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Cuahilama Archaeological & Ceremonial Site, Xochimilco

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The archaeological site at Cuahilama is one of the least well-known archaeological sites in Mexico City. In the ancient town of Santa Cruz Acalpixca, it’s one of the pueblos originarios, but with this dramatic collection of carvings in the wooded hill just southeast of the town center.

The site is some three kilometers long. It connects Santa Cruz Acalpixa to San Bartolomé Xicomulco, a distant small town in Milpa Alta. It was a ceremonial center and today you’ll find an observatory, a shrine, and a walkway leading to the highest part of the hill.

The site was occupied by numerous Pre-classical peoples, among them Cuicuilco, Copilco and Tlatilco groups. The area is believed to have been first settled by the Xochimilca Lord, Acatonalli around 1265. The traditional town founding was in 1254 CE. Most of the petroglyphs visible in the area are believed to have been carved between 1450 and 1521 CE.

An agricultural people, the Xochimilca here survived by using the chinampa system of farming, and growing chilis, beans, squash, and corn, naturally. Cuahilama, a Náhuatl word meaning “head of an old woman” served as an observatory, a shrine, and as a causeway running east – west and providing access to the top of the hill. Here what was likely a ceremonial area was located next to terraced agricultural plots. Residential districts covered much of the area as did a military training area.

The present site is most famous for the petroglyphs on the hillsides and surrounding slopes. These express Xochimilca cosmological and world views, and have been attributed to ceremonial functions and deity veneration. Among those visible today are the following.

  • Papalotl – the Butterfly.
  • Ocelotl – Jaguar (pictured above) – the 14th day of the solar calendar month and a symbol of war.
  • Ollín Nahui – the fourth movement of the sun.
  • Huetzalin – the Priest said to have guided the Xochimilca people from Tula.
  • Ze Cipactli – a Crocodile corresponding to the first day of the Mesoamerican calendar.
  • Itzpapalotl– Fire Butterfly – symbolizing poetry, song and dance, and taken as symbol of the Sun.
  • Xonecuitl – a Curled Foot, representing the Milky Way, and linked to war and sacrifice.
  • Huacalxochitl – The sacred plant of the Xochimilca people, it was used to fight infections, and important for ritual ceremonies.
  • Acocoxochitl – the Dahlia Flower, the Náhuatl name means hollow stem filed with water flower. With ornamental, nutritional, medicinal, and ceremonial uses, it’s considered the Mexican national flower.
  • Yoloxochitl – Magnolia Flower.
  • Nahualapa – a stone map of Xochimilco Lake and 56 water springs, eight buildings and multiple footpaths.
  • Ocelocóhuatl – the Snake Woman, a goddess of motherhood and fertility.
  • Yaoquizqui – the Warrior.

See the Xochmilico Map for ideas on getting there. A taxi ride from most boat launches is usually less than ten minutes.

The Mercado de Santa Cruz Acalpixca is about an 8-minute walk from the archaeological zone entrance.

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