City of Cempoala with silver luster was the capital of the Totonacs, dominating a large part of the territory of Veracruz


The city of Cempoala, considered the third Totonaca capital, rises majestically among green and abundant vegetation, given by the enormous amount of water coming from the Actopan River and stream, which runs through the municipality of Ursulo Galvan, Veracruz. Surrounded by sugar cane fields and wild animals, Cempoala is located 350 kilometers from Mexico City. To reach the site, take the highway that goes from Cardel City to the Laguna Verde Nuclear Power Plant and Poza Rica.

Described by the Spaniards as a city made of silver, by the brightness of the stucco of its walls, Cempoala has a length of more than 40 hectares, within which are located 12 walled systems, the most important being the number IV, because in it is located the archaeological zone and the archaeological site museum. It consists of a great crenelated wall that surrounds an area of 75 thousand square meters, was one of the most important Totonac settlements during the Postclassic period (1200-1521 A.D.), as it functioned as a political, administrative, and religious center that had a population of 30 thousand people.

In 1521, with the arrival of the Spaniards, the place gained transcendence, because it was the first site of hierarchy visited by Cortés, in addition to the fact that in that place the first alliance was made with the natives to attack Tenochtitlán. Here the Cacique Gordo told Cortes his anger against the Mexica due to the abuses they carried out against his people, since 1,400 when they were subdued by groups from the highlands, in this situation Cortés proposed that they join him, in order to stop paying tribute, for his help and understanding the caquique gave Cortés eight maidens.

Known as the place of the accounts, because in this place the Mexica collected the tributes of the coast, Cempoala was built with river stones, united with mortar and flattened with the lime that they produced at the moment of burning shells and snails, obtaining in this way the brightness of the buildings that enchanted the Spaniards at their arrival. Its architecture is similar to that of the altiplano, since the buildings have battlements and alfardas, in addition to the fact that there are interspaces, which denotes the planning of the city.

Within the fortified system, which archaeologists believe was used to stop the water from flooding, there are six pyramids open to the public: The House of the Eagles, a group formed by three buildings; the Temple of the Moon, dedicated to the tiger knights, as this is where the warriors were graduated; the Templo Mayor, where Cortés installed an enormous wooden cross and officiated the first Catholic mass, after having thrown away the idols that were found in the place.

Another of the buildings located at the site is the Temple of the Sun, where more than 1,700 clay figurines representing gods were found, among them Tonatiuh, God of the Sun; Las Chimeneas, so-called because it had four semicircular columns alluding to chimneys in which there were possibly pieces of wood. The Temple of Death is another of the constructions located on the site, this was given the name after a tomb was found in 1968 with the sculpture of the goddess of death or Mictecacihuatl, associated with obsidian, arquebus bullets, and horseshoes.

Outside this walled system, there are three more buildings considered of importance: El Pimiento, which stands out for its exterior decoration with representations of clay skulls; The Palace of Moctezuma and the Temple of the Caritas, which has murals that allude to the Sun, the Moon and Venus.

The site museum

Small and austere, the site museum of Cempoala is still interesting. Visitors can find some pieces and figurines located on the site, but also other materials out of context, even from private collections. One of the most important pieces is the Chipetote, or skinned god, which is a representation of a person who has on his body the skin of a sacrificed person. This is a deity associated with the highlands; therefore, it has no reference to the Totonac.

In the precinct also several types of Totonac ceramics can be observed, from Quiahuixtlan, the so-called three peaks, and some related to the highlands, which speaks of the economic and barter relationship they had with other peoples. There are also smiley faces and other figurines associated with the Remojadas culture, as well as the so-called cookie type, made in the highlands and others of conical shape from the Huasteca. Domestic instruments such as metates, strainers, ceramics, spindle whorls, basalt axes, as well as mortuary yokes and plumb bobs are other pieces exhibited in the museum space.

By Mexicanist, Source INAH