Thursday, August 11, 2011

don’t know much about history

Sit back and let me give you a little Classics Illustrated history of Lake Pátzcuaro.  The only version I am qualified to give.

A series of civilizations over the past millennia lived around Lake Pátzcuaro.  As far as we know, almost all of them believed the lake and its surroundings were holy ground.  The very door to the spirit world.

But, for the moment, we can disregard the ancient folk.  Our topic today is amazingly close in time to us.

When I think of Mexican civilizations, I often think of the ancient cites like Teotihuacan -- a contemporary of the Roman Empire.  But most of the ruins are more recent.

When the Spanish tribe arrived, they discovered three large civilizations in Mexico -- the Maya, the Aztec, and the Purépecha.  The Aztec and Purépecha were relatively new empires -- both arising in the mid-1300s, less than 200 years before the Spanish arrived.

Technically, the Purépecha are not a tribe.  They are an amalgamation of tribes -- the core being several tribes who lived around the lake. 

Tariácuari was a visionary leader.  The Alexander the Great of central Mexico.  As chief of one of the tribes, he could see the danger arising in the east from the Aztecs.  So, he joined the lake tribes together through persuasion and force, and in a matter of years, created an empire that stretched over the mountains of central Mexico  Pre-Columbian Mexico’s third largest empire.

And it worked.  It was large enough to repel every Aztec incursion, partly due to the Purépecha military technological edge of metal weapons.  It fell to the Spanish only when the Purépecha emperor scored an own goal.

But I am getting ahead of my story.  There were still 150 years of glory ahead of the Purépecha.  Tariácuari rebuilt Pátzcuaro as his imperial capital.  When he died, the squabbling began.  He made the same mistake as Charlemagne – dividing his kingdom amongst his heirs.

In Tariácuari’s case, it was his son and two nephews.  After the usual War of the Roses-style family dispute, one nephew, Hiripan, dominated the area.  And, like all victorious leaders, he needed a new administrative center.

And that is how Ihuatzio, on the south shore of Lake Pátzcuaro became the capital of the Purépecha empire in the early 1400s.

If you are looking for the splendor of Uxmal, this is not your site.  Like most Indian structures, Ihuatzio was allowed to fall into ruin.  Worse, much of its stone was stripped away to be used in Spanish projects. 

Only a portion of the site has been uncovered and restored.  But what is there is well worth seeing. 

If you have read any of my other pieces on archaeological sites, you will know that my prejudice is in favor of the smaller sites.  Where you can actually imagine and feel the inhabitants living out their ceremonial lives.

I was a bit surprised that the lake is not within sight of old Ihuatzio.  It is nestled on a rolling plain above the lake.  An extremely easy drive right up to the front gate.

When entering the site, the most obvious structures are two high walls that parallel one another for the distance of the restored area.  They are known as the King’s Causeways. 

Their purpose is unclear, however.  Archaeologists have theorized that the causeways were the emperor's ceremonial approach to the administrative center.  They also acted as barriers to keep crowds out during religious ceremonies.

The causeways form a rectangle, the Parade Ground, approximately the size of four football pitches.  The size was obviously used to create a sense of power, and for rituals, festivals, and ceremonies.  Some archaeologists believe economic activities may have also been allowed.

The focal point, though, are the two truncated pyramids at the west end of the Parade Ground, presumably used for religious ceremonies.  They are built on a rectangular foundation and are tiered.

When archaeologists began work on the site, the pyramids were mere mounds.  Almost all of the facing stones were removed.  And a lot of the material had crumbled.

If you look closely at the pyramids, you can see how they have been reconstructed.  The restores carefully left portions as they were found.

Most of Ihuatzio has not been restored.  Climbing to the top of the south causeway, you can see the mounds of three other pyramids -- similar to those at Tzintzuntzan.  There is also a large mound 100 feet wide known as the Observatory -- even though no one really knows its purpose.

While I was there, I had my own Indiana Jones moment.  An archaeological team is uncovering additional artifacts in the Parade Ground.  I wanted to take a photograph of what they are uncovering, but the young woman in charge told me it was private.  No photographs allowed.  All I can tell you is that there were no golden idols involved.

Ihuatzio reigned as the place to be seen for less than a century when the torch passed to Tzintzuntzan.

And if the weather holds out, that is where we will go tomorrow.


Norm Kwallek said...

No photos: no pesky proof of what they might have dug up. Rules tend to have reasons behind them.
I like to try to determine what is rebuilt and what is as it was as well. Nice post, Mr. Cotton.

Felipe Zapata said...

In the third photo from the bottom you can see there is a space between the two pyramids. It's quite narrow. I got down on my knees there in early 2002 to propose to my lovely wife. She said yes.

LeslieLimon said...

Very romantic, Señor!  No wonder she said "Si!" :)

Felipe Zapata said...

I learned quite late in life how to woo a girl.

Nita said...

Thank you for all the information on the ruins. You make it so interesting. Waiting for more.

Steve Cotton said...

It is on the way -- right now.

Steve Cotton said...

Nice location.  Better marriage.

Steve Cotton said...

Interestingly, the diggers at Tzintzuntzan yesterday had no problem with me taking photographs. But there I go again -- expecting consistency.

redmanrt said...

"the Purépecha military technological edge of metal weapons."

Where are these weapons?

Steve Cotton said...

The Purépecha used both copper and bronze on their weaponry. Giving them a marked advantage over the Aztec invasions.

redmanrt said...

The proof is in the artifacts recovered by archeologists. Where are they?

Steve Cotton said...

Mexico City and Tzintzuntzan.