Travels in Mexico and life among the Mexicans/Chapter 23

 
 

XXIII.

 

TOLTEC RUINS AND PYRAMIDS.

 

WE left the great city at six o'clock in the morning, when the air was cool, and before the sun had risen far above the snow-capped volcanoes that guard the valley, gliding over a smooth road-bed, through level fields of grain and grass divided by hedges of maguey, past immense savannas where flocks of sheep were feeding, tended by most picturesque shepherds in sarapes and sombreros, through clean stretches of good brown earth, where the corn-blades were just springing in the hollows, past great haciendas with buildings like ancient forts surrounded by high and loopholed walls, with willows drooping above mud huts, and church towers rising everywhere on plain and hill. At seven we reached Atzcaptzalco, a little town, and after leaving this pueblo again took our way through beautiful plains, with fields of peas in bloom bordering the track, and green levels stretching far away on either hand, dotted with feeding cattle. Above and beyond were grades and curves, and the hills were ascended one after the other, and we dipped into other valleys and got glimpses of the country farther on.

Up to Tlalnepantla the rich and easily-worked soil would have caused a Northern farmer to open his eyes, for there was not even a stone to sharpen the plough upon; it might be said that there were no ploughs either susceptible of being polished by friction from stones, for here these primitive farmers plough with a stick, as in times most ancient. One small valley we passed through belonged, with its surrounding hills and a gem of a lakelet in its centre, to one estate. Though the railroad cuts along the borders of a worthless hill, still the wealthy proprietor of this vast estate obliged the company to pay for a right of way. There is room here for some reflection upon the rapacity and ignorance of some of these Mexicans, who throw every obstacle in their power in front of the wheels of progress.

Cuautitlan, another small town, reached in about two hours from Mexico, is much resorted to as a place for festive gatherings. Here the bull, the "noble patriarch of the herd," is taken from an uneventful life of inaction in the field, and permitted to try his prowess against the valiant Mexican. A flaming placard announced that there would be a bull-fight in this place that evening,—Esplendida Corrida de Toros en la Villa de Cuautitlan,—when there would be sacrificed Cuatro Tremendos y Bravos Toros.

A procession of beggars here invaded the train, and brought with them the odors of a dozen bone-boiling establishments; they also exhibited for our inspection a greater variety in deformity and mutilation than many a hospital can show in a year. These loathsome evidences of their claim upon humanity they thrust beneath our noses, expecting us to pay them for the privilege of inspection. After we had departed, and the strong breeze sweeping through the car had permitted us to indulge in a long breath, one of the engineers remarked that the civilizing effect of the "iron horse" was already being made manifest,—he had heard of several of these beggars having been run over. It has been a question among old residents in Mexico whether it would be better to leave the extermination of these wretches to the slow advance of the railroad, or to pass laws for their suppression and extinction. A most speedy way of killing them off has been suggested, which has the countenance of enlightened communities: it is to pass a law that every beggar shall bathe once a week,—there would not be one left alive at the end of a month's time.

At the hacienda of Huehuetoca. we were fairly in the dry country that forms a certain portion of Mexico, where acacias and cacti are the only plants of any size, and hills and plains alike are brown and treeless. In the crossing of the great ridge of hills that forms the outermost barrier around the valley of

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TOLTEC RUINS.

Mexico, the engineers of the "Central" have availed themselves of a more magnificent piece of engineering than they themselves could have afforded to undertake,—a work dating from the beginning of the seventeenth century,—the great cut of Nochestongo, an immense gap, said to be three miles long, and in places two hundred feet deep. Utilizing the work of more than two centuries ago, the railroad thus secured an easy egress from the great mountain valley, and proceeds by easy grades to the country beyond.

