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Calixtlahuaca: A Brief Guide to the Site

Dr. Michael E. Smith, Arizona State University

Version 2, August 3, 2006

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© 2006, Michael E. Smith


Calixtlahuaca (“Place of the plain of houses”) is an archaeological zone just north of the modern city of Toluca. It is the ruins of a large ancient city that was a powerful political capital before the area was conquered by the Mexica or Aztec empire in 1478. After that date, the city was stripped of its power and authority, and became one of several cities that paid tribute to the Aztec empire through the provincial capital Tollocan (modern Toluca). Calixtlahuaca has some of the finest examples of Late Postclassic (“Aztec”) architecture in all of Mexico, and these are the primary interest of the site for visitors today. Excavations have uncovered many examples of stone sculpture, ceramic vessels, and objects of bronze, obsidian, and other materials. A few of these are on display at the small site museum and others can be seen at various museums in Toluca and elsewhere.

Most of the visible architecture at Calixtlahuaca was excavated and restored in the 1930s by archaeologist José García Payón. In 2006 I initiated a new fieldwork project at Calixtlahuaca whose goal is to understand the lives of the people of Calixtlahuaca, the nature of the settlement as an urban center, and the impact of Aztec conquest on the people and society of the Toluca Valley. This guidebook is a provisional draft intended to give visitors some idea of the nature of the site, its monuments, and its significance. Other guidebooks are either outdated or out of print, and difficult to obtain.


The historical record for the Postclassic Toluca Valley is not extensive. There are only scanty historical data on conditions before the conquest of the Valley by the Mexica king Axayacatl in 1478. Home to speakers of the Nahuatl, Matlatzinca, Otomi, and Mazahua languages, the Valley was a complex ethnic and political mosaic. The most powerful capital prior to Axayacatl’s conquest was known as “Matlatzinco,” and several lines of independent evidence suggest strongly that the archaeological site of Calixtlahuaca was in fact this capital city.

According to native historical accounts, Axayacatl’s conquests of Calixtlahuaca and the other polities of the Toluca Valley in 1478 were motivated primarily by the need to stop the expansion of the Tarascan empire (which was centered west of the Toluca Valley). Groups of immigrants from the Basin of Mexico were sent to repopulate areas of the Toluca Valley where residents had fled or where resistance was encountered, and some natives were forcibly moved to new areas. Calixtlahuaca/Matlatzinco was demoted (and perhaps destroyed), and Tollocan (Toluca) selected as the provincial capital for the organization of imperial tribute collection.

The toponym Calixtlahuaca, not used before this date, starts to show up in the documents (fig. 1). In the Codex Mendoza, Calixtlahuaca is


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