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Xochicalco is an important pre-Columbian site in Mexico, listed by UNESCO for its well-preserved ruins dating from an important period in Mesoamerican history.

History of Xochicalco

Xochicalco means ‘in the house of the flowers’ in Nahautl, and once once a flourishing city, believed to house as many as 20,000 people at its peak, which was between roughly 650-900AD.

The city is remarkable because it was something of a cultural melting pot. At this point in Mesoamerican history, cities like were Tikal, Teotihuacan and Palenque being broken up: Xochicalco is believed to have been founded by Maya traders who were exchanging goods with Aztec cultures further north, including those at Teotihuacan. The city bears stylistic elements of both Maya and Aztec cultures. Some have hypothesised that Xochicalco’s success may have contributed to the decline of Teotihuacan.

The city was not immune to the instability facing the Mesoamerican world: archaeologists and historians have found evidence that Xochicalco collapsed sometime around 900AD, and it appears that vandalism, fire and death stalked the city’s streets as it neared its end.

The ruins were rediscovered in the late 18th century, with visits and excavations taking place from then on. Major work was undertaken in the mid 20th century.

Xochicalco’s impressive hierarchy of ruins includes a ball court, a palace, temples, monuments and homes, all carefully arranged amid terraces, plazas and ramps to great effect.

Xochicalco today

The Temple of the Feathered Serpent is a particular highlight for many: its decorative elements are remarkably well preserved and show a fusion of Maya styles with those from Teotihuacan. The pyramid is also extremely impressive: look out for the decorative feathered serpents.

Xochicalco’s impressive hierarchy of ruins includes a ball court, a palace, temples, monuments and homes, all carefully arranged amid terraces, plazas and ramps to great effect.

There’s a small museum on site with finds in, and guided tours are available for a fee. It gets hot and there’s little shade, so bring plenty of water, good shoes and a hat if you’re visiting in the summer. Keep an eye out for the iguanas which roam the site too!

Getting to Xochicalco

Xochicaclo is located in the state of Morelos, about 2 hours south of Mexico City. Interstate buses will get you to the nearest town, Cuernavaca, and from there you can get a bus or a taxi to Xochicalco itself. The ruins are just off Ruta 166 if you’re driving yourself.

Archaeological Zone of Xochicalco Historical Facts and Pictures

Xochicalco, a well-preserved pre-Columbian archaeological site, is located in the Miacatlan Municipality in the state of Morelos in Mexico. The architectural style, as well as the symbols or visual images, show similarities with the Matlatzinca culture, Teotihuacan, and the Maya area. The entire city was constructed on several natural hills, of which the highest peaks comprised many public buildings. The settlement at Xochicalco reached its culmination after the decline of Teotihuacan empire during the 7th-8th centuries.

Archaeological Monuments Zone of Xochicalco Top View

Archaeological Monuments Zone of Xochicalco


Early History
Human settlements in Morelos date back as far as 2000 B.C., when Toltec groups began farming the land. Around 600 A.D., Xichicalco became the region’s largest settlement and, according to some historians, the first society to worship the god Quetzalc༺tl, who was regarded as the father of civilization. In the 12th century, the Toltec empire came to an end, allowing other groups to move into the region. During the 14th century, the Tlahuicas dominated the area, but in the late 1420s they were overpowered and absorbed by the Aztec empire, despite fierce resistance.

Did you know? The Xochicalco archaeological site, located southwest of Cuernavaca, features large stone structures begun about 650 A.D. by the Olmeca-Xicallanca, a group of Mayan traders.

Although the Aztecs are best known as the inhabitants of the great city of Tenochtitlán and the conquerors of a great Mesoamerican Empire, the term Aztec actually represents a very large population composed of many local ethnic groups, all linked together by a broader Aztec culture and a common language. The Tlahuicas are considered a subgroup of the Náhuatl-speaking Aztec Indians of south central Mexico.

