The silent dignity of ruined Tollan
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Though in our time, youngsters irreverently scramble up and down the pyramid's sides, such frivolity would have been taboo to the Toltecs, whose only route to the top was the grand staircase ascending the southern face. At the summit they would have entered an imposing temple, whose roof was supported by the stolid stone warriors who stand there today, arms rigidly clasping atlatlsm (spearthrowers), eyes blank like palace guards, and chess ornamented by stylized butterflies.Skip to next paragraph
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The butterflies are a clue to part of Tollan's cloudy history, for they may be the symbol of Topiltzin-Quetzalcoatl, an engaging fellow believed to have transformed a sleepy Tollan into the capital of an empire. Supposedly the living incarnation of the god Quetzacoatl, blue-eyed Topiltzin apparently capitalized upon Teotihuacan's collapse (AD 750) by bringing colonists from the north to Tollah. A maverick King whose philosophy was appropriately symbolized by the gentle butterfly, Topiltzin abhorred human sacrifice and advocated peace in a bloody and violent era. Overcome, however, by the trickery of an opposing leader, Tezcatlipoca (the Lord of Darkness), Topiltzin was banished from Tollan and sent into permanent exile.
Tollan accepted his departure with equanimity, ignoring his admonishments and orienting itself more thoroughly toward human sacrifice, terror, and a strinent militarism.
A crazy mixture of history and legend have successfully obscured Topiltzin-Quetzalcoatl's life after leaving Tollan, but it is quite definite that one gourp or another of Toltecs reached distant Yucatan, for Chichen Itza's most glorious architecture and sculpture is a clearly defined combination of Mayan and Toltec styles. Tollan's ball court, itself the second largest in Mesoamerica, is expanded at Chichen into the Great Ball Court (492 feet long) which, like Tollan's lies on a north-south orientation and is reached from the west by a splendid stairway.
At Chichen, too, are the whimsical chacmoolsm of Tollan, complacent reclining stone figures whose upturned bellies await offerings to the gods, and Tollan's Palacio Quemado ("burned palace"), a sea of columns used to create cool covered spaces, is seen on a grander scale in Chichen's Group of the Thousand Columns.
At chichen, the Toltecs' legendary skills as superb craftsmen and builders are in full-blown evidence, far superior to the sometimes careless workmanship of Tollan.
Why did Chichen probably collapse soon after Tollan? It may have been only coincidental, but, then, it's possible that Chichen was linked economicaly with Tollan. After all, the Toltecs of Tollan were inveretate traders, with contacts perhaps extending as far as South America, where they may have learned the techniques of metallurgy. But the questions continue, for metallury flourished in the areas the Toltecs dominated and yet not one single scrap of metal has been found at Tollan.
It is pottery at Tollan -- a million shards worth -- that the archaeologists have turned to for clues, and they have found them in abundance. The number of shards attest, of course, to potterymaking being an important craft in Tollan, but caches have been found of plumbate, a tough pottery with a metallic sheen made in the state of Chiapas and in Guatemala.
Lumpy mounds two kilometers norht of the Acropolis tell the trained eye of a second -- though lesser -- ceremonial center, and further north, by a strip of black-topped highway, sits the temple El Corral. El Corral, whose rounded walls indicate it was dedicated to Quetzalcoatl as the Wind God, has provided one of Tollan's most spectacular artifacts, a coyote-shaped plumbate jar embellished by feather-textured mother-of- pearl. In its yawning jaws is the face of a man.
In 1970, near El Corral, the University of Missouri's Tula Archaeological Project began excavating residential rather than ceremonial structures, exposing the foundations of what seem to be one-level multifamily dwellings several of perhas 10,000 yet undiscovered.
Tollan's importance vanished as mysteriously as it had once risen, its temples destroyed with peculiar savagery. Marauding northern barbarians -- or enemies within ? There are no satisfactory answers; in any case Tollan was to a great extent abandoned, many of its people vanishing into other regions.
Aristocratic Tollan, which the aztecs would extol as the center of exquisite craftsmanship, superb architecture philosphers and warriors, occupies its Acropolis with the serenity of all once-grand ruins -- imprvious to brazen Tula de Allende, sprawling at its feet with verve but indiffrent worth. Tollan attracts and intrigues precisely because of that jarring juxtaposition. It is clearly of another world.