From a distance, the gray, volcanic rock pyramids and their stone walls held together by the sticky juice in nopales look rather good for being 1,500 years old. Located in Cañada de La Virgen (The Valley of the Virgin), an area 30 miles outside the city of San Miguel de Allende, this ancient ceremonial site is filled with mystery.
Locals had long been aware of the ruins outside the city. Interest in what was inside (graves? gold? jewelry?) once motivated grave diggers to blow up the main structure with dynamite. What did they find? No one now knows.
The three structures on the site are called House of the Thirteen Heavens (largest), House of the Wind and House of the Longest Night.
The House of the Thirteen Heavens was a temple dedicated to a task vitally important in antiquity – keeping time. Prior to clocks and calendars, ancient man looked to the sky to know when to plant and harvest plus when the solstices would occur.
Between the indigenous not leaving behind documentation and the Spanish destroying indigenous culture and societies, exactly what purposes the site served is left open to speculation.
One of macabre things to ponder are the 19 buried bodies found in the structures – males, females, a child and even a dog!
However, one of skeletons – found at the very top of the House of the Thirteen Heavens – was a woman believed to have died around 400 BC, nearly a millennium earlier than the site was built. Apparently folks carried her body to wherever they went indicating she was a very special ancestor.
Following excavations started in the early 2000s Cañada de la Virgen is believed to have reached its peak around 600-900 AD, contemporaneous with dozens of major Mayan sites. Later, in the 14th century, the Aztecs incorporated into their sprawling empire and the Spaniards into theirs in the 16th century.
Artifacts from both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts are found on the site suggesting it was located along a major trading route.
Today Cañada de la Virgen is a protected archeological monument granting it protection against commercial development and other building projects. For a thorough tour be sure to contact local guide, Albert Coffee.