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Huei Tzompantli

The Huei Tzompantli is the remains of an ancient “rack of skulls,” i.e.; tzomplantli. This was uncovered during 2015 excavations of properties on the north side of Guatemala street which runs along the back (north) of the Metropolitan Cathedral. The site is not open to the public but has revealed a great deal that was previously unknown about the culture and cosmology of ancient Tenochtitlan.

Tzomplantli were common across many cultures in ancient Mesoamerica. The skulls of defeated warriors, sacrificial victims, and even defeated ball teams, were displayed for ritual, triumphal, and other purposes. The name itself is Nahuatl, but it’s used broadly to refer to the similar structures in the societies of those speaking other languages. Among these are most prominently, the Maya and the Toltecs.

The Huei Tzomplantli is then the “Great” or “Exonerated” tzomplantli, one fit for the imperial capital. Skulls eventually removed from temporary wooden display racks that recounted recent conquests or victories, were relocated to one or more giant towers of skulls on the north side of the ceremonial complex. A contemporary of Hernán Cortés, Andrés de Tapia is said to have calculated the total number of skulls on the ceremonial tower of that time at some 136,000.

Since formal excavations began in 2015, INAH researchers have regularly updated on their findings. Today the total of skulls counted has been 650, including some 25% from women and children. This was a big surprise because most of the skulls are still from males of military ages and are believed to have been soldiers and athletes.

La Gran TzompantlíIn many cultures of what is now Mexico, a space was set aside within the cities to exhibit towers of skulls. These were obtained from the bodies of war captives and those known as ixiptla, that is, "representatives of the gods." In Tenochtitlan, the Huey Teocalli or Templo Mayor had on one side a Huey Tzompantli, a giant tower of these skulls. In 2015, excavations were carried out at a property on República de Guatemala Street and the vestiges of the Huey Tzompantli. One of the several towers of skulls from the Nahua city were discovered. The remains date from the period between 1486 and 1502. Location: República de Guatemala, between República de Argentina and República de Brasil, Historic Center.

Heart of Mexico Walkin Route: Ancient Route 

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Proyecto “Corredor de Cultura Digital”.

Nombre de la investigación: Investigación Centro Histórico, Monumentos, Edificios y Puntos de Interés (2023)

Dirección de investigación y diseño de Rutas: Acércate al Centro A.C. Guadalupe Gómez Collada

Coordinación e investigación histórica: Fideicomiso del Centro histórico Dir. Maestra Loredana Montes

How to get here
  • República de Guatemala 24, Centro Histórico, Alc. Cuauhtémoc, 06020 CDMX


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