Papantla, Veracruz, Mexico
GPS: 20.442711555223, -97.377686442314
Less visited than Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza or Tulum, El Tajín is nevertheless one of the most important and best preserved archaeological sites in Mexico. Surrounded by green hills, this pre-Columbian city is located in the state of Veracruz, a few kilometres from the town of Papantla. It is the heritage of the Totonac civilisation, which for a long time remained in the shadow of their powerful Aztec neighbours, who were firmly established in the Central Mexican Plateau.
Meaning “City of Thunder” in the Totonac–Tepehua languages, El Tajín is considered to be the centre of Totonac culture in Mesoamerica. Its ceremonial site is said to have been founded at the beginning of the 2nd century and to have reached its peak between 800 and 1200, well after the fall of Teotihuacan (7th century). About 20,000 inhabitants would have populated the city and the surrounding hills. According to archaeologists, El Tajín was abandoned in the early 13th century after being attacked and burned by the Chichimecs (semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer people based in northern Mexico). Unknown when the Spanish conquistadors arrived, the city was only discovered by chance in the late 18th century when the site was enveloped by thick jungle. According to historical consensus, the Totonacs and other indigenous tribes (including Tlaxcaltecs, Texconans, Calchas and Otomis) joined forces with the Spaniards led by Hernán Cortés to overthrow the Aztec Empire during the battle of the Fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521.
The vast ruins of El Tajín are dominated by a pyramidal complex called Pirámide los Nichos (Pyramid of the Niches). This stone building is decorated with 365 square windows on its four sides and contains seven stories. These would represent each day of the year and form a civil calendar with astronomical functions. Archaeologists have recently uncovered nearly 200 new buildings, only a small portion of which can be explored. According to specialists, El Tajín remains largely unexplored and still holds many secrets. No other pre-Columbian site, for example, has so many ball fields. For some years now, the archaeological zone of El Tajín has been linked to the adjacent Parque Takilhsukut, a cultural and musical centre dedicated to the traditions of the Totonacs. A stunning show of flying men is held daily in front of the main entrance to the pre-Hispanic city.