Mexico is bursting at the seams with ancient pyramids and ruins. In Central Mexico and Mexico City, there are dozens of Aztec (and pre-Aztec) archaeological zones. If you’re visiting CDMX and want to see these zones, where should you start? In this post, we’ll explore the most important ruins located inside Mexico City. Note that these are exclusively urban ruins, they’re all located within city limits.
Cerro de la Estrella
A hill-top Aztec pyramid inside a national park. It’s in Iztapalapa, a rough delegation in southern Mexico City. The surrounding neighborhood can be dangerous. But there’s a police academy training ground located in the park. So, once you pass through the barrio, the park itself is fairly safe. However, it’s surprisingly rural and feels a bit isolated, so use caution. This is one of the hardest pyramids to get to, because it’s on top of a very steep hill. No driving is allowed, so you must be in shape if you want to see it. However, the climb is worth it. The view from the hilltop is spectacular, it’s one of the best in the city. This zone includes the pyramid-shaped Museo de Nuevo Fuego. It displays a small collection of artifacts found on site. Address: Camino Cerro de la Estrella, Col. Ampliación Veracruzana
An enigmatic ruin in southern Mexico City, near the end of Avenida Insurgentes Sur. Cuicuilco is different from the others. For one thing, it’s round. It’s also the oldest structure on this list, built long before the Aztecs arrived in Central Mexico. The age of this ancient building is heavily disputed. Conservative estimates say it’s 2,000 years old. Others speculate that it’s closer to 12,000. Either way, it’s almost certainly the oldest building in Mexico, and likely the oldest building in North America. Make sure to walk around the whole complex. Some of the most interesting parts, like the old staircase and a creepy tunnel, are located behind the main structure. The Museo de Sitio de Cuicuilco displays artifacts found on site. Address: Av. Insurgentes Sur S/N, Col. Isidro Fabela
This archaeological zone sits adjacent to a modern superhighway in a residential barrio. The ruins were an Aztec settlement and shrine on what was once the western shore of Lake Texcoco. It was occupied from 900 AD to 1521 AD. The name means “Place Of The Cloud Serpent.” This double-reference alludes to the Milky Way and the hunting god Mixcoatl. This place was almost totally destroyed after the Conquest. All that’s left today are foundations, low walls, and several staircases. This site has a pleasant and park-like feel with well-manicured grounds. Due to its central location and proximity to metro stations, it’s easy to visit. For a birds-eye view of the ruins, walk along the elevated sidewalk running along Blvd. Adolfo López Mateos, bordering the west side of the site. A pyramid-shaped cultural center sits adjacent to the ruins, it offers additional views from the back patio. Address: Calle Pirámide 7, Col. San Pedro de los Pinos
Pirámide de Ehécatl (Metro Pino Suárez)
At 860 square feet, (80 Sq m) this is Mexico’s smallest archaeological zone. It’s also among the most visited. That’s due to it’s unlikely location inside Metro Pino Suárez, a busy downtown subway station. The Aztecs built this round 12-foot tall (3.7 m) tzacualli (small pyramid) around 1400 AD. It was dedicated to Ehécatl, the Aztec god of air and wind. The pyramid’s unique circular shape evokes the all-encompassing and formless nature of wind. Workers unearthed it in 1967 while building the subway. Rather than destroy it, they built the station around it. You can visit the altar for the cost of a metro ticket ($5 pesos). Or, view it for free from the plaza above. Address: José María Pino Suárez 304, El Centro Histórico
Santa Cecilia Acatitlán
A reconstructed 26-foot (8 m) Aztec pyramid in northern Mexico City. The temples here were once stacked like Russian dolls. Each successively larger pyramid was built over the older versions. The outer pyramids were destroyed after the Conquest. Their stone was used for the sixteenth-century church next door, along with other local buildings. This pyramid is an earlier, interior version that avoided destruction. In 1962, archaeologist Eduardo Pareyon Moreno fixed the surviving pyramid and re-built the temple on top. So, this place isn’t completely original. But it’s beautifully delineated, historically accurate, and well-preserved. The Museo de la Escultura Mexica sits adjacent to the site. This house museum is inside a former pulque hacienda. It features a traditional pre-Revolutionary courtyard, kitchen, and living quarters. But it’s also an archaeology museum. It has a small, but high-quality, collection of pre-Columbian artifacts. Address: Callejón de Tepozteco S/N, Santa Cecilia Acatitlán
An urban archaeological zone at the northeast corner of the Zócalo. Templo Mayor was a massive Aztec pyramid topped with twin temples dedicated to Huitzilopochtli and Tláloc. It was the center of the Aztec universe and the heart of México-Tenochtitlán. The Spanish destroyed it after conquering the city. They used the stones to build the Catedral Metropolitana next door. The ruins of Templo Mayor suffered abuse later on. In 1901, a brick drainage channel was laid through them, and it’s still there today. The zone is now well-protected. The remaining foundations have been excavated and preserved. An elevated walkway leading through the site allows for easy viewing. The ticket price includes entry to the adjacent Museo Templo Mayor. This world-class archaeology museum is filled with amazing artifacts and monoliths, most of them found on site. Address: Seminario 8, El Centro Histórico
A finely-preserved Aztec pyramid in in northern Mexico City. Tenayuca is the earliest known example of an Aztec double pyramid, and it’s almost totally intact. It consists of an enormous platform with double staircases, leading up to where twin temples once stood. There are six pyramids in one here. Each successively larger structure was built over the older ones, like Russian dolls. The first was constructed by the Chichimeca. But the Aztecs created the later versions. The pyramid has tight stone work, sharp edges, and intricate carvings. One hundred thirty-eight large stone rattlesnakes ring three sides of the pyramid base. Known as Coatepantli (Wall of Serpents), they’re associated with sun and fire worship. Two statues of Xiuhcoatl, the fire serpent, sit at ground level flanking the pyramid. Museo Xólotl sits adjacent to the ruins. This small archaeology museum has an excellent collection of pre-Hispanic artifacts. Address: Calle Quetzalcóatl S/N, San Bartolo Tenayuca
A spacious urban archaeological zone at Plaza de las Tres Culturas. Tlatelolco was a city-state adjacent to México-Tenochtitlán. It was partially destroyed during the Spanish Conquest. This archaeological zone was first excavated in 1928 and then again in 1944. It features pyramids, temples, and ceremonial buildings. The main pyramid is called Templo Mayor de Tlatelolco. The Templo de Ehécatl-Quetzalcóatl has a unique half-round, half-rectangle shape. The Templo Calendárico features thirteen calendar glyphs carved into the facade. The Centro Cultural Universitario Tlatelolco sits adjacent to the ruins. There are several museums inside this cultural center. Finally, the Museo de Sitio de Tlatelolco displays artifacts excavated from the site, including colonial and pre-Columbian pieces. Address: Eje. Central Lázaro Cárdenas & Av. Ricardo Flores Magón, Col. Tlatelolco
Since these archaeological zones are inside the city, they can be reached using Metro, Metrobús, or ridesharing apps like Uber. If you’d like to get even more exclusive details on each ruin, as well as detailed information on visiting them, get a copy of my book Mexico City: The Ultimate Travel Guide.
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