Aztec: The Giant Pyramid Builders

Aztec: The Giant Pyramid Builders

The Great Pyramid of Cholula, also known as Tlachihualtepetl (Nahuatl for “artificial mountain”), is a huge complex located in Cholula, Puebla, Mexico. It is the largest archaeological site of a pyramid (temple) in the New World, as well as the largest pyramid known to exist in the world today. The pyramid stands 55 metres (180 ft) above the surrounding plain, and in its final form it measured 400 by 400 metres (1,300 by 1,300 ft).

The pyramid is a temple that traditionally has been viewed as having been dedicated to the god Quetzalcoatl.

The architectural style of the building was linked closely to that of Teotihuacan in the Valley of Mexico, although influence from the Gulf Coast also is evident, especially from El Tajín.
— Orly

If you travel through that beautiful land of lakes and mountains north of the City of Mexico, you will hardly fail to visit the ancient sacred city of Cholula. Nor can you fail to marvel at the remains of that incredible Pyramid, four times as large as the famous Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt.

Cortes and his followers wondered at the fifty-acre structure nearly four centuries back. The general belief was that it had always been devoted to the worship of Quetzalcoatl. 

But there were once wise ancients among the Acolhuan Indians who remembered the truth passed down by tradition from times immemorial.  What follows is a folktale that has been passed down through the ages.


This is the tale of the Pyramid-builder.

As everyone knows, for 4800 years after the creation of the world the land of Anahuac was inhabited by a race of vast giants. (Have not their mighty bones, dwarfing those of modern men, been dug up time and again through the centuries?)

These monsters were enemies both of gods and men. Fierce were the wars waged against them by the people of Tlascala, and many a giant was overcome by their multitudes, or driven forth into the wilderness to perish of starvation.

Always, however, there were enough of the dreadful race left to keep the land in an uproar; and particularly one Xelhua and his six brothers defied all attempts against them, holding themselves above laws, and doing only that which pleased their own ruthless cruelty. Very crafty as well as very strong they were, and the land of Anahuac groaned beneath their devastating tread. Finding there was none alive who might resist them, they waxed arrogant past belief, and scorned the very gods above, confident that there was no power in earth or heaven which could resist their will.

But at last the heavenly rulers grew wearied of this senseless tumult below. They determined to put an end to it all, and poured forth an overwhelming deluge on the earth. The clouds burst wide and precipitated their inexhaustible reservoirs; the irresistible ocean itself was loosed from its bounds; the underground rivers shot up from beneath the earth upon men and giants alike, and those who were not drowned were transformed into fishes.

All except crafty Xelhua and his six brothers: as the flood from above met the rising sea, they fled northward, climbed the lofty slopes of Mt. Tlaloc and hid themselves in seven caverns within its sides, rolling huge boulders in front of the openings to shut out the waters should they rise so high. Here they lay secure while the deluge raged unchecked throughout the universe.

When the appointed time came, the destroying waters withdrew to their stations above the clouds, beneath the earth, and in the ocean. Xelhua and his brothers came forth from their caves of refuge, the only living creatures, and by their arts peopled the earth with a new race, who were to be their servants.

They were now more arrogant than before,—for had they not succeeded in evading the utmost wrath of the gods? So Xelhua, who was skilled in building, determined to erect a structure such as the world had not yet seen—to serve not only as a perpetual memorial of his triumph, but also as an easier means of escape from any future attempt made against him by the lords of the winds and waters.

On the plain of Cholula this edifice was staked out, four sided, in girth like some great hill, in height planned to pierce the very clouds aloft.

In far-away Tlamanalco, at the foot of the Sierra, a multitude of men were set to work at digging clay, shaping it in moulds, and burning it into bricks. Instead of having these heavy loads carried across the hills, Xelhua stationed a line of workmen all the way from the brickyard to Cholula: these passed the bricks from hand to hand continually, so that the builders never lacked a supply. Bitumen too was similarly brought from a great distance to plaster the bricks firmly in place.

Under the hands of these myriads of workers the foundation of the incredible Pyramid grew as if it were a living thing. Day by day it mounted upwards, and the heart of Xelhua waxed high with pride when even he had to climb laboriously to reach the dizzy level where the swarming ant-like laborers still built themselves aloft bodily. Looking upwards, he regretted that he had not planned an even larger base: for surely that was the only thing which in any way limited this monument to his power and guarantee of future security. There was one consolation: when this reached the apex of its sloping sides, he could build another, infinitely larger and loftier. Meanwhile, a future deluge must be worse than the former one to reach him upon the summit of this almost completed structure.

But the gods do not sleep, though they be long silent.

With rising wrath they beheld the growth of this presumptuous edifice and the increasing audacity of its builder. Still they bided their time, and the pyramid of Xelhua crept upwards till the low-hanging clouds often lay far beneath its upper courses.

The day came when a man might easily count the space of time still needed to complete the structure. Xelhua urged on his host of workers.

Then suddenly the heavens opened. A huge mass of flaming rock fell with irresistible force upon the proud pyramid and those that built it. The upper portion crashed down in ruins, carrying to destruction thousands of the laborers and the master-builder Xelhua himself.

Wherefore men doubted no longer that there were eternal powers on high. The fragment of the building which remained was dedicated thenceforth to the Fair God, Quetzal. And down to the time of that worthy Dominican, Pedro de los Rios, the priests showed to unbelievers a portion of the very thunderbolt, a stone shaped like a toad, which had confounded the mad presumption of Xelhua; while the dancing celebrants sang in their festival hymn the tale of these happenings, that reverence might no more perish among men.

Moreover, since that day the tribes have no longer spoken the same tongue, but each has a language of its own, unintelligible to the others.


Aztec: Mexico before the Spanish Invasion

The Iroquois Phratry