The end of our ride on the railroad was at the small hamlet of Salto, for rails had not then—in the summer of 1881—been laid much farther on; and we left the train and took to horses, which had been telegraphed for and were awaiting us. These animals we mounted, after many adjustings of stirrups and saddles, and galloped off in the direction of Tula. We were a picturesque crowd, with our Mexican saddles and accoutrements, our revolvers and blankets; though the novelty of my position, on the back of a horse I had never met before, rather interfered with my enjoyment of the scene. In five minutes our whole party was enveloped in a cloud of dust, so that all one could do was to cling to the saddle and let the horse steer his own course. We soon reached the Tula River bridge, where three solid piers of stone were in readiness to receive an iron bridge that was being put together on the banks, and where six hundred men were at work in the little vale. They were under the intelligent direction of a contractor, Mr. Carrigan, who successfully managed this large body of Indians and half-breeds, and was pushing the work ahead rapidly. It was pay-day, and the men were formed in a long line, each awaiting his turn to receive his week's wages. A common laborer on the road receives about thirty-one cents per day; and this amount, large as it is, he successfully manages, when he gets it, to squander in riotous living.

On our return, the next day, two huge derricks, which we had not seen before, were in position, ready to swing the iron bridge into place; three days later, it was resting upon its bed of masonry, and in less than two weeks more the engine had crossed it on its way northward, and was snorting "Buenos dias" to Tula itself. The workmen lived in little huts, made of the branches of trees and the leaves of the maguey plant, just large enough to shelter them; and at a point on the river they had

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TULA.

scooped out holes in the clay banks, and there taken up their abode. In the huts, and beneath bowers of branches, Indian women were quietly engaged in making tortillas and in other domestic duties. Looking upon this peaceful scene of activity, I could not help thinking of what a gentleman, an American long resident in Mexico, had said to me, coming up on the train from Vera Cruz: "So long as these people can earn a real a day on the railroads, they will not listen to the pronunciamiento of any revolutionary chief."

From the bridge we took the graded railroad bed to the end of our journey. The scenery was mainly that peculiar to the dry hills, except where the aqueduct traced its fruitful course, or in the river-bottom. Now and then we were obliged to turn aside for an unfinished culvert, or walk our horses over frail bridges of brush, earth, and poles, and occasionally the "Cuidado!" of our guide would warn us of a bad place in the road to be avoided; but at the appointed time we reached Tula, over fifty miles from Mexico, and the centre of a populous State. In this town we found friends to welcome us, for it was the headquarters of the superintendent of construction and his party. Here I found a few friends who had left New York with me two months previous, and who had come on here while I stopped in Yucatan.

Surrounded by hills of apparently basaltic rock, the little city of Tula is compactly built of stone, taken, probably, from the ruins of Indian cities. It has a pleasant little plaza, containing a garden of flowers, with a fountain bubbling up in the centre of a stone basin. The town was formerly of great importance to the Spanish invaders and settlers, and here they built their most holy and noble cathedral, dating (if we can believe the inscription on the wall) from the year 1553.[1] It is a magnificent building, with lofty groined ceiling, and with a collection of paintings that appear to possess great merit, as well as antiquity. One especially, of the Virgin supporting the dead Christ, is less a caricature than is generally seen in these holy pictures. There is on her face an expression of real suffering; pity, compassion, and all the yearning of a mother's bleeding heart, are most admirably depicted. A wall, that once served the purpose of defence, surrounds this great cathedral, and building and enclosure are well worth a visit, even in this land of churches and chapels.

The Tula River runs near, half around the town, and where the road reaches it a bridge is thrown across,—a bridge of stone, arched, and with a parapet, and with an inscription on a tablet stating that it was built in 1772,

Ancient Tula must be regarded as one of the most interesting groups of ruins in Mexico, the seat of the people who gave

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SCULPTURES IN THE PLAZA.

to the country an advanced civilization, of which evidences yet exist. Above the city, on a hill overlooking two valleys, a ridge about a mile in length, are the ruins of buildings said to have been erected before even the Aztecs came to this country. In the year 648, according to Prescott, who follows the native historian, Clavigero, the Toltecs arrived in this valley and commenced their city; they abandoned it in the year 1051, and the Chichimecs took possession in 1170, and eventually the Mexicans, in 1196. Here the last tarried for one hundred and twenty-nine years, took quite a breathing spell, in fact, and then went and founded the city of Mexico. It will thus be seen that the ruins of Tula have great antiquity. Prescott states that the Toltecs are the first people of which we have traditions, coming from a northerly direction. They entered Anahuac (Mexican valley) probably before the close of the seventh century. They were well instructed in agriculture and mechanic arts, and invented the complex arrangement of time adopted by the Aztecs. "They fixed their capital at Tula, north of the Mexican valley, and the remains of extensive buildings were to be discerned there at the time of the conquest. The noble ruins of religious and other edifices are referred to this people. Their shadowy history reminds one of those primitive races who preceded the ancient Egyptians. After four centuries, the Toltecs disappeared as silently and mysteriously as they came."

