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The symbol of Cholula
The Great Pyramid of Cholula, also known as Tlachihualtepetl (Nahuatl for artificial mountain), is a huge complex located in Cholula, Puebla, Mexico. It is the largest archaeological site of a pyramid (temple) in the New World. The pyramid stands 55 metres (180 ft) above the surrounding plain, and in its final form it measured 400 by 400 metres (1,300 by 1,300 ft). The pyramid is a temple that has traditionally been viewed as having been dedicated to the god Quetzalcoatl. The architectural style of the building was closely linked to that of Teotihuacan in the Valley of Mexico, although influence from the Gulf Coast is also evident, especially from El Tajín.
The Cholula archaeological zone is situated 6.4 kilometres (4 mi) west of the city of Puebla, in the city of Cholula. To be more exact, the pyramid is located in the San Andrés Cholula, Puebla municipality, and marks the area in the center of the city where this municipality begins. The city is divided into two municipalities called San Ándres and San Pedro. This division originates in the Toltec-Chichimeca conquest of the city in the 12th century. These pushed the former dominant ethnicity of the Olmeca-Xicalanca to the south of the city. These people kept the pyramid as their primary religious center, but the newly dominant Toltec-Chichimecas founded a new temple to Quetzacoatl where the San Gabriel monastery is now.The Toltec-Chichimec people who settled in the area around the 12th century CE named Cholula as Tlachihualtepetl, meaning "artificial hill".
The name cholula has its origin in the ancient Nahuatl word cholollan, which means "place of refuge".
Room with model of the various structures that make up the pyramid
The Great Pyramid was an important religious and mythical centre in prehispanic times. Over a period of a thousand years prior to the Spanish Conquest, consecutive construction phases gradually built up the bulk of the pyramid until it became the largest in Mexico by volume.
The temple-pyramid complex was built in four stages, starting from the 3rd century BCE through the 9th century CE, and was dedicated to the deity Quetzalcoatl. It has a base of 450 by 450 metres (1,480 by 1,480 ft) and a height of 66 m (217 ft). According to the Guinness Book of Records, it is in fact the largest pyramid as well as the largest monument ever constructed anywhere in the world, with a total volume estimated at over 4.45 million cubic metres, even larger than that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, which is about 2.5 million cubic metres. However the Great Pyramid of Giza is higher at 138.8 metres (455 ft). The ceramics of Cholula were closely linked to those of Teotihuacan, and both sites appeared to decline simultaneously. The Postclassic Aztecs believed that Xelhua built the Great Pyramid of Cholula.
At its peak, Cholula had the second largest population in Mexico of an estimated 100,000 people living at this site. Although the prehispanic city of Cholula continued to be inhabited, the Great Pyramid was abandoned in the 8th century at a time when the city suffered a drastic drop in population. Even after this drop-off in population, the Great Pyramid retained its religious importance.
The site was once called Acholollan (in Nahuatl) meaning place of flight. This meaning has led some to believe that this site was founded after its original inhabitants fled (from?) elsewhere.
Postclassic and Colonial
The Toltec-Chichimec History, a codex from the Cholula region, relates that an Olmec-Xicalanca lord with the title Aquiyach Amapane resided at the Great Pyramid. In the 12th century, after the Toltec-Chichimecas took over the city, religious focus shifted away from the pyramid and to a new temple. Even during the Postclassic period, long after the abandonment of the pyramid, many burials continued to be interred around the structure, demonstrating its continued importance. By the time the Spanish arrived, the pyramid was overgrown, and by the 19th century it was still undisturbed, with only the church built in the 16th century visible.
Architect Ignacio Marquina started exploratory tunnelling within the pyramid in 1931. By 1954, the total length of tunnels came to approximately 8.0 kilometres (5 mi).
Today the pyramid at first appears to be a natural hill surmounted by a church. This is the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (Church of Our Lady of Remedies), also known as the Santuario de la Virgen de los Remedios (Sanctuary of the Virgin of Remedies), which was built by the Spanish in colonial times (1594) on top of the prehispanic temple. The church is a major Catholic pilgrimage destination, and the site is also used for the celebration of indigenous rites. Many ancient sites in Latin America are found under modern Catholic holy sites, due to the practice of the Catholic Church repurposing local religious sites.
Because of the historic and religious significance of the church, which is a designated colonial monument, the pyramid as a whole has not been excavated and restored, as have the smaller but better-known pyramids at Teotihuacan. Inside the pyramid are some five miles (8 km) of tunnels excavated by archaeologists.