A Fortified Hill City of Epiclassic Mesoamerica

Xochicalco: A Fortified Hill City

Xochicalco rests atop several hills, with the highest housing the city’s fortified core. Extensive terracing and mining occurred to build the complex of terraces and plazas, all representing the typical Mesoamerican use of architecture to segregate space for political, religious, and social organization.

Xochicalco was an important religious and ceremonial center for the region. In 743 CE, many priests gathered to observe a solar eclipse and adjust their calendar - the Stele de Los Dos Glifos and the Temple of the Feathered Serpent commemorate this great astronomical event.

Astronomical Observatory

One of the artificial caves at Xochicalco, originally a mine for construction materials and stone, was converted into a solar observatory with a chimney reaching up through the ground and exiting in the above West Complex. The chimney can be used to observe the sun’s journey to the Tropic of Cancer on May 14 or 15, and its return journey on July 28 or 29 annually.

Temple of the Feathered Serpent

Believed to be commemorative of the solar eclipse observed at Xochicalco in 743 CE, this structure is the most highly decorated within the city. Eight serpents decorate its slopes, along with personages representing rulers, priests, astronomers, or warriors.

The Ball Court

Shaped like a capital “I,” the ball court has inclined sidewalks along its length, marked at mid-section with a stone ring used as a hoop for scoring with the rubber ball. The large, solid, rubber ball used during game play was struck with the players’ hips.

The Fall of Xochicalco

Around 900 CE, Xochicalco fell in what appears to be a quick destruction with fire and abandonment. Archaeological evidence suggests that the city’s demise may have been due to an uprising of the citizens against the elite ruling class, removing their control and privileged power. Burning and destruction layers are present throughout the city ruins, with remnants of daily life found beneath, indicating the quick abandonment during the chaos.

Digital Preservation

In May 2012, key structures at Xochicalco were digitally preserved, including the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, the Plaza de la Estele de los Dos Glifos, and the South Ballcourt. This digital documentation project assisted ongoing physical conservation work, combining previously collected GPS with laser scan data to create a more comprehensive geolocated dataset.


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