Papantla, Veracruz, Mexico
GPS: 20.443259527545, -97.377092052253
Visiting El Tajin archaeological site occurs less than Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza or Tulum, nevertheless it is 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 people lived in 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, a semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer people from northern Mexico. It is not known when the Spanish conquistadors arrived and the city was only discovered by chance in the late 18th-century by which stage the area 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 the Pyramid of the Niches, (Pirámide los Nichos). This 20m-tall stone building has 365 small niches forming types of “windows” on its four sides and has seven stepped terraces. The 365 “windows” suggest that the pyramid represented an astronomical calendar used to track the days of the year. Archaeologists have recently uncovered nearly 200 new buildings, only a small portion of which can be explored by visitors. According to archaeologists, El Tajín remains largely unexplored and still holds many secrets. No other pre-Columbian site has so many Pok-A-Tok ball fields, an ancient ball game played by the Mayans, Toltecs and Aztecs more than 1,000 years ago. For some years now, the archaeological zone of El Tajín is linked to the Parque Takilhsukut, a cultural and musical centre dedicated to the traditions of the Totonacs. A stunning show of trapeze artists is held daily in front of the main entrance to the pre-Hispanic city.