramid constructions, reconstructions of the “First Mountain”, symbol of fertility, renovation and abundance”.

Diana Magaloni mentioned that truncated pyramids, sunken plazas, caves and mountainous landscape are elements that build a narrative in which each city inserts in the mythic time to endlessly recreate itself, in order to legitimate power and express support of inhabitants to the order established by the gods.

The director of MNA declared it is necessary to incorporate this intangible heritage, as our forefathers did, from generation to generation, because “the real rupture after the conquest is in our minds, and these exhibitions help to remove our origin.

“Mesoamerican cities are places where times of historical present and mythic histories meet, portraying history of myths of “Sacred Mount” and sacred city; these centers unite past and present time, as in a parenthesis.

“We find in them symbolic/ritual acts that transform landscape in a conceptual construction of habitat, which is the city itself and its sacred fields”.

This belief system has been studied thanks to the monuments and their iconography, as well as creation myths compiled and transcribed to Latin alphabet during 16th century, in books and codices such as Vaticanus and Rios, and Popol Vuh.

The Maya myth included in Popol Vuh refers to the supreme creative force as an elder couple named Xpiyacoc and Xmucane; the Mixteca myth names the couple as an unit, One Deer, and Nahua myths call the dual principle Ometeotl.

When referring to Monte Alban, Magaloni explained that the concept was amplified there because the city is the Sacred Mountain of ruling lineages. 200 years before the Common Era, inhabitants had achieved the constructive feat of cutting and flattening mountains to build the great central plaza and structures.

“Monte Alban is the dream codices refer to, the axis where the gods live, in the palaces atop the hills. It translates Mixteca and Zapoteca myths of the origin at the sacred mountain with palaces on top”.

At Palenque, the Temple of Inscriptions is embedded in the mountain, reproducing it; in Teotihuacan, the Pyramid of the Sun was surrounded by a water channel, so in wet season it appeared to be floating. The Pyramid of the Moon resembles the shape of Cerro Gordo and channels its strength, helping to orientate the city on the north-south axis.

All the city of El Tajin is oriented based on Cerro de los Mantenimientos; Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco were constructed on top of the Texcoco Lake, so its temples and buildings were the image of the time of creation and order of the Cosmos.

The conferences series will continue in May and June Fridays, at 12 noon, in Tlaloc Auditorium, National Museum of Anthropology (MNA). Admittance is free.

On Friday May 20th Nelly Robles, director of Oaxaca INAH Center, will talk about Monte Alban.

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