The largest city of the Tlahuica settlement was Cuauhnahuac, which was later renamed Cuernavaca by the Spaniards who were unable to pronounce the original Náhuatl name. With a current population of approximately 350,000, Cuernavaca is now the state capital of Morelos. The Tlahuica also founded Huaxtepec, which today is called Oaxtepec, and Xochicalco, which became a thriving center of culture, commerce, and agriculture during the pre-Hispanic era.

Middle History
When the conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in Mexico, he sent Gonzalo de Sandoval to conquer the region of present-day Morelos in 1521. Sandoval settled the area in 1523 and established North America’s first sugar cane mill at Tlaltenango. The first Franciscan priests arrived in 1529 to convert the indigenous people to the Roman Catholic faith, but diseases and mistreatment by Spanish settlers drastically reduced the indigenous population during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Sugar production in Morelos had to contend with the sugarcane fields of the Caribbean, where slave labor kept costs low. To compensate, Spaniards in Morelos adopted the hacienda system, which gave a few powerful individuals vast tracts of land as well as complete authority over the inhabitants. The indigenous peoples became peones, obligated to work land that did not belong to them. The hacienda system continued into the 20th century, when the Mexican Revolution (1910-1921) finally abolished the system.

Recent History
Though the Mexican War of Independence began in 1810, the movement did not reach Morelos until 1811, when Cuernavaca became a center of the revolt. José Morelos y Pavón, a parish priest turned military leader, fought for independence throughout the region until he was captured and executed in 1815.

Like the rest of Mexico, Morelos was marked by political instability in the 19th century. The state remained one of the largest producers of sugar cane in the world, and the hacienda system continued to cultivate enormous inequalities between the wealthy landowners and the working peasants.

The Mexican Revolution began in 1910, and one of its central promises was land reform. Emiliano Zapata, a resident of Morelos, emerged as one of the most important leaders of the revolution. Along with Francisco “Pancho” Villa, he fought against the established government to promote the redistribution of land. Zapata led the Southern Liberation Army and continued to fight for peasant rights even after the end of the revolution, until he was ambushed and killed in 1919.

After the revolution Morelos rapidly became industrialized, developing the infrastructure that helped it to become an agricultural and industrial hub.


The city was erected according to a complex plan on top of an elevation of about 130 m with a maximum extension of 4 km. During that time it must have been the most populated locality in Central America. Through terraces, walls, fortifications, and platforms, the builders achieved to give the hill itself the shape of a pyramid. There was also an ingenious drainage system, numerous cisterns for water storage, and large silos for corn and other provisions. The most luxurious residential areas and religious centers where located at the upper part of the site, and they probably had a restricted access. The more modest housing was on the lower terraces, what accounts for a strict social division.

- also interesting -

Smith, Virginia. The iconography of power at Xochicalco: the Pyramid of the Plumed Serpents

Publication Information The main body of the Publication Information page contains all the metadata that HRAF holds for that document.

Author: Author's name as listed in Library of Congress records Smith, Virginia

Title: The iconography of power at Xochicalco: the Pyramid of the Plumed Serpents

Published in: if part or section of a book or monograph The Xochicalco mapping project, edited by Kenneth Hirth

Published By: Original publisher The Xochicalco mapping project, edited by Kenneth Hirth Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. 2000. 57-82 p. ill.

By line: Author's name as appearing in the actual publication Virginia Smith

HRAF Publication Information: New Haven, Conn.: Human Relations Area Files, 2009. Computer File

Culture: Culture name from the Outline of World Cultures (OWC) with the alphanumberic OWC identifier in parenthesis. Central Mexico Postclassic (NU93)

Abstract: Brief abstract written by HRAF anthropologists who have done the subject indexing for the document In this paper, carvings on the Pyramid of the Plumed Serpents are analyzed as expressions of social and political themes. This study is an analysis of how power was portrayed and how images of power directly express and reflect the sociopolitical organization of the site (p. 57). Compositional elements of these carvings are described in detail along with the author's interpretation of their meaning.

