City Life Mexico city: Strong arm of the law hits Aztec temple

WHEN A drunken policeman apparently misunderstood the concept of a flyover and launched his car some 25 feet through the air last weekend to crash land on a stone ceremonial platform beside the Templo Mayor in the heart of Mexico City, the public was absolutely horrified.

The scandal was not over an inebriated officer behind the wheel at 1am - such an everyday occurrence won't cause much of a stir in this cynical capital. But irreparable damage to a 14th-century Aztec stucco stairway and ugly oil stains caused considerable breast-beating.

Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, who directs the museum on the temple site, was dumbfounded when a magistrate freed the policeman on bail after just seven days. "This is imprudent," he said. "We cannot permit a gentleman in these conditions, who ought to be taking care of us, to destroy the patrimony in such an outrageous way."

The accidental rediscovery of the Templo Mayor was relatively recent - electrical workers laying cable for an underground system in 1978 came across twin altars to the rain god and war god and put their pickaxes aside to gape at a mural of eagle warriors and their victims' skulls.

Eventually, the metro was rerouted and archaeologists uncovered some seven thousand relics spread among 110 altars. Although the most famous treasures, such as the massive calendar stone, are displayed some miles away at the National Museum of Anthropology, curious visitors come by the thousands to see the original site.

A great turquoise disc, inlaid with 15,000 mosaic pieces that forms a circle of seven linked warriors, was unveiled for the first time on Friday after a five-year restoration programme. Ordinary citizens take immense pride in the glories of pre- conquest Mexico. The ruins of enormous cities built by the Aztecs, Mayas, Toltecs and Olmecs are a testament to civilisations that pre-dated the arrival of the Spanish. Many Mexicans were rather annoyed at recent archaeological discoveries in Mayapan that punctured one long-held belief. Analysis of bone fragments this summer revealed that the Mayans had suffered from syphilis at least a century before the conquistadores arrived.

Although the Spaniards stole the foundation stones of the city's cathedral from the Tenochtitlan temple more than 400 years ago, most Mexicans hold both structures in equal regard.

Ancient symbols are stillemblematic of popular Mexican culture: the skull motif, the murals and bold graffiti, even the strident colours once painted over the Aztec and Maya structures. Modern Mexican builders often daub magenta next to brilliant yellow, while others are partial to an intense ultra-indigo that seems to shimmer in the sunlight. The pyramids were once just as garish.

Elsewhere few politicians would attempt a $13m re-make of a museum in an election year of a country so steeped in economic turmoil. But President Ernesto Zedillo is intent on refashioning the National Museum of Anthropology into a state-of-the art showpiece, for completion in December 2000 - just as he leaves office.

But in Mexico, where locals typically outnumber foreign tourists in the museum, any criticism of the project - for instance suggesting that it is wrong-headed when the descendants of the honoured tribes go hungry in the provinces - is muted.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future