Once out of the grips of Mexico's largest metropolis, Mexico City, it doesn't take long to find a peaceful village where burros and other farm animals wander along the main street and into the central plaza where people congregate in the evenings and where the sound of roosters crowing in the early morning wake the inhabitants. One such town is Tepoztlán. Located in the Mexican State of Morelos, Tepoztlán is about forty-five kilometres south of Mexico City and eighteen kilometres east of Cuernavaca. It is a town of mystical legends and deep cultural roots where the community has preserved their cultural identity and succeeded in their resistance to acculturation. It is situated in the heart of a horseshoe-shaped valley in the Sierra del Ajusco and is found below the Ridge of Tepoztlán where erratic shapes caused by erosion characterize the ridge. Each of the peaks that make up the ridge has a different name:
Tlahuiltepetl -the flaming mountain; Ehecatl -the windy mountain; Papalotzin, Cihuapapalotzin, or Zuapapalotzin -the butterfly mountain; Tlamintepetl -the wounding mountain or trench from which the people are hurt; Chalchiuhtepetl -the emerald or treasure mountain; Ocelotepetl -the tiger mountain; and a kind of needle or obelisk many metres in height, which is called Topiltzin -that is staff or little son.
To the north of town on the summit of Cerro del Tepozteco is an archaeological site and pyramid named after Tepoztécatl who once sat in the sacred chamber. In Nahautl, the pre-Spanish language of the Aztecs, Tepoztécatl means "native of Tepoztlán", and Tepoztlán means place of copper, for tepuztli is copper.
Tepoztécatl was the god of pulque, an alcoholic beverage made from the sap of the maguey. The people of Tepoztlán once honoured him and celebrated the harvest by consuming large quantities of pulque. It is believed that plant receives cosmic energy and generously gives it back in its juice thereby bringing strength to the body but not displacing one's clarity. Drinking pulque reportedly gives one a big appetite. The pyramid which was built between 1150 and 1350 is adorned with deities of the god of fertility and harvest. The only way to reach the pyramid is to follow the path north of town and then ascend through a variety of ecosystems up a long and narrow flight of steps located on the south side of the temple. The timing for the ascent depends on the weather. It can be wet and muddy during the rainy season but hot and sticky in the dry. For some the 600m elevation gain can be steep and arduous but that is only the halfway point as there is then the slippery descent to cope with. Each year the Tepozteco Festival is held on September 7 and 8, where the villagers remember the god of pulque and celebrate with a feast and regional dances such as the lively Dance of the Chinelos.
According to one myth, Tepoztlán is the birthplace of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent god widely-worshipped in ancient Mexico. Today Quetzalcoatl is the most well-known deity of the Aztec, Toltec and other Middle American peoples, and is often thought to have been the principal Aztec god. However, Quetzalcoatl is just one god in a pantheon of gods, not considered superior to others. He is considered the creator sky-god and wise legislator and organized the original cosmos and participated in the creation and destruction of various world periods. The story goes that he descended to Mictlan, the underworld, and gathered the bones of human beings of the previous epochs. Upon his return, he sprinkled his blood upon these bones and fashioned thus the humans of the new era.
Quetzalcoatl was described as light-skinned and bearded and after his death it was believed he would return from the spiritual world. Thus when the Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortéz appeared in 1519, the Aztec king, Montezuma, was easily convinced that Cortéz was in fact the returning god. Cortéz used this belief to his advantage by ordering Montezuma to bring huge quantities of gold to the Aztec capital where he eventually killed Montezuma. However, before this while passing through the town of Tepoztlán he is said to have ordered the town razed to the ground after the refusal of the town leaders to meet him.
If the town was razed it was rebuilt where today there are obvious signs of the Spanish influence. While in Tepoztlán it is worth a visit to the beautiful 16th Century Dominican Church near the centre of town, and beside it, the Augustinian Convent dedicated to Our Lady of Annunciation. Within the confines of the convent are restored frescos and wall decorations in the large atrium, stunning views of the central courtyard lined with imposing arches, and glimpses through the upper windows of the lush surrounding hills and Tepozteco pyramid. Believed to have been constructed between 1555 and 1580 by the Dominican Order, the Convent was occupied by the Dominicans until 1773 when it was handed over to the secular clergy. It appears to have been occupied by French Troops under Maximillian between 1864 and 1867, and again requisitioned as military quarters in 1910 during the Mexican Revolution. It was declared a Museum and Historical Monument by President Lázaro Cárdenas in 1935.
At the back
of the convent in the old stables is the "Mexico for Peace"
Archaeological Museum housing the private collection of Carlos Pellicer,
the famous Tabascan poet, who fell in love with the town and has contributed
largely to its cultural well-being. The poet cared for the museum until
his death in 1977 and then a committee called "Amigos de Tepoztlán"
took charge of the maintenance and upkeep of the project. But one can't
leave town without a visit to the market place, however, there are two
sections to the market. One is situated on the main plaza, where one can
buy fresh fruit and exotic groceries, as well as trying different traditional
dishes and purchase handicrafts. The other takes place on the main road
on Saturdays and Sundays, where one can buy regional handicrafts from
every corner of the country. The usual tranquil town becomes a mecca on
weekends especially on Sunday's when escapees from Mexico City arrive.
They're all trying to find a little of the mystique of Tepoztlán.