Document Number: HRAF's in-house numbering system derived from the processing order of documents 35

Document ID: HRAF's unique document identifier. The first part is the OWC identifier and the second part is the document number in three digits. nu93-035

Document Type: May include journal articles, essays, collections of essays, monographs or chapters/parts of monographs. Essay

Language: Language that the document is written in English

Note: For bibliographical references see document 31:Hirth

Field Date: The date the researcher conducted the fieldwork or archival research that produced the document 1987-1988

Evaluation: In this alphanumeric code, the first part designates the type of person writing the document, e.g. Ethnographer, Missionary, Archaeologist, Folklorist, Linguist, Indigene, and so on. The second part is a ranking done by HRAF anthropologists based on the strength of the source material on a scale of 1 to 5, as follows: 1 - poor 2 - fair 3 - good, useful data, but not uniformly excellent 4 - excellent secondary data 5 - excellent primary data Archaeologist-4, 5

Analyst: The HRAF anthropologist who subject indexed the document and prepared other materials for the eHRAF culture/tradition collection. John Beierle 2008

Coverage Date: The date or dates that the information in the document pertains to (often not the same as the field date). 1350-1100 BP (650-900 AD)

Coverage Place: Location of the research culture or tradition (often a smaller unit such as a band, community, or archaeological site)

Xochicalco, Gobernador Phase, Western Morelos, Mexico

LCSH: Library of Congress Subject Headings Indians of Mexico--Mexico--Xochicalco--Antiquities/Indians of Mexico--Urban residence--Mexico--Xochicalco/City planning--Mexico--Xochicalco--History/Excavations (Archaeology)--Mexico--Xochicalco--Maps/Archaeological surveying--Mexico--Xochicalco--Maps/Xochicalco Site (Mexico)Xochicalco (Mexico)--Antiquities

Copy and paste a formatted citation or use one of the links below to export the citation to your chosen bibliographic manager.

Xochicalco and the digitization go history

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

Located at the center of Morelos state in Mexico, it´s one of the most beautiful and places in the world that provides a little proof of the Prehispanic constructions and great views around the hill where Xochicalco is located. Since August 2017, Xochicalco wants to be heard! Through a system based on QR codes, all the people that visit this archaeological site can hear the history and some facts about the pieces within the Museum and all over the roads and points of interest at the pyramids and temples.

A front view of Xofhicalco from afar.
Image: PROSteve Brown on Flickr

The added value is that you don´t have to read all the information in one place, just go walking and exploring while you listen and enjoy. Now the significance of the feathered serpents at the pyramid (one of the motives why Xochicalco was included at the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1999) can be explained while you visit them. The audio contains info about the Animal´s Ramp, the Prehispanic Observatory, the Plaza of the Two Glyphs Stele, Ball Courts and at the Museum the Altar Waves, the Solar Marker, the Lord of the Serpents, the Fleshless Jaguars, and the Half Moon sculpture, among others.

Tourists standing atop the steps at the ruins.
Image: Gerardo Curiel on Flickr

60 audios are divided between the site and the museum, 30 in each one, including comments of the specialists and researchers of the National Institute of Anthropology and History that had worked in this place. Next time you visit Xochicalco please don’t forget to enjoy the audios about this fantastic archaeological site! And oh yes! You can hear the clips in Spanish as well as in English.

Xochicalco Pyramids

View all photos

An ancient city whose name in the Aztec language of Nahuatl means “In the house of the flowers,” Xochicalco may have housed up to 20,000 people from the period of 700 to 900 CE. It is believed to have been founded by Mayan traders and artisans engaged in long-distance trade with the Teotihuacan civilization and the site contains a stylistic hybrid of elements of both cultures.

In 900 CE, the site appears to have been destroyed and subsequently abandoned. Archeological excavations have uncovered evidence of burning, slaughter, and vandalism which perhaps hints that Xochicalco had reached a stage of societal collapse, civil war, or invasion.

