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Tourists stand on top of pyramid in Tollan, Mexico

Tollan, the Divine City of the Toltec


The myth of Tollan, the city of Quetzalcoatl, evokes other great long-gone cities like Atlantis.

Among the many avatars of mythical cities –archetypal axes of an aural world– we have Tollan, the city of the Toltec, reined by the man-god Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent. And although this city is not as well known as others within global mythology, it is not less splendorous in any sense.

There is certain confusion regarding the origin of this city within the Toltec cosmovision. As settlers of the central Mexican plateau, they extended their culture to the Yucatan peninsula, bearing an exchange with the Mayan civilisation. Beyond the fact of not knowing clearly whether references to Tollan allude to a historical city or a legend, it is known that the Toltec capital, Tula, was not Tollan. In any case, there is a greater assimilation with Teotihuacan, the Pre-Columbian transcultural model of the great city. According to some historians, Tollan is actually an imaginary city that belongs to the divine.

The fundamental dilemma in the case of Tollan relates to whether the Toltec projected onto their cities the model of an archetypal (or even Utopian) city, a cosmic pillar –or if on the other hand– they extolled one of their own cities, due to its splendour, to mythical proportions. Following what has happened in other cultures, the first seems more likely, and Tollan would be a divine city that they tried to restore on earth.

It is said that in Tollan coloured cottons flourished, huge pumpkins, cobs and cacao grew abundantly; beautiful birds with intensely hued plumages soared the skies; the four temples (reference to the axis mundi) where covered in gold and precious gems, and Quetzalcoatl, the wisest and fairest of rulers, governed over all. He was the man-god that abolished slavery and established idyll between man and the forces of nature –until he was tempted by his ever brother Tezcatlipoca (a legend similar to that of Osiris and Set in Egypt), who used black magic to make Quetzalcoatl drink pulque and have sex with his sister, thus breaking the fragile cosmic balance.

Illustration of Aztec city of Tollan

Some researchers have wanted to find a relationship between the Toltec and Atlantis. This relationship might seem somewhat strained –within the commotion of mystical connection– but it is founded on the word “nahuatl”, where “atl” means water, that Tollan itself means “between rushes” a water plant, that in Tula enormous sculptures where built which would eventually be known as Atlantes.

What remains true beyond speculation is that Tollan does have certain similarities with Atlantis, perhaps because the myth of that great city summarises and raises humanity as a whole, or it belongs to collective consciousness, maybe even because it exists in the remains of an evanescent memory of a golden age city, of human and divine communion. Does Utopia lie in the past or the future? Or do time and progress dilute in it? It is said that in Tollan there existed people belonging to all human races, “magical people” that had learned trades directly from Quetzalcoatl, in the same way that it was said in Egypt that the god Thoth had taught arts –including writing– to the priests and architects of the great pyramids.

The myth of Tollan is lost in the depths of history. It remains an ideal city projected onto other cities, a mirror of the cosmos, a religious parable, an esoteric symbol (perhaps only understood by the initiated Toltec, but which certainly has to do with the marriage of heaven and earth, embodied in the bird-serpent) and, of course, a mystery.

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