Wednesday, December 8

The leaks become the great threat to the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan

On the floor of the north room of the Casa de las Águilas, in the Templo Mayor of the Aztecs, in Mexico City, three buckets appear as the last defensive line of a past in danger. The cover that protected the enclosure collapsed on April 28 by a hail storm, volatilizing the conservative routines of archaeologists and restorers. Since then, some and others have dedicated their days to watching over the bas-reliefs of the house, of enormous value due to the amount of colors that are still preserved, unique in the archaeological zone.

The buckets are part of the protection system that specialists have designed to prevent the rains from affecting the bas-reliefs and stucco floors. The April hailstorm wet part of the vestiges and with the deck destroyed, any idea is welcome. Under the roof, over the buckets, the curators have installed two networks of gutters, which collect the water and carry it to the drain. Polyethylene panels have been placed on the floor and walls. Mariana Díaz de León, head of the restoration of the Templo Mayor, explains that these panels are “inert”, that is, they do not rot. “This way we avoid the appearance of molds or microorganisms that could affect the walls or stucco”, he adds.

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Since the collapse, the National Institute of Anthropology and History, INAH, manager of the archaeological zone, has insisted that the damage has been minor. The institute has explained that the roof fell on the railing of the walkway that tourists normally walk through, thus saving the floor and the walls. Without causing a great scandal, criticism for the poor maintenance that the cover had received has been a constant since then. In addition, the fear of a greater impact persists, especially in the middle of the rainy season, with the roof peeled off over the house in the form of an open book. So far, the buckets, gutters and panels have worked, but there is no guarantee that they will withstand a big storm like the one in April.

Part of the ceremonial nucleus of the Mexica, the Casa de las Águilas is one of the most important buildings in the complex. The INAH considers that important religious and political ceremonies were held there, such as the wakes of the tlatoque or the appointment of the new kings. For its part, the Templo Mayor is the jewel in the crown of national archeology, not only in a historical sense, but also a political one. In May, the president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, celebrated the anniversary of the birth of Tenochtitlán, the old capital of the Mexica. In August he plans to return, this time to commemorate the fall of the lake city at the hands of the alliance between the Spanish and the Nahua peoples, enemies of the Aztecs.

Staff from the National Institute of Anthropology and History works at the Casa de las Águilas this month.
Staff from the National Institute of Anthropology and History works at the Casa de las Águilas this month.INAH

Since the speech, López Obrador has shown interest and concern for the country’s archaeological heritage. INAH workers have criticized these years, however, the lack of support for maintenance and research, in the case of the roofs of the Templo Mayor. The institute’s management has explained on several occasions that the covid-19 pandemic has forced changes in the budget. It is a mystery to know what will happen when Mexico returns to normal.

With regard to the Casa de las Águilas, the intention of the Ministry of Culture is to remove the roof, which recently turned 40 years old. Then they will put in a new one. In these two and a half months since the collapse, there has also been speculation about the possibility of changing the other three covers, installed in the same way 40 years ago. Archaeologists are especially concerned about the one that protects the remains of part of the Huey Teocalli, the pyramid of the Templo Mayor, the most important building in the complex.

Secrecy surrounds INAH’s actions. Just last week the institute hung some posters on the wall of the enclosure, explaining the importance of the House of the Eagles, a building that archaeologists took 17 years to excavate, from 1980 to 1997. There they found for example two extraordinary sculptures of the god Mictlantecuhtli, lord of the Aztec underworld, currently on display in the site museum. On the posters, the institute reports that experts have propped up the ceiling with wooden and metal beams. On the future, the posters read: “After changing the roof, a new structure will be placed immediately, since the remains cannot be left out in the open.”

The company seems very complicated, first because of the weight of the fallen roof and then because of the need to protect the remains, an aspect that is linked to the time needed to install the new one. It seems difficult that the house is not out in the open, at least for a while. A source from the institute refers that “the removal of the destroyed roof will take weeks and the installation of the new one … Months in total.” The restorer Díaz de León explains that she and her team, a total of four people who are exclusively in charge of the Casa de las Águilas, are already working on the placement of a “raised wooden platform, which allows the floor to be ventilated and also allow transit ”. Part of that platform will be movable, the planks will be able to be raised so that the conservators monitor the ground and the sidewalks with the bas-reliefs, which rise more than half a meter above the ground.

A blanket placed by the workers of the Templo Mayor expressing their dissatisfaction with the risk and deterioration of the area in the historic center of Mexico City.
A blanket placed by the workers of the Templo Mayor expressing their dissatisfaction with the risk and deterioration of the area in the historic center of Mexico City.Monica Gonzalez

Accustomed to looking for solutions on the run, Díaz de León explains that what worries them the most are “sudden environmental changes”, that is, increases or decreases in temperature or humidity in the environment. “Now we are monitoring the environment with dataloggers, which measure precisely those two variants ”, he adds. Uncertainty frames the months to come, when the rainy season ends, the environment dries up and winter approaches. The synchronization of the work teams in charge of safeguarding the heritage, removing the old roof and placing the new one will be essential for the future of the Casa de las Águilas.

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