Thursday, May 14, 2009

La Quemada

March 12th

Our First Mexican ruin!
"La Ciudad Quemada" stands 55kms south of Zacatecas, the name literally meaning "The Burnt City". Most of the physical structures of this lost city still lie hidden beneath the earth and it's origins are silmilarly unclear....

Maybe it was just a smaller part of the larger empire centred around Teotihuacan outside Mexico city. Maybe it was a trading post of the Toltecs. Or just maybe it is the legendary site of "Chicomostoc"; a mythical place told of in fables concerning the origins of the Aztec people. All have been mooted by archeologists. La Quemada remains shrouded in mystery.

What is known is that it was occupied for some 900 hundred years between 300 and 1200AD. It was built from rhyolite, a volcanic rock torn from nearby mountains to the North. Rhyolite is a hard, granite-like substance, which explains why much is so well preserved. The mortar between the stones, however is made from clay and grass fibres which is rubbish and explains why a lot of well preserved stones are now piled in ruin. 

Nevertheless It's a hugely impressive site. 

The "Hall of Columns", thought to be the remains of a huge ceremonial hall....

Typical of cities in Meso America - an area covering much of modern day Mexico and Central America, there is a steep sided pyramid used to make offerings...

The main site is built in a series of terraces up the steep sides of the hill, lower levels serving as foundation for those above. It's a precipitous climb up crumbling steps towards the citadel above, but now you start to get a real sense of the scale of this place and the views it commands over the huge valley floor....

At it's zenith, La Quemada was said to have been a hub for regional trade, with exotic items such as shells, salt and obsidian discovered here and sited as evidence of long distance trade. From the hilltop, it is possible to see discolorations and indentations stretching off, miles  into the distance - a latticework of ancient paths and roads fanning out across the land. Reflecting the city's importance, huge fortifications were built to prevent incursions by competing tribes. Today blackened stone hints at the violence of the city's final days and the failure of those defences. La Quemada was detroyed by fire which explains the name "Burnt City".... 

Only a fraction (estimated at 10 percent) of the site has been exhumed from the earth that the passage of time has built around it, and yet it already stretches for several hundred metres across the hill top. Slowly, slowly the ground is revealing it's secrets as archeologists scratch away at the dirt and already I am dreaming of returning when more is understood.


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