Many lost cities have been discovered by archaeologists or explorers, but El Tajín, in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, holds an unsolved mystery.
El Tajín is situated on a tropical plateau and was covered by the jungle that kept it hidden and protected until 1785, when it was discovered by a government official in search of illegal tobacco plantations, but it only began to be excavated by archaeologists in the 20th century.
The city began to be built around 800 BC and was inhabited until 1300 AD by an unknown culture, possibly influenced by the Olmec people.
Some archaeologists believe that these people were the ancestors of the Toltecs or some offshoot of the Mayans. Other evidence suggests that the builders of El Tajín were the ancestors of the Huastec people, who still live in the state of Veracruz.
In its heyday, about 20,000 people lived in El Tajín, the capital of a kingdom that dominated much of southwestern Mexico. The city was wealthy and encompassed important trade networks until 1300, when the city was invaded by a nomadic people known as the Chitimec, who lived in what is now northern Mexico.
El Tajín was partially destroyed and abandoned, but it was known to the Toltecs and Aztecs, who associated the ruins with the supernatural and the realm of the dead, and after the Spanish conquest the city was forgotten.
Until the city’s fall, the central square, decorated with many statues, was used as a market, surrounded by step pyramids where the temples are located.
The most important building in El Tajín is the Pyramid of Niches, with three sloping sides and a vertical wall, arranged in seven floors of slabs that seem to represent caves that symbolized portals to the underworld.
Experts believe that this pyramid was once painted red and had a huge statue of a deity on its top.
In El Tajín, ballcourts were found, where competitors played a game of great religious significance, a tradition also present among the Mayans, where the losers of the ball game were beheaded and sacrificed to the deities.
The city was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the 1990s and declared a National Archaeological Park by the Mexican government to protect its many ruins.
So far, only 50% of the site has been investigated.