Whatever of mystery may have enveloped their advent, their disruption as a nation and final dispersion is as circumstantially told, and is as authentic, as any story or tradition relating to that early period. It was at the beginning of the eleventh century, if we may credit the Indian historian, Ixtlilxochitl, that the seeds of disturbance were sown in the hitherto peaceful kingdom of Tollan, and all through the illicit love of the then reigning monarch, Tecpancaltzin, for a woman, a daughter of Papantzin, one of his nobles. The sin of Tecpancaltzin, according to the historian, brought with it its punishment, and during the reign of his natural son, Meconetzin, the Toltecs were destroyed as a people, not only through internal dissensions and famine, but in a great battle waged with an invading nation from Xalisco. They were scattered in every direction, but have been traced mainly southward. The discovery of pulque, the national beverage of Mexico, dates from this epoch, and is said to have been made in this very region.

Upon examining the ruins on the hill, previously mentioned as commanding the town, we found that some one had been excavating there. I then recalled the account given by Charnay, the French archaeologist, in which he pretends to have unearthed temples and palaces on this very site. Imagine a palace composed of rooms about six feet by eight! Such were about the dimensions of the apartments referred to, and which we photographed and rambled over that day.

Señor Cubas,[2] in a paper, Ruinas de la Antigua Tollan, published in 1874, gives a list of the antiquities discovered near Tula, and lithographed figures of the most prominent sculptures, which included a "zodiac" and a "hieroglyph," now seen in the lintel of the principal entrance to the great church. In the Plaza are some great stones, taken from the ruins of the Toltec city. There are three colossal sculptures, perhaps of Caryatides, standing erect, and another lying down; this last is in two pieces, and was formerly united by tenon and mortise, even as I found the adornments on the palace at Uxmal. Near the office of the railroad superintendent is a great stone ring, like those found in the ruins of Chichen-Itza. At the door of the cathedral is a beautiful baptismal font,—at least, that is its use now,—taken from these same Toltec ruins. Doubtless, nearly all the buildings here were made from stone taken from the Toltec city, as you may find sculptured stones used for the pavement of courts, inserted into walls, etc.

I have thus roughly sketched the old city at which the great railroad arrived in April, 1881. Let tourists and archæologists visit it, now that they can do so with little fatigue. It does not need a more prophetic eye than belongs to ordinary man to discern the result of the opening of a country so rich in mineral and archaeological wealth. For a thousand years man has lived in this country,—a thousand that are chronicled,—and no one knows how many previously. The works of his hands lie scattered throughout valley and plain, crest many a hill, and adorn many a secluded vale. The time is coming when these buried cities shall again see the light. The time has come when it is possible to reach many hitherto hidden from

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QUERETARO.

the world; daily, workmen are unearthing some relic of the past, and if our scientific societies would keep pace with the development of this country, they should appoint a small party of qualified men to travel over this road with the advanced engineers.

Tradition has it that here the great culture hero, Quetzalcoatl, developed the civilization that raised the Toltecs above the level of their neighbors. Here is pointed out that famous "Hill of Shouting," whence the "God of the Air" sent his summons and commands over the entire vale of Anahuac. Here were those celebrated gardens, in which grew cotton ready dyed in various colors for the loom, and those famous crystal and feather palaces.

Some say that Ouetzalcoatl was a native of the East, and came from over the ocean. For him, indeed, has been claimed nearly every nationality on earth, and he has been by turns a Welshman, an Egyptian, and even an Irishman; but, as it is expressly stated that he was a man of peace, this last supposition is hardly tenable.

Beyond Tula, and within reach of a day's excursion from Mexico City, is Queretaro, a city founded by early Spanish settlers, and celebrated for its magnificent aqueduct, its vast and enterprising cotton factories, and for the sad part it played in the overthrow of the Maximilian dynasty.

