History of the Great Pyramid of Cholula
In pre-Columbian times, Cholula was a large city and the religious capital of highland Mexico. Construction on the Great Pyramid was undertaken in four stages beginning around the 2nd century BC. It was dedicated to the deity Quetzalcoatl.
The first two stages date from the Classic period; the earliest pyramid was built at about the same time as the pyramids of Teotihuacan (c.100 BC). It has the talud-tablero motif characteristic of Teotihuacan and is painted with insect-like designs in red, yellow and black, also in Classic Teotihuacan style. The strong similarities have led some scholars to conclude that Cholula was a sister city to Teotihuacan.
The second Great Pyramid at Cholula was built right over the first one and no longer imitated Teotihuacan forms. The builders created a radial pyramid with stairs covering all four sides so that the summit could be approached from any direction. It was 590 feet (180m) long on each side.
After the Toltecs conquered this region around 1200, they used the Temple of Quetzalcoatl (under the current town square) as their ceremonial center, leaving the Great Pyramid as a monumental ruin. In 1359, the kingdom of Huexotzingo (enemies of the Aztecs) took over Cholula. By the time the Spanish conquered at Cholula, the Great Pyramid had been a ruin for so long that they thought it was just a natural hill.
What to See at the Great Pyramid of Cholula
At first glance, the Great Pyramid just looks like a grassy hillcrowned by a church (called Nuestra Señora de los Remedios). But if you climb the unreconstructed pyramid beside it, you can plainly see the geometric outline of the original structure, which rises from the ground in four levels.
From this viewpoint you also get a good look at El Popocatépetl, the majestic snow-capped volcano that separates this valley from the valley of Mexico.
The Great Pyramid of Cholula is the largest pyramid in the world, much larger in volume than the great pyramids of Egypt. With a base of 450x450m and a height of 66m, its total volume is estimated at 4.45 million m³.
Archaeologists have reconstructed one side of one of the lower segments of the pyramid and have dug some five miles of tunnels into the pyramid, which visitors are free to explore.
Among the artifacts uncovered by archaeologists at Cholula is a 165-foot (50-m) long multicolored mural featuring life-sized human figures. Thought to date from the Classic period, the mural has been given the title "The Drunkards" - the scene is one of drinking and inebriation. The liquid depicted in the mural may not be alcohol, but a hallucinogenic potion derived from mushrooms or even peyote.
Quick Facts on the Great Pyramid of Cholula
|Names:||Great Pyramid of Cholula|
|Dates:||2nd C BCE|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||19.058305° N, 98.302145° W|
|Lodging:||View hotels near the Great Pyramid of Cholula|
- Michael D. Coe and Rex Koontz, Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs, 5th ed. (London: Thames & Hudson, 2002), 120-21, 138.
- "pre-Columbian civilizations: Cholula" - Encyclopædia Britannica Online
- Puebla Side Trips - Frommers.com
Map of the Great Pyramid of Cholula, Puebla
Below is a location map and aerial view of the Great Pyramid of Cholula. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.