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Mt. Iztaccihuatl and Mt. Popocatepetl

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Mexico.

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Southeast of Mexico City stand the two great sacred mountains of Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl. In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, Popocatepetl means 'Smoking Mountain' and the 17,833 foot volcano, while currently dormant, does frequently emit large clouds of smoke. Iztaccihuatl, meaning 'Sleeping Lady' or 'White Lady' in Nahuatl, is an extinct volcano rising to 17,388 feet. Ruins of shrines, found as high as 12,000 feet on both peaks, show that the mountains served important religious functions for the Aztecs and perhaps earlier cultures. A romantic legend which dates from pre-Conquest times relates that the warrior Popocatepetl was in love with the maiden Iztaccihuatl, daughter of a tribal king. The lovers went to the king who told them he would allow the marriage only if Popocatepetl was victorious in battle with a rival tribe. Popocatepetl went off to battle, was victorious, but was kept away longer than expected. A rival suitor to the hand of Iztaccihuatl spread the rumor that Popocatepetl had died in battle and the young maiden soon died of grief. When Popocatepetl returned he laid her body atop a mountain range that assumed the shape of a sleeping lady - the form that is evident in the western view of the Iztaccihuatl today. Overcome with sadness, Popocatepetl climbed the adjacent peak where, standing sentinel with a smoking torch, he eternally watches over his lost lover.

Legends relate that the Aztec emperor Montezuma once sent ten of his warriors to climb Popocatepetl to discover the source of the mysterious smoke. The first recorded ascent in 1522 seems to have been accomplished by soldiers in the army of Cortez, making Popocatepetl the highest peak climbed by Europeans up to that time. Nowadays, during the winter months when the snow is hard and the skies clear, many climbers scale the towering mountains. In the vicinity of central Mexico are three other sacred mountains including Tlalocatepetl, the abode of the powerful Aztec rain god; Citlaltepetl Orizaba, the tallest peak in Mexico, and Nevada de Toluca.

Photo: Mt. Iztaccihuatl from the slopes of Mt. Popocatepetl

More about Mexico's Sacred Mountains from Sacred Sites.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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