A cultural center developed in the region of Tajín, in the
center of Veracruz State. The former name of the city was forgotten;
the actual name means "thunder" or "lightning"
because of the frequency of the lightning falling on the pyramid.
A few centuries before Christ, some groups went to the high lands
of Mexico City. They left their impact
on Teotihuacán; they
left just at the very beginning of our era to go back to their home
region. There they created centers with Teotihuacán
influence in Tajín, Lagunille and other sites. This culture,
known under the generic name of Totonac, is characterized by carved
stone "yokes", "palms" and “votive axes”,
by the construction of monuments adorned with niches and by the
fabrication of clay smiling faces sculptures.
The architecture of Tajín is noticeable for the decoration
with niches, frescoes, “grecques”, cornices and special
roofs made of one slab. They also used Maya type false vault. Most
of the Pre-Hispanic constructions had an esoteric meaning and an
only partially deciphered orientation. Tajín was, at its
zenith, the most important politic and religious center in the Gulf
the seventh century, some groups emigrated to the south as far as
the region of Cempoala, while others settled on the foothills of
the Sierra Madre of Puebla and
Hidalgo. Their descendants
still live there. During the tenth century, there was a Toltec influence
in the region. Tajín, maybe burnt down by a Chichimec invasion,
was abandoned at the end of the eleventh century. The stone "yokes",
the "palms" with joint hands and the votives axes, made
in this southern region, can also be found in Palenque and even
Copán. We don’t know if the Totonacs from the coast,
maybe pushed away by other people, participated to the destruction
However, these objects seem to indicate their presence in this region.
The archaeologists think that this city reached its zenith only
from 600 to 900 A.D.
of the site
The arrival of the Toltecs in the region of Tajín coincides
with the last modifications in architecture. A part of the façade
of the pyramid of the Niches (Main pyramid) was covered with a big
stair. The frescoes were covered with stucco and new Gods were imposed.
New constructions were built including Edifice 5, the South Ball
Court, constructions I, A, B, C and D and the huge ensemble of "Las
A little bit later, Tajín was destroyed and abandoned. The
Toltecs didn’t settle in Tajín itself. They built cities
such as Tuxpan and Teayo where you can find the style of Tula.
The Totonacs moved south. They built their last cities in the region
of Misantla and Cempoala. This last one was very prosperous at the
time of the Conquest. Nowadays, the Totonacs of Tajín are
mostly famous for their dance of the "voladores", performed
in Papantla. They are also big producers of vanilla.
The path leads you first to the Group of the river dating from
the seventh century. Four pyramidal edifices with a rectangular
base stand around a big plaza that could have been the market place.
If you keep walking, you end up at a first Ball court. The sides
are decorated with stone mosaic lozenges. The second ball court
(juego de pelota sur) is worth the detour : The game area
is a long rectangle lined at the south with a big building used
as a stand. On the opposite side, there is the platform of edifice
5. Here is a nice decoration telling, on six panels, the main myths
linked to the ball game. NOT TO BE MISSED ! The central panels on
the eastern and western sides show the God of the rain piercing
his penis, in a scene of auto sacrifice, to make blood converted
into the ritual alcohol, the pulque.
Tour the edifices 10 and 12 before heading to the Pyramid of the
The main pyramid (pirámide de los Nichos) was formerly
made of seven levels. On each face, there were 22, 19, 16, 13, 10,
7 and 4 niches by level, meaning 91 niches per face. So there were
364 niches on the 4 faces and an extra niche used as the door of
the temple. The total is 365, one niche for each day of the year.
Originally, the small plaster figurines occupied the niches of the
If you walk behind the twin pyramids, you reach the North
ball Court, decorated as well with panels and a fresco all along
the length. Keep walking north to Tajín Chico, probably the
residential neighborhood of the elite. It was built from 900 A.D.
The visit starts with the edifice I, protected since the discovery
of bright paintings, then the edifice C with a palm roof, standing
on a small plaza with nice "grecques". Keep going to edifices
B, A and D. Go beyond the edifice A to admire the edifice of the
columns (edificio de las columnas). It has carved columns celebrating
the warlike exploits of the ruling classes.
Take back on the side of edifice C the path leading to Gran Xicalcoliuhqui,
a platform surrounded with an imposing wall curling up like a "grecque"
(it explains the name in Náhuatl). This platform was restored
to piece together the meticulous assemblage in talud-tablero, its
row of niches and its beveled cornice. 17 ball games courts were
listed on this site. It shows the importance of sacrifices and auto
El Tajín is an exceptional example of the
grandeur and importance of the Mexican Pre-Hispanic cultures. This
site has been part of the world cultural Heritage of UNESCO since
A huge program of restoration was planned covering 15 years. Nowadays,
one third of the edifices was restored.
Open daily 9 AM-5 PM, $57 – Don’t forget to visit the
museum of the site. It displays magnificent carved fragments from
non rebuilt edifices.
How to get there ? By bus (Futura, Estrella Blanca, Ado) from North
Terminal in Mexico City to Papantla or Poza Rica (rates between MXN$260 and 300 in 2012) then a mini-bus to El Tajín
(about $15 the 6km ride).
History of the state :
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