El Tajin (World Heritage)

The ruins in the dense jungle of Veracruz are attributed to the Totonac culture. It had its heyday between 800 and 1200 AD. The most important testimonies are the 25 m high niche pyramid, eight ball courts and the building of the pillars.

El Tajin: facts

Official title: Pre-Columbian city of El Tajin
Cultural monument: Ceremonial center dedicated to Tajín and Huracán, gods of lightning, thunder and hurricanes; Excavations such as the 36×36 m Pirámide de los Nichos (niche pyramid), a stepped building with 365 niches (calendar function?), 8 ball courts, including the 60 m long Juego de Pelota Sur with 6 large relief panels that also show sacrificial scenes; also Tajín Chico with administrative-civil buildings such as the Edificio de las Columnas (“Building of the Columns”)
Continent: America
Country: Mexico, Veracruz
Location: El Tajín, northwest of Veracruz
Appointment: 1992
Meaning: important evidence of pre-Columbian culture and architectural highlight of the classical period and the early post-classical period (3rd-11th centuries)

El Tajin: history

1st century BC Chr. probably the beginnings of El Tajín
at 200 Establishment of a trading post in Teotihuacán
200-1100 independent ceremonial center
1785 Rediscovery
1811 Visit of the German natural scientist Alexander von Humboldt
1934 first excavations
1992 extensive excavations
2013 In March discovery of three more ball courts

Obsessed with the ball game

If you consider the number of ball courts and the relief depictions of ball players, one must come to the conclusion that the residents of this pre-Columbian city must have been obsessed with the bloody game that ended. This game – the ball symbolized the sun and its course in the sky – had religious significance and took place during great cultic festivals.

On many bas-reliefs and as terracotta figures, players dressed like gods with decorative headdresses and with jade necklaces can be found. Your torso is bare, and protection against the impact of the heavy solid rubber ball begins from the hips down. Special horseshoe-shaped leather belts, the so-called “yokes”, protected the abdomen. Finely worked triangular wedges, the so-called “palms”, were worn on or on the yokes as protective cushions. Some ball players hold votive axes in their hands, but their function is unknown.

Like a huge picture book, the bas-reliefs on the two opposite vertical walls of the large southern ball court show scenes from the ritual of the ball game with sumptuously dressed team captains in speech duels, consecration ceremonies and sacrifices by players. What is not apparent from the illustrations, however, are the rules of the game.

All you know is that the ball had to be propelled forward using certain parts of the body – possibly the hips and knees. The reliefs of the Juego de Pelota Sur let today’s observer know what the ball players looked like, but who they were remains an unsolved mystery.

When the Spaniards came into the country, the ceremonial center had been deserted for centuries and was covered by dense jungle. The hilly land was fertile and the local people grew corn, cocoa, and beans; In addition, the forbidden tobacco was planted – secretly and well hidden in inaccessible areas. A military patrol, whose job it was to track down the illegal tobacco plantations, discovered the unknown ruins in the jungle. However, they initially remained unexplored, and the first excavations did not begin until 1934. Although the scientific investigations continue to this day, only part of the cult site has been exposed and restored. From the beginning there was a lot of mystery and inexplicability for the archaeologists, and only very hesitantly did El Tajín let some of its secrets be snatched from El Tajín.

What do we know today about the origins and further development of the Tajín culture? The founders and residents were the Huaxtecs, who belonged to the Maya language group. After initially being influenced by the high culture of Teotihuacán at that time, however, an independent culture developed with an important ceremonial center that influenced a wide area for centuries. This culture later changed, and Toltec influences became noticeable in the newly built facilities. After more than a thousand years of existence, the city suddenly went into decline: traces of fire and destruction indicate that the city was not voluntarily given up. At the time of the Spanish colonization and the founding of New Spain, the area was inhabited by the Totonaks, who gave the ruins the name “place of the god of thunderstorms”.

According to pharmacylib, there is nothing comparable in Mexico for the most famous building in the ruined city, the niche pyramid. Square niches lined with red and blue stucco are set into the outer walls of the six stone terraces at regular intervals. The total number results in a niche for each day of the year! It cannot be a coincidence, but what they were used for, what they symbolized and why this form was not passed on, nobody knows. The Mexican archaeologist José García Bayón, who led the first excavations, suspects that the niches and stone mosaics are symbols for the opposites of life: day and night, light and darkness, life and death.

El Tajin (World Heritage)