Just when you thought that Mexico City had surrendered all of its secrets, archaeologists go and discover a vast, ancient Aztec temple hiding under a 1950s hotel in the very heart of the Mexican capital’s historic centre.
Located just a stone’s throw from the wonky Catedral Metropolitana, the 500-year-old structure has been under analysis and excavation for seven years, with researchers only now releasing information to the public regarding its significance in the rich tapestry of Mexican history. They assert that the ruins are part of a circular Aztec temple, dating from around the late 15th or early 16th century, that was likely dedicated to the wind god Ehecatl. On the site, there is also evidence of one of Mexico’s famed ball courts and a surprising amount of male neck bones – 32, to be precise – which researchers consider to be remnants from ritual offerings associated with the ancient ball game.
The discovery of a temple is perhaps not surprising, given the number of them constructed during the Aztec period, before being subsequently ransacked, destroyed or simply covered up by more ‘appropriate’ Catholic edifices. Archaeologists are actually reporting that the popular Aztec serpent imagery was also likely present on this structure, with the top of the temple made to resemble a coiled snake, and the doorway its nose. However, despite shared characteristics with other temples in the area, the circular shape of this newly discovered treasure would have surely set it apart in a, well, squarely square Tenochtitlan.
What adds even greater interest to the story is that the temple’s existence is corroborated by recorded accounts from some of the first Spanish conquistadors to make it to Tenochtitlan, the hub of commerce and activity that would later come to develop into the country’s capital, Mexico City. In fact, it’s said in the accounts that the recently discovered ball court was where Moctezuma lost against an ageing king. This event was said to have foreshadowed the fall of the Aztec empire, which came with the reign of Moctezuma himself who had ascended to the throne after Emperor Ahuizotl, the ruler who likely oversaw the construction of this temple.
If you want to visit this particular site, you might have to wait a while, although there are plans for a museum to be built there in the near future. If you just can’t hang on that long though, the hotel under which this Aztec gem was discovered is still open for business, and there are plenty of other archaeological options near Mexico City to satiate your historical thirst in the meantime.