paulfraser (paulfraser) wrote,

I believe I can touch the sky

It strikes me that if I were too have invented the imagery for a culture, it would more or less have been what the Mesoamericans came up with for themselves. Except for the feathers on hats bit; I don't find that particularly rugged. However, the remains of the city of Tula show up some of the nicer aspects. The remnants of the defensive wall around the ceremonial centre show giant snakes eating skeletons, who are trying to crawl away.

Tula was an important Toltec city from about 1000 CE, and the Aztecs used it to form the myths of their origin as a people, and their nobles married women descended from the refugees from the fall of the city to cement this fact, and give themselves legitimacy. While other aspects of their mythos seem to be based on Teotihuacan, their society was based on Tula (though far more blood-thirsty). Indeed, the Aztecs looted many of the relics of Tula and with it being very close to the modern D.F. where the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan was, they occupied the city until the Spanish came. Interestingly, the Spanish then occupied and used one of the buildings for their purposes.

The day I went to dusty Tula, the Sunday of a long weekend, hundreds of the mutual descendants of the Aztecs and Spaniards, modern Chilangos, were again occupying the site, but in a touristic fashion I find odd. They seem to have made it past the entrance, then past the museum, a small fraction stopping at the first ball court, but most heading straight to the more-restored pyramid, with only a handful moving to the second pyramid and almost none moving beyond it. So, while the site was technically crowded, I had most of it to myself. I find this very odd; driving all the way to an archaeological site and only looking at one part seems like paying to see a film and only entering the cinema to watch the end.

Tula has the two of these ballcourts I described when discussing Tajin, though the ones present at Tula are more of an I-shape than a straight line. The one furthest from the gate, which I had entirely to myself, is the longest in Mesoamerica at over 100 metres, though being abandoned there were kids, who came up from across the bordering train lines, sitting behind it smoking blunts. This court makes up one side of the main square, with the two pyramids.

The lesser of these temples is the one most restored, and is dedicated to and integral in the mythology of the Feathered Serpent. I was atop it and looking up at 4 similar, but not identical, 12-foot-tall statues of Toltec warriors, and when I reached the second last one I exclaimed "It's Ben Carson!" However, as I was surrounded by Mexicans no-one understood me, and even if they did they probably don't know any Ben Carsons. Ben is a fellow I shared my office with for a year during my PhD, and a friend I have had many spirited debates regarding religion. Those statues, of which Ben is one, are 4 of 12 pillars which used to hold up the temple, which is now long, long gone. It gave me pause to wonder if when the Toltecs foresaw Ben's life and made this statue of him - destined forever to hold up a roof which is no longer there - whether this was an ancient allegory for his religious beliefs and their usefulness for humanity.

One may find this harsh, but if Ben is to be the pious, faithful figure of his narrative, he needs someone to fill the archetype of the burning bush. Or, in the no-less-valid creation fantasy of Tula, the naked chili seller. For you see, the god Quetzalcoatl is inextricably linked to the man Quetzalcoatl, or more accurately Topiltzin Ce Acatl Quetzalcoatl, an actual historical king of Tula who was deemed in some fashion to be the embodiment of the feathered serpent, whose cultural origins predate the man by many centuries. The story goes that this god-king founded Tula, and then his antagonist, the quite nasty Smoking Mirror god, appeared as the afore-mentioned naked chili seller and seduced the king's daughter. Then, appearing as an old man, got our king drunk, so as he made a naff-up during a religious ceremony, and had to flee the city, floating off across the Gulf of Mexico on a raft of snakes, vowing to return. This, of course, aided in the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs centuries later, when Moctezuma decided Cortes was the returning Quetzalcoatl, and Cortes did nothing to dissuade him of it. The historical king is held, in the modern understanding, to have left Tula and moved south-east to found Chichen Itsa as a Mayan Tola, as the architecture there is remarkably close to that of Tula. But anyways, I've been trying for years to get Ben drunk, but no joy.

While I was in Tula, a Pemex refinery seems to have caught on fire off in the distance, but I can't find news items on it (Pemex being the state-owned oil company with the monopoly). Thus, my photos have atmospheric palls of smoke over them.
Tags: mexico
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