24 May, 2012

Of Culture Clashes and Church Pimples

Hola there!

Last week I was in Puebla and Cholula por un ratito (for a little bit) assisting with a tasting for Real Matlatl Mezcal (I know what you're thinking--what is an archaeologist doing working for a liquor brand? Well, I try to help out Chuck where I can and a girl has to justify free room and board somehow right...plus well I enjoy it, it's always a nice break from endless site reports and C14 dates). Both cities in the state to north of us, Puebla. Puebla the city is an interesting place...in many ways it reminds of Mexico City but on a smaller scale. The set-up of colonial architecture, the way the streets are designed, the feel of the place, the hustle and bustle of the people, is more like Mexico's megatropolis than my humble little colonial town. Cholula however, is not Oaxaca to Puebla's Mexico City--it too is very different, and reminds me of zócalos I've seen in other Mexican states (Oaxaca's zócalo  is very distinct, in my opinion, and the only one similar to it is perhaps San Cris).

But one of the more interesting things about Cholula (where we spent a good amount of our daylight time, as we were there only for 24 hours) is the huge pyramid located pretty much in the center of town. You see, Cholula is (was?) a prehispanic city of great importance during the Classic and Postclassic times (so from about 250 AD to 900/1000 AD), particularly as a religious site. Aztec princes and kings would go to Cholula to be anointed by Cholulan priests during enthronement rituals. This ritual and religious importance is reflected in the fact that the modern city is famous for having the most churches in all of Mexico, 365 in total or one for each day of the year if you believe the legend (in reality it's more like 37 or 156 if you count all the chapels [source Wikipedia - Cholula]).

Quick shot of the Giant Pyramid with Spanish colonial church on top.

What I love about this gigantic pyramid in Cholula the most though (and it is massive, designated as the largest monument by volume in the world [source Wikipedia - Pyramid]) is that right atop this artificial mountain or tlachihualtepetl sits a colonial church that is still in use today (also making this pyramid the world's longest occupied building in the Americas). You see, when the Spanish arrived, they encountered this prehispanic city that was second only to the Postclassic head honcho at the time, Tenochtitlan, in size and sheer numbers. Cholula or Cholollan was also divided in 18 barrios, which still exist today, did have at least 360 temples, and was also the site of a famous massacre involving that dastardly Hernán Cortez.

So in a lot of ways, the Giant Pyramid of Cholula--with its colonial church hat--is a perfect symbol of the (past? modern? both?) Mexican mestizaje. The millenia of prehispanic culture as a foundation and body with Spanish religiousity and European sensibilities smashed right on top (and not in a necessarily pleasant nor particularly horrible way). In my opinion, if you really want to start to understand the Mexican mindset, you just need park yourself in front of the Giant Pyramid, marvel at the site of a prehispanic structure with an awkward church pimple on its dome, and ponder how that might affect a culture's psyche.

Another quick shot as we were zipping out of town.
Anyway, at night the church lights up and the whole thing looks even more amazing. I couldn't get a picture, but the archaeological detective in me has been piqued and I really want to go back, check out the site, and grab some better snapshots than the ones I could get as we zipped around Cholula. Plus, as my Wikipedia reading informed me, not much study has been done on either the monument nor the archaeological site itself, so we no woefully little about this incredible important Mesoamerican city. I must know more. Maybe sometime in the (distant) future I will be the one sticking a trowel into the pyramid to unearth its secrets. Someday.

For those who want to know a (little) more about this fascinating place, Wikipedia has a fairly decent write-up with links to other sources.

Cholollan (prehispanic Cholula)
Great Pyramid
And in case you want to read more on modern-day Cholula.

1 comment:

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