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Toltec Sanctuary of Tollán

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Mexico.

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The Toltec civilization developed in central Mexico and by 1050 their city of Tollán had become the capital of a large empire. Mentioned in indigenous documents and post-Conquest sources, Tollán was said to be on the hill of Tzatzitepetl, but the ruins were lost until 1940 when archaeologists discovered them near the village of Tula de Allende. The ruined city contains a palace, ball courts and three pyramid-shaped temples. The largest of these temples, surmounted by tall stone statues called Atlanteans, is believed to represent Quetzalcoatl. The Toltec civilization eventually declined as the 12th century Chitimecs and the 14th century Aztecs attacked Tollán, plundering its pyramids in search of the riches.

According to legend Tollán had been founded by the mythological Quetzalcoatl, the ‘Plumed Serpent’, an ancient deity which the Toltecs had adopted from earlier cultures and worshiped as the god of Venus. Around 1000 AD, a rival Toltec deity named Tezcatlipoca drove Quetzalcoatl and his followers out of Tula. Quezalcoatl then traveled to the Atlantic Ocean where he embarked upon a raft and disappeared beyond the eastern horizon to one day return. The legend of the victory of Tezcatlipoca over Quezalcoatl probably reflects some historical fact. Indigenous historians and Spanish chroniclers had mentioned Quetzalcóatl as an actual priest-king of Tula. The early years of Toltec civilization had been influenced by Teotihuacan culture, with its ideals of priestly rule and peaceful behavior. Later pressures from northern immigrants brought about a social and religious revolution, with a military class seizing power from the priests. Quetzalcoatl’s defeat symbolized the downfall of the priests. Quetzalcoatl's calendar name was Ce Acatl (One Reed) and there was a belief that he would return from the east in a One Reed year. This belief later caused the Aztec sovereign Montezuma II to regard the Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortez as a divine envoy because 1519, the year in which he landed on the Mexican Gulf coast, was a One Reed year.

Photo: Los Atlantes statues, Toltec Sanctuary of Tollán, Tula

Sacred Sites Information on Tollan.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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