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General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 28 May 2017/11 Rain
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Aztec stone fish sculpture

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Great Snakes...

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Aztec foundations - as solid as stone serpents! Just a few blocks from Mexico City’s main square you come face to face with the head of a massive Aztec snake sculpture: and you begin imagining...
One such gigantic serpent’s head, nearly a metre high and 1.5 metres long, recently made a visit to London from its home in Mexico City’s biggest museum. Identified as the head of a rattlesnake, it has scales and four sharp teeth at the front and a pair of fangs at either side.
Sculptures like this graced the stairs of the pyramids at Tenochtitlan, guarding the temples of the greatest Aztec gods.
As one Mexican writer says about the Aztecs: ‘...their hearts still beat underground. In Mexico City, there is a god under every stone, and when the stones speak, they are the memory of our people...’
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Article suitable for older students

Stone serpent head built into Mexico City street

Colossal serpent

Aztec foundations - as solid as stone serpents! Just a few blocks from Mexico City’s Zócalo (main square) you come face to face with the head of a massive Aztec basalt snake sculpture: another reminder that Mexico’s Aztec legacy is still a force to be reckoned with... (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Picture 1: The ultimate Aztec cornerstone!
Picture 1: The ultimate Aztec cornerstone!

On the corner of Pino Suárez and República del Salvador streets the stone serpent welcomes visitors to what is now Mexico City’s ‘Museo de la Ciudad de México’ (City Museum).

Picture 2: Looking out through the City Museum entrance
Picture 2: Looking out through the City Museum entrance (Click on image to enlarge)

The Museum is housed today in a magnificent Mexican baroque building (restored in 1992) that dates back first to the 18th. century when it became known as the ‘Palacio de los Condes de Calimaya’, and then further still to the early years of the Spanish Conquest.

Picture 3: Mexico’s national emblem above the City Museum
Picture 3: Mexico’s national emblem above the City Museum (Click on image to enlarge)

The original was constructed for one of Hernán Cortés’s key supporters, Juan Gutiérrez Altamirano (ex-Governor of Cuba), who arrived in New Spain just 6 years after the Conquest. On a prime site close to the ceremonial centre of the Aztecs, Altamirano’s mansion included - by whose command we may never know - a stone serpent that may well have stood originally at the base of the Aztec Main Temple.

Picture 4: Photo © courtesy of Jorge Pérez de Lara
Picture 4: Photo © courtesy of Jorge Pérez de Lara (Click on image to enlarge)

One such monumental Aztec serpent’s head, measuring nearly a metre high, a metre wide and 1.5 metres long, came to London from its home in Mexico City’s National Anthropology Museum for the Aztecs exhibition at the Royal Academy. Identified as the head of a rattlesnake, it has scales and four sharp teeth at the front and a pair of fangs at either side.

Picture 5: The cornerstone is similar in size to the one that came to London in 2002
Picture 5: The cornerstone is similar in size to the one that came to London in 2002 (Click on image to enlarge)

‘Similar sculptures graced the stairs of the pyramids at Tenochtitlan, guarding the temples of the supreme Aztec deities’ (from the RA catalogue).

Picture 6: Part of a folding-screen mural by Roberto Cueva del Río
Picture 6: Part of a folding-screen mural by Roberto Cueva del Río (Click on image to enlarge)

Perhaps the last word on this could go to one of Mexico’s leading literary figures, Elena Poniatowska, bearing witness to the pantheon of gods that have ‘watched over’ Mexico for centuries: ‘...their hearts still beat underground. In Mexico City, there is a god under every stone, and when the stones speak, they are the memory of our people...’

Picture 7: ‘Those gods are still alive...’
Picture 7: ‘Those gods are still alive...’
Mesoweb - a great resource for older students

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Mexicolore replies: Cheers, Gael! Thanks so much for writing in and providing this fascinating new information. Happy New Year!