Where Yope Giants Walked

By Habeeb Salloum
Special to mycompass

Tehuacalco -- After an hour’s drive from Mexico’s resort capital of Acapulco our van parked in front of the recently opened Museum of the Tehuacalco Archaeological Zone.

Located a short distance from the state of Guerrero’s capital city of Chilpancingo, Tehuacalco peaked between 650 and 1100 A.D. as the ceremonial center of the Yope and their surrounding region. It existed for more than two more centuries albeit in a declining cycle. Long lost to the South Sierra Madre Mountains of southern Mexico this pre-Columbus archaeological zone is the most recent addition to the cultural attractions offered to visitors in Acapulco.

The backdrop is impressive with a scenic view of the mountains and valleys. Tehuacalco’s location between four prominent hills, marking the four cardinal points, was important in the lives of the Yope. The site has been identified by historical sources as Yopitzingo and is the first explored and excavated archaeological site of the ancient Yope civilization.

Tehuacalco remained independent of the Aztecs because of its remote location and the difficulty to access the area. As well, the Yopes had a reputation as being fierce warriors. During the excavations archaeologists learned that the Aztecs never managed to conquer the city either due to the peoples’ warrior reputation or because the Yope territory had little to offer the Aztec Empire.

The name Tehuacalco in the ancient Nahuatl language has at least three different interpretations: a place of the stone box, place of the priest’s house, and place of the sacred water house. However, others have said that Tehuacalco is a word related to Nahuatl tehuacalli, which means ‘artificial ritual caves’. Also, there are legends about a giant named Tehua, who lived here and used the stone blocks to build his huge houses. People point to his large footprints in front of one of the structures still visible today saying, ‘It’s where the giant walked’.

Pyramidal structures, petroglyphs and caves where sun cults were celebrated are the remains left in this ancient city. Many of the pyramidal structures were constructed facing the east, where the sun rises. The 57 caves so far discovered are man-made and were the places where ritual food was offered to the gods. The petroglyphs represent circles and rectangles as well as astronomical constellations including celestial and solar markers, and water rituals dominated by carved human footprints. An outstanding example is Piedra de los Pies Pintados (Painted Feet Stone), a 65 million-year-old volcanic rock which presents carved human footprints.

Discovered in 1991 it was the first site of Yope culture that has been explored. However, excavations only began at the beginning of 2006 and after three years of work the site was inaugurated on December 16th, 2008. The city, at its prime, spread over 80 ha (198 ac) of which 12 ha (30 ac) belonged to a ceremonial-civic area, composed of several palaces and pyramid structures surrounding a central plaza. This core of the city has mostly been excavated and 18 of the stone structures have been partly rebuilt.

Our tour started by examining the artefacts housed in the small museum that no doubt in a few years will be filled with more relics. Our first stop was at the rebuilt 'Juego de Pelota' (Ball Court). Here the game was played differently than at other parts of the Mayan world. There was no ring where the 11-pound ball made of tree sap had to go through. Rather there was a goal pocket at each end. Strangely the winning team was sacrificed - not the loser. So said the guide! I had my doubts about his story.

I looked around. Edging the Ball Court was an open space much like a town square. To one side there stood a rebuilt structure called the Palace still being reconstructed. Our guide seemed excited as he told the story of the Yopes, creating a magical and mystical image of the people who had lived in this part of Mexico and whose history is just beginning to be unravelled.

According to our guide there are two completely different existing theories about the Tehuacalco and the Yope culture: one theory is that they had an advanced civilization, and another one talks about them as being half-sedentary barbarians. He went on to say that with the Tehuacalco archaeological site now open one can view the rebuilt discovered structures and witness the true greatness of the Yope's technological achievements.

The Guerrero State Government provided resources to build the site museum, service area and other infrastructure. Exploration, restoration and consolidation of the Tehuacalco archaeological site represented an investment of nearly 40-million pesos. Of course, the municipal, state and federal governments all gave a helping hand and the project was successfully completed.

The investment, generating employment for nearby communities, was designed to increase Guerrero cultural offerings - an extra attraction to the millions of tourists who annually travel to Acapulco. Organized visits to the archaeological zone are organized in such a way as to include the structures and their architecture as well as the many petroglyphs along with the enjoyment of the sacred landscapes and the regional flora and the fauna.

After exploring the palace and the hilltop temple with its panoramic view of the four cardinal mountains and the surrounding countryside we ended our tour back at the museum. Sitting under one of the petroglyphs found in the ruins it was easy to think of Yope giants that once trod the streets of Tehuacalco - a city of history and legend.


photo: Habeeb Salloum

If You Go:

Facts About Acapulco and Tehuacalco:

Acapulco has an international airport and the new superhighway No. 95, connects the resort to Mexico City, but the toll is sky high - takes less than 4 hours driving. The Archaeological Zone of Tehuacalco is located in the intermediate point between Chilpancingo and Acapulco, and it is possible to access by two different routes: from the Mexico-Acapulco toll-free highway, deviating at Haciendita-Carrizal; from the toll highway, deviating at Tierra Colorada.
For tours to Tehuacalco check: seviciosejecutivosterrestres.com
Getting around Acapulco is easy by taxi, bus - cost about 40 cents - horse-drawn carriage or rented autos. Small cars, fully insured with unlimited mileage, rent for about $65. per day. It is easy to drive in Acapulco - drivers seem to obey the law. Acapulco, called by some the ‘playground of the world’, offers besides breathtaking scenery, pristine beaches, deluxe accommodation, all types of sport activities, including four manicured 18-hole golf courses and one 9-hole course.
Acapulco offers a world of culinary delights. Besides the peoples’ restaurants near the Zócalo offering fine dinners for around $10., there are some 160 classy eating places like the Zibu serving the best in Mexican and international dishes.
When in Acapulco, the easy day trip to Taxco de Alarcon, where visitors can purchase silver crafts and more is a fulfilling journey.
When you leave Mexico there is a ‘Departure Tax’ of about $18.00.
All prices quoted are in US dollars – about 15 pesos to a US dollar.

Where to Stay in Acapulco:

Acapulco has hotels to satisfy all tastes. In the old city, there are abodes that offer rooms at less than ($10.) per night. At the upper level, the city has some of the top luxury hotels like Las Brisas, a luxurious hotel for the affluent; the Fairmont Acapulco Princess Hotel, towering upward like a grand Aztec pyramid, reflecting the spirit of ancient Mexico; and for those who love history, Los Flamingos Hotel, made famous by Hollywood stars, is the place to stay. Situated high on a cliff, it is cooled by the sea breeze and offers a view of spectacular sunsets.

For Further Information, Contact: :

In Canada contact the Mexican TourismBoard: (416) 925 6061. E-mail: toronto@visitmexico.com. Also Toll free number: 1-800-44 MEXICO. Web: visitmexico.com In the U.S.A. 375 Park Avenue, Floor 19, Suite 1905, New York, NY 10152, USA. Tel: (212) 308 2110. Fax: (212) 308 9060.
Also, see acapulco.com for information and reservations: Tel: from the USA / Canada: 1 888 514 2137; from México: Tel: 01 800 674 9434

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