Toltec warriors with butterfly shields

This post is part of my Mexico travel series: Travel stories | Photo gallery

Exploring the ancient statues at Tula, and then visiting a church with a funky semi-naked Jesus = a lovely day!

After struggling to reach El Chico village and then spending a day in the woods, I came back to Pachuca and stayed overnight. Early in the morning I got ready to board a bus to Tula. Eating my last batch of delicious Pastes at a cafe in the bus station I watched TV commercials (one of which prompted me to blog about fair v/s light skin differences in Mexican society) and waited for the bus to be announced.

↑ Entrance to the archeological site and a rail line (quite rare in Mexico) that passes by

Toltec ruins at Tula

I asked the bus driver to let me off at an unscheduled stop near the ruins. He hesitated since the bus was a directo, but a foreigner saying “por favour” sometimes does the trick. I got entrance tickets to the archeological zone and was soon treated to this:

↑ Stone statues depicting fully dressed Toltec warriors.

Spectacular, isn’t it? Until now I had only seen these warrior statues in pictures but my excitement of seeing them in person was incalculable. The guidebooks I read do a mediocre job of describing the location, or maybe its just me who loved these statues. But take a look again, how could this NOT be “incredible”? I know this adjective is so abused, but I’ll explain: The sheer size of the statues, the expression (of terror?) on their faces, standing on top of a pyramid, higher than anything around them and being in that state for centuries while the world passed by – I thought that made it worthy of calling this an “incredible” moment.

The statues are uniquely shaped in this fashion for a purpose. At one time, these supported the roof of a temple that stood on top of the pyramid. It is also believed that the statues were inside the temple premises, i.e. not visible to the public. The basalt rock statues bear chest armour that is shaped like butterfly, head gear, short skirts supported by sun discs and weapons and other objects in their hands.

↑ At 4.5m high, the statues appear overwhelming from proximity.

History of the Toltecs and arrival of the Spanish

The Toltecs were a mesoamerican culture that flourished around Tula around 800-1000 CE around the same time as Xochicalco. The Aztecs, who came later, believed that Toltecs were their ancestors. Archeologists have found a number of similarities between the Toltec and Mayan artistry (especially at Chichen Itza) and have various explanations about the interaction of these cultures. The exact nature of Toltec governance, society and religion is not certain, although several theories and evidences suggest that it was a powerful empire ruled by a pious king who had a fair skin. He left the throne (either voluntarily or was forced to), went to the east and promised to return. When the white Spanish colonialists arrived centuries later, people thought that the mythical Toltec king was coming back to take his kingdom.

Besides the restored statues, there are numerous active excavations in progress at the site. The rest of the site is not as overwhelming as say Teotihuacan, but then so far only a little area has been explored. There are a series of halls and courtyards, ceremonial grounds, a ball court and other structures probably meant for the priests and nobles.

Tula city and the strangest portrait of Jesus I’ve seen in a church

After spending few hours at the ruins and satisfying my intellectual appetite, I decided to checkout the city and find something to eat. The archeological zone has two entrances – the main (north) entrance is away from the city while the smaller (south) entrance leads into the city. I avoided the souvenir markets that were just setting up, and took the south exit to the city centre.

The mural of Jesus Christ inside the fortress-like San Joseph Cathedral is kinda modernist. I have seen creative portrayals of Jesus before, but never inside a church:

[Photo credit: Jesus at altar by linkogecko]
  1. Firstly, I am not used to seeing a “rising” Jesus at the altar. It’s always been a crucifix or a simple standing position for me (or a yogic sitting posture as you might see in India)
  2. The cross is artistically hidden behind the resurrected Jesus (can you spot it?), and one has to imply its presence
  3. The painting of Jesus is naked but for a thin long cloth that wraps around strategically
  4. There is a picture of Feathered Serpent (worshiped by Mayans, Aztecs and almost all other native cultures), Toltec butterfly, two naked humans (Adam and Eve?) and other pictures showing conquest of Mexico and more pre-Colombian designs.

Overall, Tula is a dusty little town with a very interesting church and a very non-touristy look. I can’t really remember why, for the love of Jesus, I didn’t take pictures here. 🙂

I gobbled up some very satisfying lunch and got disoriented while finding the bus station (asking locals for directions has always been amusing in Mexico – they don’t say things like “go straight 2 blocks, then turn right”), I happily trooped back to Mexico City. It had been a nice day – from Toltec warriors statues to a very funky, almost-nude Jesus Christ mural. Who would have thought!

Travel information:

City of Tula (called Tula de Allende) is well connected to Mexico City and Pachuca by frequent buses. A ride to Mexico city costs about 90 pesos (9 USD) and takes 2 hours. Coming from Pachuca, my CS host advised me to to take the bus that ran along the newly constructed highway called Arco Norte that connected peripheral cities around Mexico city. Its a 75 minute journey for 35 pesos (3.5 USD).

The archeological zone is 30 minute walk away and can be seen from downtown. If you are coming from Pachuca, try what I did – request the driver to let you off at the site.

The cathedral in Tula’s centro is interesting and most commercial places, restaurants and stores are in the vicinity. Getting to the bus station is not intuitive but that’s when you get to ask people on the street for directions to Terminal de Autobuses!

This post is part of my Mexico travel series: Travel stories | Photo gallery