The first native city visited by the conquistadors, CEMPOALA (or Zempoala) quickly became their ally against the Aztecs. When Cortés arrived, the city, under the leadership of Chicomacatl (dubbed the “Fat Chief” by conquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo), had been under Aztec control for little over fifty years. Its people, who numbered some 25,000 to 30,000, had already rebelled more than once and were only too happy to stop paying their tribute once they believed that the Spaniards could protect them. This they did, although the inhabitants must have begun to have second thoughts when Cortés ordered the idols of their deities to be smashed and replaced with crosses and Christian altars.

The ruins, though nowhere near as dramatic as El Tajín further north, make for an absorbing detour and take no more than an hour to explore. They date mostly from the Aztec period, and although the buildings have lost their decorative facings and thatched sanctuaries, they constitute one of the most complete surviving examples of an Aztec ceremonial centre – albeit in an atypical tropical setting and on a very small scale. The double-stairway pyramids, grouped around a central plaza, must have resembled miniature versions of those at Tenochtitlán. Apart from the main, cleared site, consisting of the Templo Mayor, the Gran Pirámide and the Templo de las Chimeneas, there are lesser ruins scattered throughout, and around, the modern village. Look out in particular for the circular Templo de Ehecatl (Temple of the Wind God) on the opposite side of the main road through the village.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Mexico features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

The most beautiful country in the world – as voted by you

The most beautiful country in the world – as voted by you

There's nothing like an amazing view to inspire you to book your next trip, whether you're drawn by rolling countryside, isolated islands or soaring mountain …

30 Aug 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

From ancient temples to hyper-modern skyscrapers, these are just a few of the world's most incredible architectural wonders. Whether you're looking to wander l…

01 Feb 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
12 cool places to visit in Mexico

12 cool places to visit in Mexico

Times remain tough for Mexico, but the truth is that there’s never been a better period to visit Latin America’s most diverse nation – most of the country…

16 Jan 2017 • Stephen Keeling insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month