Laura Rubalcava is an avid Mexicophile with extensive travel and research done throughout the country. Through staring history, culture, and cuisine, Laura hopes to foster greater understanding, appreciation and camaraderie with our neighbor to the south. She and her husband, Alejandro, a native of Mexico, have created an online magazine, www.magicalmexico.
The stones were perfect for marking the boundaries of their land. They were so accessible too, neatly placed in a pile. So, over the decades and even centuries, farmers and ranchers came to the rock pile to get the needed large round stones. Little did they know, they were dismantling Guachimontones, an ancient circular pyramid, rock by rock. Guachimontones is located in the Tequila Valley, less than 90 minutes west of Guadalajara. This archeological site was discovered less than 80 years ago.
The unusual round pyramids set it apart from other square-based pyramids of México, including Teotihuacán and Monte Albán. Much is still being discovered about this site. Archeologists have begun to put together some of the pieces of this ancient civilization, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Guachimontones is next to the town of Teuchitlán, a Nahuatl word meaning “place dedicated to the gods”. At the height of its civilization, there were more than 25,000 residents in the surrounding areas. The people lived in houses with steep pitched roofs in areas called chinampas, from the Nahuatl word chinamitl. Chinampas were small patches of rectangular land used for agriculture, irrigated by canals. This technology is still used in Mexico today. Xochimilco, near Mexico City was based on this premise.
The pyramids themselves and the surrounding ball courts were used strictly for ceremonial purposes. The civilization thrived between 300 BC and about 450 AD when it began to wane for unknown reasons. Some scholars believe the society may have lasted until 900 AD.
The main pyramid which has been uncovered is 60 feet tall. Thirteen steps lead to the upper level, topped by another four tall steps. Evidence of a deep hole, suitable for holding a tall pole is on the top of the pyramid. It was most likely used for “flyers” known today as voladores. These voladores would climb to the top of the pole and tether themselves to the top with a rope or strong vines. They would then fall backward and slowly descend while circling the pole. If not the same as voladores today, they were likely a precursor. This stands to reason, as ceremonies here were dedicated to Ehecatl, the ancient god of the wind. The Aztecs referred to him as Quetzalcoatl.
Also essential to the compound were the game courts, positioned north to south between two of the largest pyramids. Longer than a football field and about 20 feet wide, it was used to play a game called ulama.
Two competing teams of men used an eight-pound ball made of a stone covered with rubber. Only the player’s hips were used to move the ball around the court. Points were scored when the ball was successfully navigated and secured into a team’s alcove at the end of the court. Playing would begin at sunrise and end after sunset. The north to south positioning of the court allowed the players to continue throughout the day without the rising and setting sun impeding their vision.
Each team was led by a captain. The captain of the winning team was honored by being decapitated. Ulama is still played today in the state of Sinaloa. Fortunately, the captain of the winning team does not receive the same reward as the ancients!
Guachimontones, located near the base of the Tequila volcano, sits on one of the largest obsidian deposits on earth. Obsidian was used to make exceptionally sharp tools including knives, blades and spears. The word tequila is believed to come from a Nahuatl word meaning “the stone that cuts”. Today, obsidian crafts and jewelry are fashioned by local artisans.
The entrance fee is nominal, 30 pesos (about $1.50 USD), and paying a little extra for a guide is well worth it.
From the parking lot and the interpretive center, it is about a third of a mile walk up a cobblestone road to reach the pyramids. People 60 years and older can be driven to the site, but cars are not allowed to park there. The driver will need to return to the parking lot and walk up.
Tuesday to Sunday from 9-5
Carretera Estatal 604
Guadalajara-San Marcos Gral. Lucio Blanco,
46762 Jalisco, México