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Though the Pyramids of Egypt are generally spoken of in such a way as to give the impression that such structures are peculiar to Egypt, this is far from being the case. There are numerous pyramids of various sizes in Arabia. The Birs-Nimroud, or supposed
Tower of Babel, was a pyramidal building. India, in like manner, furnishes examples of similar structures. But next to the Great Pyramid of Gizeh, those of Spanish America are most calculated to excite attention. Like those of Babylon, the Mexican Pyramids are chiefly constructed of bricks. The Great Pyramid of Cholula covers an area more than three times the base of the Great Pyramid of Gizeh ; but it is built in the usual form of the Mexican pyramids, consisting of four receding platforms, each of which is subdivided into a number of small steps, and the top is left as a large open platform, so that the height is small compared with the
base. Here, however, nearly all resemblance to the Py- 1 ramids of Egypt ceases, though internal chambers have been discovered in some of them, containing skeletons, and have perhaps a monumental character. The Pyramids of Cholula appear to have been chiefly designed by the ancient Mexicans as pedestals for the statues of their gods. When Cortez first beheld them, a colossal statue occupied the summit of each, covered with plateş of gold, which, however, did not long retain its position. The lofty terrace of the great pyramid was chosen as the site of a church, and mass is now daily celebrated in it by an Indian priest.
It is described by Humboldt as “the greatest, most aucient, and most celebrated of the whole of the pyramidal monuments of this quarter. It is called the “ Mountain made by the hand of Man." At a distance it has the appearance of a natural hill covered with vegetation. In the interior, there are considerable cavities which were used, as sepulclrres. A particular circumstance led to this discovery. Seven or eight years ago, in tracing the road from Puebla to Mexico, the first story was cut through, so that an eighth part remained isolated like a heap of bricks. In making this opening a square house was discovered in the interior of the pyramid, built of stone, and supported by beams made of the wood of the deciduous cypress. The house contained two skeletons, idols in basalt, and a great number of vases curiously varnished and painted. No pains were taken to preserve these objects, but it is said to have been carefully ascertained that this house, covered with bricks and strata of clay, had no outlet. We examined the remains of this subterraneous house, and observed a particular arrangement of the bricks, tending to diminish the pressure made on the roof. The natives being ignorant of the manner of making arches, placed very large bricks horizontally, so that the upper course should pass beyond the lower. The continuation of this kind of stepwork served in some measure as a substitute for the Gothic vault, and similar vestiges have been found in several Egyptian edifices. An adit dug through the pyramid to
examine its internal structure, would be an interesting operation; and it is singular, that the desire of discovering hidden treasure has not prompted the undertaking.”
The Indians preserved many strange traditions, some of which pointed to the Great Pyramid as a temple for a divine being, whom they regarded as the conductor of their race to that country, and their instructor in the metallurgic arts. Another very remarkable tradition still exists among the Indians, which Humboldt, after his return to Europe, found corroborated by the Mexican MS. in the Vatican at Rome. " Before the great inundation which took place 4800 years after the creation of the world, the country of Anahuac was inhabited by giants. All those who did not perish were transformed into fishes, save seven, who fled into caverns. When the waters subsided, one of these giants, Xelhua, surnamed the architect, went to Cholula, where, as a memorial of the mountain Tlaloc, which had served as an asylum for himself and his six brethren, he built an artificial hill in the form of a pyramid. He ordered bricks to be made at the foot of the Sierra Cocotl, and to convey them to Cholula, he placed a file of men, who passed them from hand to hand. The gods beheld with wrath this edifice, the top of which was to reach the clouds. Irritated at the daring attempt of Xelhua, they hurled fire on the pyramid. Numbers of the workmen perished; the work was discontinued, and the monument was afterwards dedicated to the god of the air. This tradition reminds us of those ancient traditions of the East, which the Hebrews have recorded in their sacred books. These pyramids were at once temples and tombs. The plain on which were built the houses of the Sun and of the Moon at Teohihuaca, is called the Path of the Dead; but the essential part of a pyramid was the chapel, the naos, at the top of the edifice. In the infancy of civilization, high places were chosen by the people to offer sacrifices to the gods. The first altars, the first temples, were erected on mountains, and when these mountains were isolated, the worshippers delighted in the toil of shaping them into regular forms, cutting them by
stories, and making stories to reach the summit more easily. Both continents afford numerous examples of these hills, divided into terraces, and supported by walls of brick or stone. The pyramids appear to me to be merely artificial hills, raised in the midst of a plain, and intended to serve as a basis to the altars. What is more sublime and awful than a sacrifice that is offered in the sight of an assembled nation !"
The Pyramid of Tapautla was by chance discovered some years ago by some Spanish hunters; for the Indians carefully conceal from the whites whatever was an object of ancient veneration. The form of this pyramid, which had six, perhaps seven stories, is more tapering than any other monument of this kind. It it built entirely of hewa stones of an extraordinary size, and very beautifully and regularly shaped. Three staircases lead to the top. The covering of its steps is decorated with hieroglyphical sculpture, and small niches, which are arranged with great symmetry. The number of these niches seems to allude to the 318 simple and compound signs of the days of the civil calendar of the Tolbecks.
The researches of Humboldt gave, as might have been expected, a new impetus to the study of American antiquities. Among travellers who have made explorations, Mark Beaufoy, a British officer, published, in 1828, a work entitled “Mexican Illustrations.” He thus describes a: visit to a group of pyramids much less noted than those of Cholula :-" The most curious, and from various circumstances which connect them with the first colonization of America, by far the most interesting monuments in the Mexican territory are the Pyramids of Otumba. So little had I been led to expect from report, that these ancient edifices would be found more worthy of attention than the three ruinous pyramids of Cholula, that I had neglected to provide myself with the means of measuring them, or to make such arrangements as might have enabled me more i thoroughly to investigate the extraordinary scene I was about to visit.
“ The two pyramids of Otumba have their sides and !
shape perfectly distinct, facing the four cardinal points of the compass, with an inclination to the summit of about 45 degrees, and those summits appearing at a short distance to end in a peak. They are placed at half a mile from each other. Each has two stages about three feet wide, at regular distances up the sides, and running quite round the building. On the summit of each is a small platform, once apparently covered with cement, and probably surmounted by a temple; but a few modern ruins show clearly that the Spanish conquerors had erected chapels on the sites of the Mexican edifices. In no point could I discover anything resembling an entrance ; but several large holes which had been dug into their sides, either from curiosity or avarice, gave me the opportunity of ascertaining that neither layers of brick, nor adobas : (unburnt), were used in the construction ; common volcanic stones, with which the surrounding plain is strewed, appear to have been agglomerated into the pyramidal mass, by means of a cement composed of water, earth, and mortar ; and the faces of the four inclined planes afterwards smoothed and perfected as to their shape and proportions. The latter operation has been effected with so
much care, and the fissures so well closed, that the small | bushes now growing on them have scarcely proved injuri
ous to the workmanship. The group of primitive remains which surround these remarkable structures are no less wonderful. Between the two pyramids, arranged in regular order, and forming a kind of street, are a vast number of small mounds or tumuli of volcanic stones; varying in height from five to twenty and thirty feet : these did not seem to have had their sides smoothed, but wore the appearance of heaps raised to commemorate the dead. To the right hand of the Pyramid of the Moon, stands the head of an immense idol, carved in a hard species of porphyry; and in another place a stone altar extremely well fashioned, which I measured as well as I could with my pocket-handkerchief, and then compared with my own height: this rude mode gave eleven feet long (for it had been thrown down), four wide, and four thick. The