The Hill of Bells,—Cerro de las Campanas,—where the Emperor was shot, is conspicuous near the city, and the objective point of many a pilgrimage, now that the railroad has made it accessible from the capital.

Situated southeast of Tula, and about forty miles distant from Mexico City, are other ruins intimately connected with Toltec history,—the pyramids of Teotihuacan. Both during their residence at Tula, and after the disruption of their empire, when a remnant of the Toltecs turned their faces in this direction, these pyramids were considered by them as the nucleus of a holy city, Teotihuacan, City of the Gods. Their kings came here to be crowned, and here dwelt their priests; but though their traditions undoubtedly refer to these pyramids, yet they are doubtless of pre-Toltec origin. The pyramidal structure seems to have been confined to the table land and its central slopes; as in the South, this primitive method of a people yet in the infancy of art and architecture is succeeded by grand buildings worthy the name of palaces, and adorned with sculptures TLM D490 Mortised block at Tula.jpgMORTISED BLOCK AT TULA. that have elicited the admiration of the world.[3]

The largest structure here is the "Pyramid of the Sun,"—Tonatiuh Itzacuatl, "House of the Sun,"—with a base of over seven hundred feet, and a height of two hundred; the next, the "Pyramid of the Moon," having one side of its base 426 feet in length, another one 511, and a height of 137 feet. These are the principal pyramids, but there are also many smaller mounds and pyramidal elevations, which nearly surround the larger ones, and line a broad roadway, called the "Street of the Dead." The two pyramids are 2,700 feet apart; both are built in terraces, and to-day have broad level platforms at their summits, with pathways much obstructed by débris winding up their sides. Both are composed of rock, stones, cement, and pottery, and their, outlines are hardly any more sharply defined, at the present day, than an ordinary steep-sided hill. The vegetation of aloes and creeping vines which covers their sides contributes to hide the pyramidal outline, and the facing of dressed stone, with which their sides were once probably encased, has been entirely removed in the lapse of time.

The summit platform of each pyramid once supported respectively images of the sun and of the moon, covered with gold, and glowing so brightly as to guide TLM D491 Pyramids of Teotihuacan.jpg the worshippers on their way to the valley to visit this most holy place of ancient times. No vestige of image or statue remains, save a great carved block, called a "sacrificial stone," now lying two hundred yards from the Pyramid of the Moon, said to have been overthrown by the Spanish bishop of hated memory, Zumárraga, and excavated by order of Maximilian.

In the western face of the Pyramid of the Moon we saw an opening, which is supposed by some to lead to hitherto unexplored treasure vaults deep down in the body of this vast

. structure. By creeping on the hands and knees through this narrow passage down an incline for about twenty-four feet, one has the satisfaction of reaching a pozo, or well, about fifteen feet deep. Farther than this no one has yet penetrated; yet it is safe to say that this aperture was left by the ancient builders of this pyramid, and not made by treasure-seekers, as is shown by the carefully cut and smoothed walls of the passage and well. It is conjectured that the Pyramid of the Sun has a similar opening, as yet unknown, because hidden by the accumulated débris of centuries; and if this is found, it is thought that a larger chamber will be discovered than in the Pyramid of the Moon, owing to the greater length of base, approximating nearly to that of the Pyramid of Cheops. Two great peaks rise from the distant ridge of enclosing hills, one exactly south and the other north, and a line drawn from one to the other of these pyramids passes exactly over the apices of both. There may be nothing in this, yet it struck me as a remarkable coincidence, as I verified my casual observation with the compass, standing on the summit of the Pyramid of the Sun.

South of the Pyramid of the Moon, and running along the western base of that of the Sun, is the wonderful avenue called El Camino de los Muertos,—the Road of the Dead, or Micoatli, lined on either side with tumuli. These mounds have been a still greater puzzle to antiquarians than the pyramids, yet it would seem that the ancient appellation applied to the place, "Path of the Dead," would explain their object. Señor Cubas says that from some of them human bodies have been taken; and it may be that those clay heads that we find scattered in such numbers over the plain are the effigies of buried priests and kings. These heads of clay or terra-cotta, so grotesque in feature and singular in design, are so abundant that one can hardly wander over a freshly-ploughed field without treading on one. No two of them, it is said, have ever been found alike in feature, and this would seem to bear out the theory that they were designed as images of the kings, priests, or minor rulers.