The pyramid stands in excellent condition and the fearsome feathered serpent that encircles it and representations of regal Mayan lords make it a truly exceptional site to visit and explore. There are a museum and tours that give you insight into the day-to-day life, sport, and beliefs of the civilization that once lived and died here.

You will see a pyramid ball game courts sweat baths glyphs portraying jaguars and owls, altars, sculptures a cave that lines up to fill with light on the summer solstice and if you are lucky, some awesome black spiny-tailed iguanas that resemble Godzilla.

Know Before You Go

Watch out for the many semi-tame black spiny tailed iguanas that inhabit this site which are another highlight of a trip to Xochicalco. Wear sun block, light clothes and a hat if you visit during the Mexican summer (June to September) or you may end up with sun-stroke.


Hirth, Kenneth. "Xochicalco: Urban Growth and State Formation in Central Mexico." Science 225 (1984): 579-586.

Hirth, Kenneth. "Militarism and Social Organization at Xochicalco, Morelos." In Mesoamerica after the Decline of Teotihuacán, A.D. 700–900, ed. Richard A. Diehl and Janet Catherine Berlo. Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1989.

Hirth, Kenneth. Ancient Urbanism at Xochicalco. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2000.

Litvak King, Jaime. "Xochicalco en la caída del Clásico, una hipótesis." Anales de Antropología 8 (1970): 102-124.

Piña Chán, Román. Xochicalco: El mítico Tamoanchán. Mexico City: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 1989.

External links

  • Earliest 16th-century Monasteries on the slopes of Popocatépetl1
  • Pre-Hispanic City of El Tajín
  • Historic Centre of Puebla
  • Historic Monuments Zone of Tlacotalpan
  • Historic Centre of Oaxaca and Archaeological Site of Monte Albán
  • Prehistoric Caves of Yagul and Mitla in the Central Valley of Oaxaca
  • Pre-Hispanic City and National Park of Palenque
  • Archaeological Monuments Zone of Xochicalco Hydraulic System
  • Central University City Campus of the UNAM
  • Earliest 16th-century Monasteries on the slopes of Popocatépetl1
  • Historic Centres of Mexico City and Xochimilco1
  • Pre-Hispanic City of Teotihuacán
  • Ancient Maya City of Calakmul, Campeche
  • Historic Fortified Town of Campeche
  • Pre-Hispanic City of Chichén Itzá
  • Pre-Hispanic Town of Uxmal

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Get in [ edit ]

Xochicalco is about 45 mins by Taxi / UBER from Cuernavaca with the Cuernavaca Airport halfway between the two. Pullman de Morelos allegedly runs a bus service direct to Xochicalco from Mexico City. They definitely run a bus service direct from their station in Cuernavaca, located on the corner of Mariano Abasolo and Netzahualcoyotl, just south of the Parque Jardin Revolucion (Jan 2020: direct bus only on weekends at 10:00 and 11:00 however, if you take the bus to the town of El Rodeo, you can ask the bus driver to let you off at the turn off for Xochicalco, from there you can flag a taxi, they pass frequently on the main road where the bus lets you off, taxi costs about $25 pesos). It costs 40$MXN. An option for the return to Cuernavaca is to take a taxi to Rodeo, and wait outside Restaurante La Pasadita on the Cuernavaca bound highway to flag down a passing bus. Lasser bus lines also runs a bus (blue and white with "lasser" written huge on the side) from their station, listed on Google Maps as Transportes Mibus Terminal SA de CV, on the north side of Adolfo Lopez Mateos, just east of De Los Arcos, near the market of Cuernavaca. It is a lower class bus that doesn't take the toll road, but rather stops frequently along the way, taking about an hour and a half however, it stops and picks up right at the entrance to the archeological site (not the museum). Last bus returning to Cuernavaca leave Xochicalco at 18:30. 10$MXN (Jan 2020). It is possible to take an UBER both there an back - it costs between 200 and 300$MXN each way.

Visiting both Cuernavaca and Xochicalco in a day trip from Mexico City will be busy but do-able.

Watch the video: XIII Coloquio de Investigación Mexicali (July 2022).


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