Archaeological Monuments Zone of Xochicalco

Since 1999 • Cultural

Xochicalco is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a fortified political, religious and commercial centre from the troubled period of 650–900 that followed the break-up of the great Mesoamerican states such as Teotihuacan, Monte Albán, Palenque and Tikal.

Xochicalco is an exceptionally well-preserved and complete example of a fortified settlement from the Epiclassic period of Mesoamerica. Its architecture and art represent the fusion of cultural elements from different parts of Mesoamerica, at a time when the breakdown of earlier political structures resulted in intensive cultural regrouping. The city was built on a series of natural hills. The highest of these was the core of the settlement, with many public buildings, but evidence of occupation has been found on six of the lower hills surrounding it. Substantial engineering work in the form of terracing and the construction of massive retaining walls in order to create a series of open spaces are defined by platforms and pyramidal structures. They are linked by a complex system of staircases, terraces and ramps to create a main north-south communication axis.

There are three distinct levels of organization to be recognized in material terms at Xochicalco - social, political and religious. The lower part is encircled by walls, pierced by defended entrances; it contains largely residential buildings. Next comes the intermediate level, the so-called 'Market Ensemble', which is the Plaza of the Stele of the Two Glyphs, a ball court, with more residential structures. The highest level consists of a group of temples and other monumental buildings for the use of the ruling class around the main plaza. The crest of the hill is the 'Acropolis'. In the lower level there is an access way beginning at the base of the southern hill and entering the city through the main gateway, flanked by two bastions. The causeway is paved with irregular flagstones and flanked with low walls fronting to residential areas.

In the intermediate level there is the Market Ensemble. Beyond it is another plaza on a platform from which a broad staircase ascends to the Plaza of the Stele of the Two Glyphs. This square is closed on its east and west sides by two buildings that are similar in form and size, and to the north by the Great Pyramid, the largest structure on the site. It consists of seven steps, with the remains of a temple at the apex. The stele from which the plaza takes its name is located on a square podium in its centre: this was the focus of civic and ceremonial life for the community, not least because it is easily accessible. The southern ball court, the largest at Xochicalco, is reached by a wide causeway. Beyond it is a group of structures known as the Palace; residential rooms, kitchens, workshops, and storerooms, along with a temazcal (steam-bath) are ranged around a series of patios. A series of 21 calendar altars line the causeway, recording the months (and in one case days) of the ceremonial year.

In the upper level a large platform is built around the northern, southern and west sides. To the east is a complex of three structures. The first of these is rectangular in plan and opens onto a patio sunk below the external level; it is accessible only from the roofs of the rooms. The second unit is a large patio closed on three sides by narrow galleries and delimited on the fourth side by three pyramidal platforms. Alongside it is the third element, the east ball court, separated by a monumental ramp paved with stone slabs engraved with images of birds, reptiles, insects and mammals, known as the Ramp of the Animals. The northern sector includes a large rainwater cistern that formed part of a complex water system covering the whole settlement. Beneath this platform is to be found the entrance to the caves that were used in the early phases of occupation for quarrying building materials. Later it was modified as an observatory for studying the heavens and for ceremonies. The Main Plaza is on an enormous artificial mound, accessible only through the two defended porticoes. It is dominated by two architectural complexes. That to the north consists of four very large rooms round a patio. The eastern one is more complex in plan, round four patios. In the south-eastern corner of the Main Plaza is the Pyramid of the Stele of the Two Glyphs, a stepped pyramidal base with a structure at its apex consisting of a patio defined by two lateral rooms and a temple at the far end. Two pyramidal structures are located in the middle of the plaza. One is the remarkable Pyramid of the Plumed Serpents and the other is the so-called Twin Pyramid. The Acropolis, built on a platform to the west of the Main Plaza, is formed of a series of buildings laid out on variations of a central patio with lateral rooms.

Historical context

The decline of the political and economic primacy of the Teotihuacan cities in the 7th and 8th centuries AD marked the end of the Mesoamerican Classic period and the beginning of an age of some two centuries that saw the fall of other large Classic capitals, such as Monte Alban, Palenque, La Quemada, and Tikal, which had dominated large territories. The result was reduction of urban populations or even complete abandonment.

There was considerable movement of peoples and new relationships were established between different regions such as the Central Highlands, the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, Yucatan, Chiapas, and Guatemala. This period, from c 650 to 900, is known as the Epiclassic Period. New expansionist societies developed, though none achieved the dominance and magnitude of Teotihuacan, Monte Alban, or Tikal. There was a low level of integration between them, confederations being formed and dissolved. Their survival depended upon their success in controlling scarce resources, development of specialized productions, and dominance of commercial routes.

In a period of political instability and commercial competition such as this, the military infrastructure became crucial, and new settlements grew up at easily defensible sites, equipped with ramparts, moats, palisades, bastions, and citadels. Xochicalco is the supreme example of this type of Epiclassic fortified city. It appears to have been the creation of a confederation of settlements in the large region which is now constituted of the States of Guerrero, México, and western Morelos.

A large number of impressive public and religious structures were erected in a very short time, and these show cultural influences from both the Central Highlands, the Gulf coast, and the Mayan region. It was founded in the second half of the 7th century and was abruptly abandoned after having been sacked in the late 9th century.

Justification for being a World Heritage Site

Criterion (iii): Xochicalco is an exceptionally well preserved and complete example of a fortified settlement from the Epiclassic Period of Mesoamerica. Criterion (iv): The architecture and art of Xochicalco represent the fusion of cultural elements from different parts of Mesoamerica, at a period when the breakdown of earlier political structures resulted in intensive cultural regroup-ing.

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