Garcia Cubas, in his study of these pyramids, likens the insignificant Rio Teotihuacan, which flows near, to the Nile, and the Camino de los Muertos he calls another Memphis; in fact, he finds here a duplication of the pyramids of Egypt.[4] This learned Mexican deduces an Egyptian contact with Mexico, and argues that the people who constructed the American monuments, if they did not come directly from Egypt, were at the least descendants of others to whom the Egyptians had transmitted

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CLAY HEADS OF TEOTHIUACAN.

their knowledge. But as this was written a dozen years ago, the worthy man may have changed his mind by this time, and may now view them differently.

That portion of the plain of Teotihuacan immediately about the pyramids is rather sterile, but about the little village of San Juan, where clear streams have their birth, near an ancient templo, the soil is fertile, and the dwellers there seem contented and happy. At all events, they are contented and lazy, and it is only by very active skirmishing that one may eventually capture a boy as guide to the ruins, and it requires equally hard work to find a horse. But one's energies are taxed to the utmost to keep away the horde of ragged juveniles, who appear with sacks full of clay heads, obsidian knives, and curious candeleros, which they insist upon your buying. Travellers have wondered, as we wonder to-day, at the unlimited supply of these "antiquities," as the fields are actually full of them, and we discovered many as we rode over them on our horses, and many others we bargained for with the natives.

My next visit to the valley's brim was to Tezcoco, the ancient seat of learning,—the "Athens of Anahuac,"—situated across the lake of the same name from Mexico City, some ten miles in a direct line, but nearly thirty by the travelled road. My companions on this occasion were the Rev. J. W. Butler, Methodist missionary to Mexico, and Mr. T. U. Brocklehurst, an English gentleman, who was also with me at Teotihuacan, and who has since written a very instructive book of travels.

Our mission was to rescue an imprisoned native preacher who had been unjustly incarcerated. Him we found in jail, an elderly Indian, with as mild a countenance as it is possible for one of these natives to have. He had but one eye, and those who were instrumental in having him placed in durance vile had taken advantage of this fact to creep up, as he was riding along one day, and shoot at him from his blind side; failing in their object, they hastened off and lodged a complaint against him—for not allowing himself to be shot decently and in order! He never had carried a fire-arm of any kind in his life, he told us; but there he was, securely caged, and some of his parishioners slept before the door of the jail every night lest he might be taken away and never heard of again. The upshot of it was, that he lay in prison three weeks longer, and was then released on a promise that he would be more accommodating when shot at another time by good and faithful Catholics. Notwithstanding we read that the South Sea Islanders have discontinued the practice of eating the missionary, since the reported discovery of trichinæ in some of them, the Mexican hunter is not to be deterred by any such canard. He does not hunt a

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AN IDEAL TEZCOCAN GARDEN.

missionary for his meat, but from love of the sport, and the strong arm of the government alone exerts a repressive influence over him.

We were in Tezcoco, that home of early kings, one of the three seats of power in Anahuac at the beginning of the fifteenth century. A mile or two from town, the place is pointed out whence Cortés launched his brigantines, at the investment of the Aztec capital. At the period of his coming there were greater pyramids and richer palaces, and perhaps more extensive gardens, than in the city ruled by Montezuma himself. Remains now exist here of three large pyramids, or temples, masses of adobe brick intermixed with shards of pottery and fragments of sculptured stones. Only just before our arrival, a gentleman from Chicago, Captain Evans, brought to the notice of the world a carved stone of goodly dimensions, which had been found in one of the adobe mounds a few months previously. Over the gateway to the garden, adjoining the old church, were three hideous idols, and a search throughout the wretched town which now occupies the site of the ancient metropolis would reveal many a relic of the departed Tezcocans. But little business is done here now, since the lake has left Tezcoco miles inland, and a few tiendas and one fonda comprise shops and hotels; but the people are well disposed towards a stranger, and one can secure tolerable lodging at the "Macedonia," and Mexican meals at the "Restaurant Universal."

