El Tajín: Views of Buildings 5, 3 and 23; views of Pyramid of the Niches --page 3 (of seven pages)

300-600 C.E.

See map.

Building 5

Andrew Coe explains that Building 5 is the largest of the five buildings occupying the platform to the north of the south ballcourt. "This two-stage temple is constructed from a low talud topped with a row of niches where the tablero would be and then a long talud rising to the top" (188). This construction was used in a number of prehispanic palaces and temples that ascended in tiers. The talud or sloping wall alternated with vertical tableros which were rectangular panels (sometimes with reliefs or paintings).

Column-like sculpture on the steps of Building 5

Andrew Coe describes this as a seated figure with a skull for a head while Michael Coe and Koontz say the "Death God emerges from a complex scrollwork design" (142).

Left: on the platform of building 5 looking east--altar and Building 15 with Buildings 3 and 23 to the left; center: Buildings 3 and 23; right: altar and Building 3


El Tajín's most famous building--the Pyramid of the Niches (also called Building 1)

This building in the central section of the main site is somewhat small--only about 60 feet high. The four-sided building has 6 tiers in the talud-tablero construction with a single broad staircase on the east face. The balustrades on each side of the staircase have the step and fret motif, perhaps representing lightning. Each tier has a row of niches, supposedly adding up to 365, which has been generally interpreted as representing the days of the solar year. Coe and Koontz add that this building was covered with a layer of stucco and painted red, like many of the buildings at the site. Miller says that this building was completed about 800 C.E. (92) although an earlier pyramid, smaller but similar, was constructed within it.

Views from the south and southeast


Views from the east


Left: view from the eastnortheast

Some scholars speculate that offerings may have been placed in these niches, although there is apparently no evidence for this. Large rectangular bases at the foot of the pyramid may have held standards.

View back south to the central core from Tajín Chico

Continue to page 4.

Works consulted or quoted:
Andrew Coe. Archaeological Mexico. Emeryville, CA: Avalon Travel Publishing, 2001.
Michael D. Coe and Rex Koontz. Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs. Fifth Edition. London: Thames & Hudson, 2002.
Mary Ellen Miller. The Art of Mesoamerica: From Olmec to Aztec. Third Edition. London: Thames and Hudson, 2001.

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© 2009 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.