"State of Veracruz" Estado de Veracruz-Llave by alza
Estado de Veracruz-Llave Travel Guide: 182 reviews and 364 photos
El Tajín is my starting point on this page about the State of Veracruz. The intro is about this archeological site for now. When I visit other places stateside and gather useful information, I'll probably write about them in tips here.
El Tajín is the site of a pre-Colombian city in the State of Veracruz, 250 kms NW of the city of Veracruz. A World Heritage Site since 1992.
The origin of El Tajín is still mysterious but it's thought to have been founded in 100 A.C. by the HUASTECO, who early ceramics were found in this coastal area of Central Veracruz. Between 700 and 1000 A.C., the city was an important political & religious centre dedicated to the cult of the Feathered Serpent God, Quetzalcoátl. This civilisation, like most in the wide region between México and the Yucatan, was highly influenced by TEOTIHUACÁN.
Here's a brief take on Teotihuacán: 50 kms N of Mexico City, Teotihuacán (City of the Gods) was the first "classical" civilisation formed in the first century B.C. by various Indian nations that shared a common language and similar religious rites. Its influence extended throughout Central America.
The Teotihuacán civilisation was at its zenith around 600 A.C. and mysteriously disappeared. It's believed that they fell in the 8th century, to northern invaders (the CHICHIMECAS) who themselves were beaten by the TOLTECAS in the 10th-11th centuries. The migratory AZTECAS (Mexica Indians) came to rule over the many provinces of this already important Empire, but only around 1400, when they became a warrior people and subjected other civilisations (such as the Maya) thanks to their knowledge of the bow and arrow.
The ancient city of El Tajín declined in the 12th century and the TOTONACA civilisation began to flourish. The Totonacas were peaceful and spiritual, cultivated the land and used the waterways to the Gulf of Mexico for their trade. They dreamed of flying to the sky and for this, they developped a ritual of flying dancers, the Voladores, which is specifically found mostly among the inhabitants of the Gulf Coast.
The ritual dance of Los Voladores is now practiced for the benefit of tourists, both in Papantla, the village closest to El Tajín (7 kms) and at the entrance to the El Tajín complex.
The ancient history of México is a bit complicated to follow today, perhaps because of the overpowering domination of the AZTECAS on other civilisations, and the great number of nations that were hunted down by the thousands for the Aztecas' human sacrifices.
I tried to synthethise the varied literature I found recently, so that I could understand the history of the country better. Here it is, for those of you who might be interested.
Most Meso-American civilisations were eventually subjected by the AZTECAS, who ruled ferociously until the Spanish conquistador Cortés landed at the actual port of Veracruz in March 1519. Cortés founded the City of Veracruz, enlisted the help of nations suffering under AZTECA rule and started his conquering march on Tenochtitlán (Mexico), where he subjected Moctezuma II and forced him to pay tribute to King Charles Quint. Moctezuma was later killed in a popular uprise, while Cortés was away quelling a rebellion of some Spanish compadres in Veracruz.
On 13 August 1521, Cortés won the war against the Azteca Empire and had beautiful Tenochtitlán razed to the ground. México was founded there a year later. I can't possibly avoid mentioning that the Native nations who allied themselves with Cortés against the Aztecas payed a heavy price for their trust in the newcomer. They were forced to convert to the Catholic religion and made to work for nothing, exactly like slaves. A new era of domination over the Native populations was just starting.
What is interesting in all this is that Cortés never knew of the existence of the Gulf Coast civilisation of El Tajín (known as the Classic Era of Veracruz.) The Totonacas flourished in peace, hidden in the thick jungle vegetation and El Tajin was only discovered accidentally in 1785 by Don Diego de la Ruiz, a Spanish tax agent looking for tax evaders in tobacco fields nearby.
Then, 50 years later, a German traveller called Carl Nebel published a book of his travels in the area, including a lithograph of the Pyramide of The Niches, the first representation of El Tajín known to the Western World.
The scientific exploration and restauration of the site, known as Project Tajín, was done between 1984 and 1992 under the direction of German architect Jüergen Brüeggemann. There is a museum on the complex, designed and built by the architect Teodoro González de Léon. It was being repainted on the day I visited (1st Sept. 2006) but I caught a glimpse of the archeological finds through the open door and I'm sure the Museum is worth a return visit to El Tajín.
The Ball Game. This ritual sport was practiced on a wide scale in El Tajín, where 17 courts were found. The Pelota areas have walls and "sidewalks" sculpted with images of The Earth Monster, The Serpent Sun God Quetzalcoátl, and lots of fretwork of gods, animals, etc.
This work in relief is known as "greca" or "Xicalcolliuhqui" in literature about the site.)
One of the Pelota courts is decorated by a sculpted rhombus with a cross at the centre. The cross is the emblem of Venus on the Gulf Coast and Quetzalcoátl (the Serpent God) also represented the Planet Venus in the eyes of the Totonacas.
I know that the Pelota Game is something close to what we call Jaï Alaï (or Pelote basque) today, but even after seeing all those courts and searching for reconstructed drawings, I have no idea how the nobles played ball in those days. Where's the fronton wall?! The book I bought at the entrance focusses strictly on stone sculptures of serpents and on the characteristic niches found on the pyramides.
One thing seems clear. The courts were reserved for the enjoyment and ritual celebrations of the nobility, the hierarchy and the priests. Most of the population at El Tajín was made up of farmers, artisans and traders and their living area was at the entrance to the site. The high class lived apart, behind the Pyramide of The Niches, in what is known as El Tajín Chico.
- In a nutshell:Lush, tropical, hot and steamy
Everywhere I go, I see great holes in the sidewalks. Actually, these are cut out for a purpose, I think it's to allow... more travel advice
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