Why was the city of Calixtlahuaca (3 square km of occupation, probably 10,000+ inhabitants) built on a mountain? Most Mesoamerican cities built on mountains (think of Monte Alban or Xochicalco) were placed there for reasons of defense. Images of mountaintop cities in Mesoamerican codices (see my earlier blog entry on these) tend to show battles and defensive walls. But for several reasons, we don't think that defense was a major factor in the layout of Calixtlahuaca:
- We did not find any defensive walls or ditches.
- The largest civic buildings were not built in a protected location.
Well, what is so surprising about building a city on a mountain if defense was NOT a major consideration? The answer is the effort required to build the site. Every house that was built had to be accompanied by the construction (and constant maintenance) of stone terraces. Temples 3 and 4 required massive platforms and large excavations into the hillside to build level areas for these temples and their groups.
I have some hunches about why Calixtlahuaca may have been built on a mountain, but I will refrain from saying them now. One thing I am doing is looking for other ancient cities around the world whose residential zones were built on mountainsides, with the civic architecture at the base of the hill. Ephesis (the Roman occupation) is one example (see photo), and I am looking for others. If you have suggestions, let me know.