Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Central Mexico
Art, History & Archaeology Sites & Museums

Archaeology & History Sites in Hidalgo

Huapalcalco

Deriving from a Nahuatl word meaning ‘place of the wooden house’, Huapalcalco shows evidence for five distinct periods of occupation. Cave paintings and projectile tips reveal the presence of a Lower Cenolithic settlement, around 10,000 to 7000 years ago. A hamlet then appeared in the Late Preclassic Period, while in the Epiclassic Period a larger urban settlement sprang up, giving us many of the structures that survive at this site. The styles of these buildings, especially of Structure VI, show a clear architectural influenced from the city of Teotihuacan.

Pahñú

The ruined settlement at Pahñú was an important regional centre during the Epiclassic Period of Mesoamerican history. Archaeologists attribute the site to members of what they call the Xajay culture; it has been argued that this Xajay culture was ancestral to the Otomi, an indigenous community still living in the region. The structures at Pahñú were probably devoted to Otontecutli, the god of old fire, and include three open squares, one of which is decorated with a range of petroglyphs. From the ruins, visitors can enjoy impressive views across the Mezquital Valley.

Tepeapulco (Xihuingo)

Located at the foot of Xihuingo hill, the settlement at Tepeapulco (‘Next to the Great Hill’) was inhabited between the 1st and 8th centuries AD, during much of the Classic Period. Architectural features at the site suggest that the community living here was under the influence of Teotihuacán. The most prominent feature at the site is the Tecolote pyramid, named after the sculpture of a tecolote (spotted owl) recovered there. The nearby cliffs contain a range of rock paintings and petroglyphs, as well as markings that may reflect astronomic calculations.

Tula

At one point the most important city in the Toltec Empire, thanks in part to its strategic location, Tula remains an impressive site which peaked in the 10th century AD, during the Early Postclassic Period. By the 12th century much of Tula was all but abandoned. A few features survive, including the Burned Palace, the Pyramid of the Sun, and the Ball Court, although its best known feature are the ‘Atlanteans’, large basalt statues overlooking the city. Tula’s name comes from a Nahuatl term which can mean either ‘city’ or ‘place of reeds’.

Archaeology & History Sites in Mexico State

Teotihuacan

The ‘place where the gods were made’ was not only one of the largest pre-Hispanic cities in Mesoamerica, but also one of the largest urban centres anywhere in the ancient world. Known for the vast size and number of its monuments, including the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, it is now one of Mexico’s most popular tourist attractions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A settlement existed here from around 400 BC, although population growth only became substantial between the first and seventh centuries AD.

Archaeology & History Sites in Morelos

Chalcatzingo

Located at the foot of two hills, Chalcatzingo appears to have been established around 1500 BC. It subsequently reached its height during the Middle Preclassic Era, when a range of stone structures were erected here. Among the best-known elements of the site are its Olmec-influenced architectural features, perhaps a result of artistic diffusionism from the Gulf Coast. Archaeologists consider it to be one of the most important urban centres in the Olmeca area of influence. Chalcatzingo’s name comes from the Nahuatl language, perhaps meaning “venerated place of sacred water.”

Coatetelco

Coatetelco takes its name from a Nahuatl language term meaning “place of snakes in the mounds of stone.” The inhabitants of the settlement had links to Xochicalco, but after the latter town began to decline, Coatetelco replaced it as the most important centre in the region during the Late Postclassic Period. Among the various features that today’s visitors can explore are the Cuauhtlitzin Temple, the Xipe-Totec Platform, and the Ball Court. Archaeologists excavated at the site during the 1970s, revealing more about its history.

Las Pilas

The settlement at Las Pilas dates largely from the Early Classic Period, which lasted from the 3rd through to the 7th century AD. The community who lived here specialised in the preservation of water, demonstrated by a network of canals created to channel and store this precious resource. Among the features of this canal network are two duct systems and sedimentation boxes, indicating the technological sophistication of this ancient society. Archaeologists have also revealed a number of unusual human burials within the canal system, the bodies placed in a seating position.

Olintepec

Olintepec was inhabited from the Early Preclassic Period right through to the Colonial Era. During the Late Preclassic it was a major regional centre, something assisted by its possession of some of the most richly irrigated land in Morelos. The settlement was then conquered by the Tepanecas and subsequently by the Aztec Empire. Much of Olintepec has yet to be uncovered, although excavation of Mound 1 has revealed close to 200 human burials. Its name means ‘Hill of Tremors’ in Nahuatl, perhaps alluding to the local worship of a goddess of earthquakes.

Teopanzolco

Taking its name from a Nahuatl term meaning ‘in the old temple’, Teopanzolco started to develop in the Middle Postclassic Period. Located in the Morelos Valley, it is possible that its first inhabitants were the Tlahuicas, a people mentioned in 16th-century written sources. The first settlement was destroyed and another built atop it during the Late Postclassic Period, at which point Teopanzolco was inhabited by the Mexicas. Although the urban growth of modern Cuernavaca has destroyed much of the old settlement, some ruins remain visible for today’s visitors to enjoy.

Tepozteco

Overlooking the town of Tepoztlán below, Tepozteco is a religious complex comprising a pyramid and surrounding terraces that were erected atop a peak of the Sierra de Tepoztlan during the Middle Postclassic Period. At the time, Tepozteco became a major religious site, attracting pilgrims from a wide area. On the terraces to the east of the temple, several domestic residences housed the priests and others involved in overseeing ritual devotion to the god Tepoztēcatl, a deity associated with the alcoholic drink pulque. The site now sits within the El Tepozteco National Park.