Now reached by the narrow-gauge branch of the Morelos road, Tezcoco is easy of access, and no visitor should leave out of his journey this once famous Acolhuan city. As for me, I revelled in Tezcoco, for it had been known to me, through Bernal Diaz and Prescott, for many years. What can be finer in the descriptions of the older historian than that of the arrival of the timber for the brigantines at the border of the lake, when the brave Tlascalan Indians marched in, several thousand strong, with the lumber on their shoulders, and shouting, "Tlascala! Tlascala! Castilla! Castilla!" for the space of half a day? And here, too, was the palace of Nezahualcoyotl, the King David of Mexican history, whose halls and gardens are so lovingly depicted by the later historian. Where was the grand palace erected, and where that temple to the "Unknown God of Causes"? or did they exist solely in the fertile fancy of the Indian chronicler, Ixtlilxochitl, himself a descendant of the monarch of Tezcoco he fain would magnify? But whether exaggerated or not, there was sufficient remaining at the time the Spaniards came here to excite their wonder; and there are ruins enough now to testify to an ample city and magnificent buildings.

"Nezahualcoyotl's royal palace measured nearly three quarters of a mile in length, by half a mile in width. Its vast courts were not wholly occupied by affairs of state, but were open for the reception of foreign embassies, and as retreats for men of science and all literary culture; and here was gathered the literature of the past. The saloons of the royal wives glittered with walls of alabaster, or were rich with gorgeous hangings of feather-work. These opened into gardens of great beauty, enlivened by fountains and the varied plumage of tropical birds. Like Solomon, the king had gathered to his court and capital specimens of all known living animals. The annual supply of grain and fowls and fruit for the royal tables was enormous. In the midst of this luxury, the king ruled in the main with great justice. And according to the superstitions which he held, he might be counted an unusually religious man, as well as a philosopher and poet."

In passing, I would call attention to some modern ruins, not far south of Tezcoco, in the town of Tlalmanalco, which surpass any remains, in the former place, of the more ancient palaces.

Back of the present city of Tezcoco and at the foot-hills of the mountains supplying the streams which fertilize the plain, the wise king constructed a buen retiro, a palace and a garden, and here to-day may be found the remains of vast hydraulic works,—an aqueduct passing from hill to hill over an embankment two hundred feet high, a bath cut from solid stone; and in former years the face of a cliff had sculptured on it what was thought to be an Aztec or Toltec calendar. Having exhausted the treasures of the town, I proposed to Mr. Brocklehurst that we procure a guide and ride out to these ruins at Tezcosingo, said to be less than two leagues distant. He assented, and while our friend, the good missionary, was interviewing the municipal authorities, we hunted up horses, and soon found a man who could tell us all about it. We started; but our usual luck attended us, for, after toiling until nearly dark, we only came in sight of the hill, our guide having lost his way. It was a most vexatious thing, and we were hardly repaid by the view we got of the famous Lake Tezcoco, lying between us and the Mexican capital, the one like a burnished silver shield, the other with walls of alabaster. Our adventures ended by a midnight ride in a miserable hack, around the lake, to the station at Teotihuacan, where we took the early pulque train for Mexico.

  1. The churches founded at this period, some of which still exist, were Tepoztlan, Ayacapistla, Mestitlan, Molango, Cuernavaca, Oculman, and Tula, and were adorned with paintings by distinguished masters.
  2. The same author gives a table showing the Indian towns and the languages spoken, and by this we see that the Otomi predominates, one in which some philologists have asserted there is an analogy with the Chinese. The Otomies constituted the most ancient population of Anahuac, and were expelled from Tollan on the arrival of the Toltecs.
  3. Señor Cubas gives the largest dimensions of any one to these pyramids, as is natural, he being a son of Mexico and solicitous for her reputation: Piramide del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun), north and south side of base, 232 metres; east and west (western face), 220 metres; height, 66 metres. Piramide de la Luna (the Moon), east and west line of base, 156 metres; north and south, 130 metres; height, 46 metres; orientation, north face of the Moon, from east to west, 88° 30' N. W.; orientation, east face of the Sun, from south to north, 1° 30' N. E.
  4. Ensayo de un Estudio Comparativo entre las Piramides Egipcias y Mexicanas, Mexico, 1874.