El Tajín, Veracruz, Mexico
El Tajín is a pre-Columbian archeological site and one of the largest and most important cities of the Classic era of Mesoamerica. A part of the Classic Veracruz culture, El Tajín flourished from 600 to 1200 and during this time numerous temples, palaces, ballcourts, and pyramids were built. From the time the city fell, in 1230, to 1785, no European seems to have known of its existence, until a government inspector chanced upon the Pyramid of the Niches.
While ballcourts are common in Mesoamerica, El Tajin distinguishes itself by having seventeen. The ball game was more ritual than sport, and losers often lost their lives. Two ballcourts contain sculpted panels which depict the ball game and its ritual significance. The most impressive of these panels are on the South ballcourt which contain images of underworld deities and a ballplayer being decapitated in order to approach the gods and request pulque for his people.
The Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers), or Palo Volador (Pole Flying), is an ancient Mesoamerican ceremony/ritual still performed today, albeit in modified form, in isolated pockets in Mexico. It is believed to have originated with the Nahua, Huastec and Otomi peoples in central Mexico, and then spread throughout most of Mesoamerica. The ritual consists of dance and the climbing of a 30 meter pole from which four of the five participants then launch themselves tied with ropes to descend to the ground. The fifth remains on top of the pole, dancing and playing a flute and drum. According to one myth, the ritual was created to ask the gods to end a severe drought. Although the ritual did not originate with the Totonac people, today it is strongly associated with them, especially those in and around Papantla in the Mexican state of Veracruz.
The Pyramid of the Niches has a number of names including, El Tajín, Pyramid of Papantla, Pyramid of the Seven Stories and the Temple of the Niches. It has become the focus of the site because of its unusual design and good state of preservation.
In 1785, an official by the name of Diego Ruiz stumbled upon the Pyramid of the Niches, while looking for clandestine tobacco plantings breaching the royal monopoly in this isolated area rarely visited by the authorities.
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