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Gulf of Mexico
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
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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

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 Coast.

The dispersion

procession in front of El Tajin siteFrom 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 of Palenque. 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.

Left picture : procession in front of El Tajin site



Visit 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 Columnas".
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.
pyramid of the niches Tour the edifices 10 and 12 before heading to the Pyramid of the Niches.

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 pyramid.

     Right picture : pyramid of the niches

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 sacrifices.

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 1992 :

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 :

Voladores at the Parque Takilhsukut



       Right picture : Voladores at the Parque Takilhsukut







preparation for the Hispanic dance "Águila Blanca"


Left picture : preparation for the Hispanic dance "Águila Blanca"




prehispanic dance "Águila Blanca" -




     Right picture : prehispanic dance "Águila Blanca" -
     White eagles : "Sun and Land"





amerindians at the Festival in the traditional costumes



    Left picture : amerindians at the Festival in the traditional costumes





Visit of the site El Tajín by French tourists and Mexicans and the voladores in operation!

The show of the Dance of the Voladores occurs on busy days, at mid-day, at the entrance of the site or in Papantla. You also can see them in Mexico City, Cholula, Teotihuacán..... Help them live by tipping them on the premises.


This is a village as well as a Spanish colonial river harbor. It is located 105 km (65 miles) south of Veracruz. It was founded in the mid-sixteenth century. Its original urban plan is well conserved. Its character shows in the wide streets with column houses of every style and every color. There are also many mature trees in public places as well in private gardens. It is located on the bank of Papaloapan River called "River of Butterflies". Every year, for Candlemas, they celebrate the Virgin of Candlemas with musicians and jarochos dancers, bulls release and a procession : they bring the Virgin to the bank, and then take her on a boat followed by a dozen of other boats. This village has been part of the world Cultural Heritage of UNESCO since 1998 :

Second part of the video
Travel and hike around Mexican volcanoes
Popocatepetl, Iztaccihuatl and Pico de Orizaba which is the highest point in Mexico and on its side, Hidalgo the highest village in North America.

The first part of the video is in the chapter Puebla

Pico de Orizaba on the road Puebla-Veracruz

Festivals and Traditions

5-13 February 2013 : Carnaval of Veracruz : www.veracruzmunicipio.gob.mx

20 March-24 March in 2014 (every year). FESTIVAL of IDENTITY, by the archaeological site of El Tajín. Large groups of musicians and acrobats, craft creative workshops, traditional medicine classes and dancers participate in this festival.

A nice “Light and Sound” is also proposed on the archaeological site between 730PM and 930PM for MSN$170, not around the year. Plse see info at the entrance.

Log on to the website : www.cumbretajin.com for more information. It was the 14th anniversary in 2013.

Map of Veracruz capital :

State map :

Consult the new pages about the Festival of Identity and the Voladores.

See the new chapter about the Centre for Indigenous Arts and its contribution to safeguarding the intangible cultural heritage of the Totonac people of Veracruz, Mexico.


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