Saturday, November 9, 2013

2013, Day 312 - Mountain fortress

This morning we got up, gathered our things, and went to take advantage of our free breakfast at our fancy hotel in Cuernavaca.  We went down and took a seat by the pool, all of the dining area is pool adjacent, and were presented with menus.  It was suggested that we order things that were quick for the kitchen to prepare as we only had twenty minutes before Monica was supposed to pick us up.  So it was granola with fruit and toast for me and I must grudgingly admit it was tasty.  While waiting we noticed that the white one white decor made it look like someone was getting ready for a wedding reception; nice but a little sterile feeling.

Fortunately Monica got stuck in a bit of traffic so we had an extra fifteen minutes to eat and gather our belongings before heading out to Xochicalco, another pre-Columbian ruin.  Xochicalco rose to prominence after the fall of Teotihuacan and some historians have suggested that the two events may have been connected.  There are many similarities in design and they share a similar set of religious iconography.  However, where Teotihuacan was a sprawling site in a valley Xochicalco is compact and safely set upon the peak of a mountain with good lines of sight on all sides.

Another difference is that with no nearby body of water the advanced drainage systems used at Teotihuacan were now used to supply a cistern for the citizenship.  What's more, the buildings used for storing grain were at the pinnacle near where the social elite lived which suggests a firm control over the society's food supply.

In addition to the pyramids, temples, palaces, and housing were ball courts.  Here ritualistic games were played to settle disputes or appeal to the gods and the losers were sacrificed.  There might be something to that idea, it would make professional athletes earn their absurd salaries.  So important were these contests that there were three fields set up at the north, south, and east ends of the complex.

There is also an observatory, something we didn't see at Teotihuacan.  It was really more of a system of caves and in one chamber there is a stone chimney that bores through the ceiling.  At certain times of the year a shaft of light will come straight down to penetrate the inner chamber.  It is thought that there would have been a large basin of water in which to observe the reflections and therein preserve your eyes and allow for multiple observers.  The precision of this measurement of days allowed the priests to tell the peasants when to plant, when to harvest, and to direct other seasonal activities with what appeared to be otherworldly precision.

It was a really interesting tour and because we got an early start and thanks to Monica's planning we managed to avoid other visitors almost entirely.  We did run into a few European tourists and two local couples but we pretty much had the pyramids to ourselves and it was great.  Even the weather was on our side, it was a little bit hot but there was a nice breeze and Monica made good use of the sparse shade provided by the occasional tree.

As we crept into afternoon we retreated to the visitor's center and the adjoining museum.  Here we were treated to some well preserved pottery and stone carvings.  Many of the designs and materials would have been foreign to Xochicalco and this is an illustration of their power and influence that they traded for and had knowledge of a great many things beyond their community with a reach as far as the oceans hundreds of miles away.

After we finish in the museum it was time to find a late lunch.  After inspecting one place and announcing that it wouldn't meet our needs Monica took us to a little local outdoor buffet.  We had a tasty lunch, if a little bit basic, for almost nothing and could eat until it came out our noses.  I think perhaps we overindulged but we left happy and slightly sleepy for the ride into Mexico City.  Fortunately Monica chatted happily with us, told us about other places in Mexico to see and visit and by the time we arrived our heads were spinning with all kinds of ideas.

We arrived at our odd little hotel in downtown Mexico City as the sun was setting.  It is a big room although that is about the best that you can say as it is a little old, a little tired, and a little noisy.  Still, it is cheap, clean, safe, and has reliable internet access so we're happy.  Once we completed a quick trip to the convenience store we retired to our computers to do a little planning and catch up with the world.

Below is a picture of the remains of one of the housing areas in the elite part of Xochicalco.  This is on the north side of the complex and has amazing views of the valley below.  Both here and at Teotihuacan the homes had doors but no windows and the floors tend to slope gently towards the doorways.

Canon 1D X, Canon 16-35/f2.8L Mark II
16mm, f4, HDR of 1/5000, 1/2500, 1/1250, 1/640, and 1/320 sec @ 100 ISO

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