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Ancient Mexico’s Cities

By Tim Hazell

Cultural Perspectives

The Olmecs (1200 to 300 BC) settled along the warm and humid Gulf Coast and represent Mexico’s mother culture. “Olmec” comes from the Aztecs and signifies “People of the Lands of Rubber.” Three major hubs of Olmec civilization in Laguna de Los Cerros and San Lorenzo in Veracruz, and La Venta in Tabasco, became prominent about 1000 BC. Olmecs developed a calendar, mathematics, astronomy, and a sophisticated network of aqueducts. Their cities with temple complexes at the center may have influenced mound builders in America’s Southwest.

Other metropoles evolved. Monte Alban, Zapotec capital in the heartland of Oaxaca, flourished between 400 BC and 600 AD. Architectural remains show complexity of design. An altar made of three structures had tunnels linking other temples on the site, possibly allowing priests and dignitaries the chance to pass unnoticed and make sudden magical appearances.

Twentieth-century architects who spearheaded the Organic Movement, such as RM Schindler and Frank Lloyd Wright, drew some of their inspiration from native cities of the Americas. They had a deepening interest in pre-industrial societies and tried to recapture the essence of direct contact with nature, reaching back to a time when humanity was not master over the elements, but dominated by their mysterious power.

New World urbanism was distinguished by ceremonial architecture built on a grid. Teotihuacan rose to prominence in Mexico’s highland plateau around 100 AD. The period between 200 and 600 AD witnessed growth to 150,000 inhabitants. It became the New World’s greatest city, sprawling over 150 square kilometers, an experiment in effectively organized manpower. Landscape was remodeled, massive waterworks constructed, and its population channeled into collective enterprises.

Chocolate is a New World development and lends its dark intrigue to many native recipes. Here is an updated ancient classic!

Simple Chocolate Chile Mole


2 tbsp. olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 chopped chipotle pepper with 2 tsp. adobo sauce from can

1 cup raisins

3 chopped tomatoes

3 tbsp. smooth peanut butter

2 cups chicken broth

2 tsp. Mexican chile powder

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1-1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

Shredded meat from one cooked chicken


1/4 cup roughly chopped peanuts

1 tsp. sesame seeds

1 orange, zested

Fresh cilantro

Lime wedges

1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced

Flour tortillas


Heat oil in a casserole over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, stirring to soften for 5 minutes. Add the chipotle with adobo, raisins, and tomatoes, stirring to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Pour the mixture into a blender. Add the peanut butter, broth, chile powder, and cinnamon. Puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Return the mixture to casserole. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chocolate and stir until melted. Add shredded chicken and heat through. Transfer to a serving dish. Garnish with peanuts, sesame seeds, and orange zest. Serve with cilantro, lime, avocado, and tortillas.


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