Sunday, 27 October 2013

Cholula with Grasshoppers for lunch

I wasn't sorry to leave Mexico City. The traffic was beyond belief.

 The teachers were on strike and the main square was closed off so we were unable to see the Palace or the Museum of Fine Arts. and I really don't see myself going again. Mexico - yes definitely but I can happily pass on the capital.

So it was on to Cholula and the largest pyramid in the world ( by volume at least). It was a reasonably long drive but the scenery was amazing.

 This is  Iztaccíhuatl   - or the White the four peaks form the impression of a sleeping woman. Not that much snow on it at this time of the year.

The legend goes that she was a princess who fell in love with one of her father's warriors, Popocatépetl.  The emperor sent Popocatépetl to war in Oaxaca   promising him her as his wife when he returned.  Reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, Iztaccíhuatl was told he had been killed in battle and died of grief.  Popocatépetl returns safely to find her dead. He carries her body to a place near Tenochtitlan where the gods covered them in snow and transformed them both into mountains.

In his anger and grief Popocatépetl became a volcano spewing out fire on the earth .

So on to Cholula itself.

The site is approached through a tunnel dug through the pyramid itself. Not old at all but made by the archaeologists so they could see what was inside ( not a lot. It's a solid fill). It's a nice way though to leave the town behind and go back in time.
The temple-pyramid complex was built in four stages, starting from the 3rd century BCE  through the 9th century CE, and was dedicated to Quetzalcoatl. It has a base of 1,480 by 1,480 ft  and a height of 217 ft). This gives it a volume larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza although it is not as high.

The invading Spaniards sought to re-purpose the pry amid and the church on top is dedicated to  "Our Lady of Remedies"

One of the altars. These were normally outside the temple so that the people could participate. Only nobility and priests were allowed in the temple buildings on top of the giant pyramids. 

Unlike the Egyptians who built a new edifice for each pharaoh , the common practice amongst the meso-americans was to simply build over the existing pyramid to make to broader and taller. This would be repeated many times and has meant that a lot of the older archaeology has been preserved.

This is some of the earlier building now uncovered.

and the grasshoppers?

 A local delicacy. Here being sold by a street vendor on the site. These were seasoned with chili. Yes I did try one but I had to close my eyes to do it. Crunchy on the outside but rather soft and squishy in the middle. An acquired taste I think.

Sunday, 20 October 2013


Something a bit different  now - come with me on a trip round some of Central America's ancient sites.

This was a complete eye opener for me - Mexico and the Mexican people were very different from what I'd been expecting and I am looking forward very much to a return visit one day. It's long been an ambition to visit the old Mayan civilisation so where better to start than somewhere that is not Mayan at all.

Not even Aztec but claimed by the Totonac people, Teotihuacan ('the place where the Gods were created') is some 30 miles from Mexico City. It has been heavily reconstructed, particularly the royal palaces and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl but the pyramids are most impressive.

It was still early in the season so not very busy although visiting it late morning meant that it was very hot indeed. This was our first site so we were not quite sure what to expect.

The Temple of the Moon. This is the smaller of the two great structures but climbing it gave us a good idea that the next two weeks were going to be fairly physically demanding if we were planning on climbing many of these structures.

The steps are very steep and not very deep and my legs were complaining long before we reached the top.

The view though down the Avenue of the Dead towards the Temple of the Sun ( large structure on the right) was well worth the effort.

Originally it was believed that the smaller structures were tombs but it now believed that they were ceremonial buildings or temples.

Some of the artwork is still extremely well preserved including this wall painting of a Jaguar, sacred to many of the Central American peoples. The primary deity here is believed to be The Great Goddess and unique to this city.

The view from the top of the Temple of the Sun, looking down on to the Temple of the Moon.

This is a massive structure with  a 350 m² platform at the top, measuring  225 x 222 metres at the base, and at 75 meters high, has a total volume of 1 million m³!

And in another direction.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

In the footsteps of Giants

Our trip to Cornwall continued  with a visit to  the Boscawen -Un stone circle.

Now this was a fascinating place and quite surreal. Much less visited than the better known and more accessible "Nine Maidens" down the road we had it to ourselves - well at least initially!

If you look hard you'll see it! It was a short walk down in waist deep bracken before the circle itself came into view.

A Bronze age circle with 19 upright stones set in an ellipse.  In 1928 the first Gorsedd  Kernow was held here as an old Welsh triad mention "Beisgawen in Dumnonia" as one of the principal gorseddau  ( gatherings of the Druids) of Britain.

Unusually the circle has a stone in the centre - this rather phallic standing ( leaning!) stone. At this point the visit became somewhat surreal.

The circle was invaded by a tour group, complete with camera man, presenter, and a modern day druid who proceeded to change into his robes and did a piece to camera on the "fertility circle". Whilst he was doing this, the rest of the group were busy dowsing the stones and in particular the one that was conspicuously different being mostly quartz.

They left almost as precipitously as they arrived! I would love to know what they were filming for - if anyone knows please tell me.

Heading back to the car we detoured slightly from the path to take a look at the Creeg Tol or the Giant's Footprints.

Various neo pagan offerings had been left in the "bowls".

A number of visitors have described this site as feeling really malevolent or spooky. I can't say that I did.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Carn Euny

Back again to Cornwall and an ancient village of Carn Euny.

 This is the remains of an Iron age village that was occupied until late in the Roman Era.

Originally the huts were timber but were replaced by stone and these remain until today. The houses have courtyards with rooms leading off them and then a big main room. Whether these were "bedrooms" or used for animals is uncertain.

A fascinating place - under here is the fogue.

Whats a fogue?

It's a stone roofed passage! A fogue  is an underground, dry-stone structure found on Iron age settlement sites in Cornwall. Similar to the souterrains of Orkney it is not believed they were used for storage but that they had a ritual purpose.

The fogou of Carn Euny is in remarkably good condition and consists of a 20 m long corridor, with a side passage that leads to a round stone chamber with a collapsed roof, and a small tunnel.

It is also home to some moss that glows in light - really weird. It is virtually unnoticeable until you shine a light on it - then this happens!

Walking on past the settlement we found the first of two "holy" wells.

 One is mentioned in The Legendary Lore of the Holy Wells of England  of 1893 where William Borlase  stated   in the 1750s:
"I happened luckily to be at this well upon the last day of the year, on which, according to vulgar opinion, it exerts its principal and most salutary powers. Two women were here, who came from a neighbouring parish, and were busily employed in bathing a child. They both assured me that people who had a mind to receive any benefit from St. Euny's Well must come and wash upon the three first Wednesdays in May. Children suffering from mesenteric disease should be dipped three times in Chapel Uny widderschynnes, and widderschynnes dragged three times round the well."

OR did he mean this one? It isn't clear from the writings.

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