Xochicalco

Located atop a mountain, Xochicalco has a name meaning ‘in the place of the house of flowers’ in the Nahuatl language. The site reached its height between around 650 to 900 AD, during the Epiclassic Period. Its growth may have been linked to the decline of Teotihuacan and the subsequent power vacuum that emerged in the region. Among the key structures is a cave converted into an observatory to monitor the sun and a temple which contains reliefs depicting feathered snakes, suggesting an influence from Teotihuacan and Mayan societies elsewhere in Mesoamerica.

Yautepec

Yautepec was a settlement that appears to have arisen around 400 AD, during the Classic Period of Mesoamerican history. It subsequently reached its apogee in the Late Postclassic Period, from around 1200 till 1521 AD. It was part of the Aztec Empire, and among its ruins is the first Aztec royal palace that archaeologists ever excavated. Its present name comes from the Nahuatl for “on the hill of the yauhtli,” the latter a yellow plant. Although various ruins remain visible, much of the historic settlement lies beneath the modern town which shares its name.

Archaeology & History Sites in Puebla

Cantona

The ruins of Cantona bear witness to a city that once stood along an important trade route. It reached its apogee between 600 and 1000 AD, during the Classic Period, its rise perhaps a response to the decline of Teotihuacán. Its golden era could not last, however, and it was abandoned shortly after, falling into ruin. Covering approximately 12 square kilometres, it was home to a large number of buildings, the foundations of many of which are visible today. Nearly 30 ball game courts have been unearthed at Cantona.

Cholula

With origins in the Late Preclassic Period, Cholula rose to become a significant settlement in the Classic Period, when it was part of the commercial network established by Teotihuacán. The site boasts the Great Pyramid of Cholula, the largest pyramid in Mesoamerica; it was dedicated to the god Tláloc and contains a tunnel running inside it. A church erected by the conquering Spanish, La Iglesia de los Remedios, sits atop the pyramid, a testament to Catholicism’s ongoing influence in Mexico. Artefacts recovered from this fascinating city are displayed at the site museum.

Los Cerritos de San Cristóbal Tepatlaxco

Probably taking its name from a Nahuatl term meaning ‘in the palace ball game’, Los Cerritos de San Cristóbal Tepatlaxco was inhabited between 300 and 600 AD. A fortified site, it is believed to have been under the influence of the Olmec, with the inhabitants of this community probably having trade links with many other groups in the region. Nine pyramid bases stand here; although they range from 2.5 to 9 meters in height, their positioning on the banks of a ravine give them the impression of being taller.

Tepapayeca

Having conquered it in the 15th century, the Aztec Empire controlled Tepapayeca during the Late Postclassic Period. For the Aztecs, this location was key to protecting trade routes, defending their territories from Mixtec invaders, and ensuring that local rebellions against Aztec rule could be swiftly suppressed. Reflecting its more recent history, the site also boasts the ruins of the Calvario chapel, built in the 17th century. There are multiple possible origins of the name ‘Tepapayeca’ – it could mean ‘fenced floor of stone walls’, or alternatively ‘good and serene place’.

Tepexi el Viejo

In a high location up in the rocky hills, Tepexi el Viejo was inhabited from around 300 AD right through to the time of the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. A walled fortress located at the confluence of two deep ravines, it probably had military functions, although its ruins testify to the presence of ceremonial squares and mounds, indicating a varied range of activities that took place here. It likely served as the home of an important local lord. Some accounts suggest Hernán Cortés conquered the site, although this is disputed.

Yohualichan

Its name perhaps meaning “The House of the Night,” Yohualichan was inhabited by ancestors of the Totonac, an indigenous people who still reside in central Mexico. The settlement arose in the Early Classic Period as an outpost of the city at El Tajín, which lies in a straight direction approximately 60 kilometres from Yohualichan. The site’s ceremonial center is arranged around a large rectangular square and includes such features as a ball game court. It is probably that depopulation of the settlement took place in the Postclassic Period.

Archaeology & History Sites in Tlaxcala

Cacaxtla

The term Cacaxtla means “Place of Cacaxtles,” the latter a type of frame used for transporting goods. This humble name conceals the splendour of this settlement, which rose to dominance across much of the Poblano-Tlaxcalteca Valley after the decline of Teotihuacán, during the Epiclassic Period. The site boasts a series of largely unique painted murals, often depicting warriors and traders, which are now protected from the elements under a large canopy. Maintenance workers discovered Cacaxtla in the 1970s, after which archaeologists excavated the site to reveal its fascinating story.

Ocotelulco

Over the course of 1990 and 1991, archaeologists excavated the site of a temple at Ocotelulco. They revealed three phases of development at the site, which reached its apogee during the Postclassical period before ultimately being destroyed at the time of the Spanish colonisation. Among the noted features at the site is a bench on which is a carved relief depicting the god Tezcatlipoca surrounded by a range of bloodied obsidian knives and several anthropomorphic serpents. Murals at the site depict deities like Xólotl, Quetzalcoatl and Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli.

Tecoaque

Its name perhaps deriving from the Nahuatl term for ‘the place where lords or gods ate’, Tecoaque grew up in the Early Classic Period. At that time, it was an important stop along trade routes passing through the region. Over the centuries, the settlement grew, reaching its apogee in the Postclassic Period of the 12th to 16th centuries. Archaeologists have revealed evidence for European contact at the site, including the bodies of several Europeans, perhaps members of Pánfilo de Narváez’s expedition. The site is presently a candidate to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.