Saturday, June 12, 2010

Beneath Your Feet

It's obvious that the main square in Mexico City is old. The cathedral and buildings ringing the square date from Spanish colonial days; and the stones from which these buildings are constructed from speak of earlier days, because of course many of these stones were from the glorious Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, ripped down after the Spanish conquest in the early 16th century. You come to realize what it means that Mexico City is the oldest continually occupied city in the Americas.

I went to Mexico city in 1985, a few years after the amazing discovery--obvious in retrospect--that a few inches under the plaza, vast ruins of Tenochtitlan had remained undisturbed and unnoticed for four hundred years. Some careful excavation produced portions of the Templo Mayor itself (details shown above and below; photos by me), the main pyramid of the Aztec city. Other excavation revealed treasure troves of statues and artifacts.

Mexico is not the only place where the monumental past is literally beneath your feet. Elsewhere I've read that in the flat portions of both Iraq and large swathes of the American midwest, any rise or hill is not likely to be a natural formation, but the remnant of a Mespotamian ziggurat in the Iraqi case, or an Indian temple mound or burial mound in the American one. I guess there's a lesson there about what we think of as permanently important.

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