Mexico City’s Aztec Past Keeps Emerging in the Present – NYTimes.com
There are other discoveries yet to be deciphered from the latest excavation site at the heart of this vast metropolis, where the Aztecs built their great temple and the Spanish conquerors laid the foundation of their new empire.
Before announcing the finding of the unusual burial site and the remains of what may be a sacred tree last month, archaeologists had also recently revealed a giant round stuccoed platform decorated with serpents’ heads and a floor carved in relief that appears to show a holy war.
Mexico City might be one of the world’s classic megacities, an ever-expanding jumble of traffic, commerce, grand public spaces, leafy suburbs and cramped slums. But it is also an archaeological wonder, and more than three decades after a chance discovery set off a systematic exploration of the Aztecs’ ceremonial spaces, surprises are still being uncovered in the city’s superimposed layers.
“It’s a living city that has been transforming since the pre-Hispanic epoch,” said Raúl Barrera, who leads the exploration of the city’s center for the National Institute of Anthropology and History here.
“The Mexicas themselves dismantled their temples,” to build over them, he explained, using the Aztecs’ name for themselves. “The Spanish constructed the cathedral, their houses, with the same stones from the pre-Hispanic temples. What we have found are the remains of that whole process.”
Perhaps nowhere else in the world is the evidence of a rupture between civilizations as dramatic as in Mexico City’s giant central square, known as the Zócalo, where the ruin of the Aztecs’ Templo Mayor abuts the ponderous cathedral the Spanish erected to declare their spiritual dominance over the conquered.
“I think the ideological war was more difficult for the Spanish than armed warfare,” said Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, the archaeologist who first led the excavation of the Templo Mayor.
There are other, older places in the world where ruins rise from traffic-clogged streets, where foreign invaders ended empires. But it is different here, academics say.
“They blew the top of it off; they didn’t do that to the Colosseum,” said Davíd Carrasco, a historian of religions at Harvard University who has written on the Aztecs and the excavations at the Templo Mayor. “In Rome, the ancient Roman city stands alongside the medieval and the modern city.”
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