In the State of Veracruz not far from the capital city stands the Totonac ruins of El Tajin, a city that ruled much of the southern Gulf around 400 - 900 A.D. Central to the city is the Temple of the Niches, a grand pyramid that the Totonac believe was the temple of twelve old men, or storm gods, named Tajin. These storm gods are said to still inhabit the ruins and control the storms that rumble atop this hill in northern Veracruz. Tajin, in the native language, means "place of thunder", and if you have ever stood in the central plaza of the ruins when the storms passed overhead, you can understand how the legend may have been born. In fact, the city was both a spiritual and a political center. In the Totonac language, tajín means thunder, but also refers to lightning, or hurricanes, all of which can occur in the region between June and October. The god of these forces was called Tajín, or the storm gods of the Totonac.
It has been said among those that have worked in areas around El Tajin that it is not wise to be caught in the open after dark in the shadows of the ancient ruin site. Though scarce and rarely seen anymore, the great jaguar once stalked the hills and distant mountains surrounding the region and posionous snakes still habitate the surrounding jungle, and reports of haunts and strange noises and uncertain weather are often a factor regardless of day or night. Frequently described as "spooky" or "mysterious", El Tajin demands respect of the locals and warrants due consideration of its many visitors.
Totanic Ruins of the distant past near Veracruz
In spite of its popularity among tourist, and in spite of the hawkers who peddle their trinkets near the entrance each day, El Tajin can still be a remarkable experience. It's one of those rare and ancient places that makes you feel the hidden power, like a shadow just out sight.
The other principal structures and conglomerates of structures are the Plaza Arroyo Group, the Ball Courts, the Tajín Chico group, the Building of Columns and the Great Xicalcoliuhqui. But the Pyramid of Niches, or Building 1, is the outstanding structure, comprised of seven sections and a total of 365 niches, coinciding the the number of days in the solar year. In the interior holds a 14 meter long passageway and has only been partly explored.
There are also long, columned buildings - the columns carved to relate the feats of the Totonacan heroes such as 13 Rabbit, a political figure who was considered the incarnation of Quetzalcoatl, the main deity of El Tajín; other building display colored frescoes and tablets with carved figures of the pre-Hispanic deities.
Very much like Chichen Itza, that most probably served as a trading partner to the Totonacs, the city is laid out with significant structures in such a way to reflect the cosmology of the culture. Major sacred and special events took place in El Tajin, strategically located to provide maximum natural defenses from outside invaders.
Historians believe El Tajin predated and outlasted Chichen Itza in the Yucatan, and while it is arguably not as large and spectacular as its southern ally, El Tajin still deserves a great deal of credit for shaping the history and culture of the Veracruz classic period era.
If you're planning a visit and want to maximize your experience, it is recommended you consider a late summer visit. The suffocating heat of the season and the monsoons that wash over the ruins almost daily will provide the perfect backdrop to an experience in ancient history. Tour buses are available in nearby Veracruz, but it is highly recommend you rent a car and get to the ruins either early in the morning or near closing time, generally near sunset. Check local times for accuracy.
It is also recommended to take some type of light rain gear, at least a pancho, and a good bottle of mosquito repellent.
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