Impressions of Central Mexico
If today for lunch you entered a restaurant chewing a Tzictli, sat down and received a small bowl of cacahuatl (peanuts) with your Martini while waiting for your order, and next, on the side of your main dish there was a salad with ahuacatl (avocado) and xitomatl (tomatoes), think that all these words are Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs. Or rather the main family of language dialects spoken in pre-Hispanic times in Central Mexico and beyond, all the way into Nicaragua. Nahuatl is still spoken today by many Mexicans of indigenous root.
The voyage through Central Mexico we are about to undertake, carries us into a complex culture and an even more complex history of various indigenous peoples. A visit to the brilliant Anthropology Museum in Mexico City will help us situate Olmecs, Toltecs, Aztecs and other '-tecs' in time and space, as we explore Mexico City, the Ciudad de México, 'CDMX' as it is locally often called so poetically..! From … CDMX we tour the Central Mexican highlands, often at a 3,000 metres elevation, in a clockwise movement. This is reflected here in chapters covering the four cardinal directions North of Mexico City, East, South and West, an easier way to structure this report than splitting everything up according to States. For, officially this country is called the United States of Mexico, composed of 32 federal States.
And then let's tackle the really big question on everyone's mind: how on earth was it possible that a bunch of Spanish adventurous soldiers obliterated an entire advanced Aztec civilisation in a matter of two years, between 1519 and 1521? The answer is more complex than just the superiority of Spanish weaponry and lies also in an additional combination of weird and tragic factors: the Aztec Empire was still in full expansion when the Spanish arrived and many neighbouring ethnic groups had been subjugated, not only for their territory but also as a source of supply for the human sacrifices which needed to be made, according to indigenous religion, for the sun to go up again tomorrow. So, no great difficulty for the Spanish to find indigenous allies to teach the Aztecs and their capital city of Tenochtitlán a lesson once and forever. Christ had given his blood for all humanity, there was no need for further human sacrifice, the Indians were told. Moreover, the Spanish were initially very much welcomed in Tenochtitlán, as they were perceived as the final confirmation of the indigenous myth of Quetzalcóatl, commonly in all indigenous Mexican cultures depicted as the Feathered Snake (el Serpiente Plumado), the 'good' god of sun and wisdom, chased away in distant times from Tula by his evil twin brother Tezcatlipoca: Quetzalcóatl white-faced, Tezcatlipoca black-faced. White-faced Quetzalcóatl had fled to the East (Yucatán), over the sea, on a raft of snakes, but just before embarking he had promised that one day he would come back. Well, on March 14th, 1519 Quetzalcóatl made good on his promise: he landed in Veracruz; he had traded Nahuatl language for Spanish, came to Tenochtitlán seated on an amazing, so far totally unknown vehicle called 'caballo' (horse) and was welcomed by the Aztec King Moctezuma II with all honours. At first, that is. But by then the evil was done...
I invite you to discover all this and the rest of Mexico's past since independence, equally complex, as well as the country's rich contemporary identity by travelling to the cities, sites and regions.
Before visiting the place of your choice:
Oaxaca's cathedral is dedicated to Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, twice destroyed by earthquakes, for the third time rebuilt in 1702. Its neo-classical interior is less appealing than the facade of local green cantera stone. In 1733 the congregation of Felipe Neri started the construction of its own Baroque church. High up in a central niche on the facade, San Felipe carefully watches over all those who come in and out of the church, as he also did when Benito Juárez walked out, all smiles, with his brand new bride on his arm, in 1841. Nearby, the Nuestra Señora de la Soledad is a 17th century Baroque basilica in which the Holy Virgin draws all attention, even after having lost to thieves in the 1990s her massive 2 kg pure gold crown.