Mexico Built a Fake Aztec Temple Instead of Fixing the Real Sacred One

And the nightly neon light show isn't helping.
August 13, 2021, 6:21pm
Fake Templo Mayor Pyramid Mexico City
The fake pyramid is only a few dozen feet from the closed Templo Mayor. (PHOTO: Agencia El Universal/Germán Espinosa via AP Images.)

MEXICO CITY—A Mexican company spent a bunch of money to build a massive replica of the country's legendary Aztec pyramid, just steps from the real pyramid that the government has closed due to lack of funds. For extra pizzazz, a nightly neon light show will illuminate the fake pyramid’s polystyrene walls to spirit you back half a millenium to that vanquished civilization. 

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The Templo Mayor, a sacred Aztec center, was shut down in April after a hailstorm caused the collapse of a metal roof at the archaeological site. Nearly four months later, it has yet to be fixed and the pyramid’s remains and adjacent museum remain closed to visitors. 

But the irony of building an ostentatious replica next to the existing sacred site in desperate need of funds for repairs set Mexican Twitter alight. The memes were swift and hilarious.

The popular Hotline Bling meme quickly went viral with Drake's head replaced by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's, as the president brushes off the idea “to invest in conservation of the real Temple Mayor”, followed by the musician/president mock up pointing smugly at the phrase “create one out of cardboard.”

Another meme mocked the replica's nighttime multicolored lighting system by referencing one of The Simpsons’ most iconic episodes when Homer eats an extremely spicy chili and ends up on a peyote-esque vision quest. The coyote guide that Homer meets stares gleefully at the brightly lit model pyramid in downtown Mexico City.

One meme imposed López Obrador’s face on the body of Mumm-Ra summoning the powers of his evil temple from the Thundercats cartoon series, while others suggested that the fake pyramid was the stage for a surprise Daft Punk reunion concert in Mexico City.

Templo Mayor meme

It's unclear how much money was spent on the replica by the company Ocesa and why none was allocated to repairing the actual temple. Ocesa, which is better known for operating concert venues, received a tax credit for creating the spectacle, according to Mexico City authorities.

It's been reported that since taking office, López Obrador cut the Templo Mayor's budget by 75 percent, which has impeded continued excavation efforts and apparently left the country’s National Institute of Anthropology and History short of cash to fix the damaged roof.

López Obrador attended the inauguration of the replica in Mexico City’s giant central square, the Zócalo, Friday in another odd homage to the anniversary of the capture of the city and the last Aztec Emperor, Cuauhtémoc, by Hernán Cortés’s Spanish army and its local allies on August 13 1521. 

López Obrador previously made waves when he asked Spain and the Vatican to apologize for human rights abuses during the Spanish Conquest 500 years ago. The government has framed today’s event as “500 years of Indigenous resistance” and did not invite the Spanish ambassador to Mexico to today’s ceremony. Among the speakers were representatives from Indigenous communities in Mexico, the United States and Canada. 

The 52 ½ foot high Templo Mayor replica will remain in the Zócalo for several weeks to commemorate the anniversary, when the Spanish began to raze the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan and build what is now modern day Mexico City. They destroyed the sacred Templo Mayor pyramid and used much of the debris to construct the city’s giant Roman Catholic cathedral.

“For the [Aztecs] it was the center of the universe,” said Federal Culture Ministry festival director Argel Gómez referring to the Templo Mayor. “It was the point at which one could enter the underworld and the different celestial levels.” 

Unfortunately, their center of the Universe will remain closed. But at least for a few weeks, visitors can enjoy a replica instead?