Cemanahuac is world famous for its field study tours. These trips to historical, archeological, and cultural sites give students a nuanced understanding of both Mexico’s history and current situation. You will learn about Mexico’s contributions to art, food, language, math and science, architecture, religion and government.
Most trips are led by Charlie Goff, an expert in Mesoamerican history and archeology as well as a deep fount of knowledge about all things Mexican. Charlie writes a weekly column called Charlie’s Digs in The News, Mexico’s English-language newspaper.
Trips are held in the afternoons, after Spanish class, and on weekends. Some trips run for several days. The current schedule is posted at the school. Prices range from $35 US to $50 US depending on the location. Cemanahuac can also design a custom field study tour for your group.
When you have Charlie as your guide it is incredible. He has an absolute wealth of knowledge about all things Mexico, all things archeological.
– Edward Kennedy
Teotihuacan—The Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon
Teotihuacan was the largest political and religious center of Prehispanic Mesoamerica, and for a time was the largest city in the world in the mid sixth century of our era. Located in the northeasternmost part of the Valley of Mexico, the area least desirable for farming, and far from the lakeshore, its success was due to its location on the most intensely traveled commercial route in Mesoamerica. It was the Valley of Mexico’s gateway to the Gulf coast as well as to the Valley of Puebla, the Yucatan Penninsula, Oaxaca and Central America. If that weren’t enough it was the birthplace of the sun itself. It’s economic power came from the production of obsidian tools — Mesoamerica’s sharpest.
Its best known structures are the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. The most exquisitely decorated is the Temple of Quetzalcoatl (the feathered serpent). Teotihuacan seems to be where the Quetzalcoatl cult began. The rapid rise of Teotihuacan can be traced to a volcanic eruption in the southern end of the Valley of Mexico forcing a migration to the North. The trip will follow the same route starting at Cuicuilco, an archeological site in southern Mexico City.
This is a twelve-hour round trip that includes visits to two archeological sites, Cuicuilco and Teotihuacan. At their peak each was the largest city in the Valley of Mexico. In visiting them we will drive through what some claim to be the largest city in the world today. Just getting to the two places gives us a lot of contemporary Mexico to see and talk about.
Mexico City’s Downtown Treasures — Templo Mayor, Palace of Fine Arts, National Palace, and the Cathedral
Right in the center of Mexico City, the Templo Mayor was located in the great plaza of Tenochtitlan, political and military center of the Aztec Empire. Sparked by the discovery in 1978 of the massive, round carved stone portraying the goddess Coyolxauhqui, the archeological site now covers six city blocks. The on-site museum is the first of Mexico’s grand museums built after the signing of the Charter of Venice, which encourages items being displayed where they were found, rather than in large national museums.
We will also visit the permanent exhibit of mural art in the Palace of Fine Arts with murals by Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clement Orozco — the Big Three of the post-revolutionalry mural art movement. From there we will go to the National Palace to view Diego Rivera’s murals which he produced between 1929 and 1952. Diagonally across the Plaza de la Constitución we’ll visit the Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest church in Latin America, and seat of the world’s largest Roman Catholic diocese.
The Museum of Anthropology—A World Class Museum
The tour visits the Prehispanic Mesoamerican rooms of the National Museum of Anthropology in Chapultepec Park in Mexico City. Unlike other major museums of the world which are frequently a huge collections of beautiful things, the National Institute of Anthropology and History’s (INAH) museums weave stories together. This is the grandest of INAH’s museums. What might otherwise appear to be diverse cultures, both geographically and chronologically, will be tied together by following the legend of Quetzalcoatl, a changing god of Mesoamerican mythology. In doing so we’ll see magnificent pieces of art, mainly in sculpture and ceramics, as well as utilitarian objects from Mesoamerica’s Preclassic, Classic, and Post Classic periods. By the end of the day you will understand the changes in religion and subsequent adaptations in architecture which accompanied each of those time periods.
Walking Tour of Cuernavaca—The Ins and Outs of this Historic City
This trip could be called a walk along Hidalgo Street. We’ll start in Cuernavaca’s cathedral, a 16th century Franciscan church which was remodeled on the inside in the 1950s and consecrated as a cathedral by Bishop Sergio Mendez Arceo. The architecture is austere and the remodeled interior sparse, yet imposing and impressive. Bishop Mendez Arceo projected the cathedral into world fame in church circles not only because of the remodeling of the church building, but more importantly because of who he was as a bishop on the side of the poor.
We’ll visit the Borda Gardens where the Borda family of Taxco fame had their Cuernavaca home. The 18th century house itself is modest. What attracts attention are the gardens which cover an area of four city blocks, landscaped to include walkways, fountains, a rowing lake, and swimming pool.
We’ll walk the length of Hidalgo Street — with a slight detour through the city square — to the Cortez Palace where we will visit Diego Rivera’s murals in what is now the regional museum of anthropology and archeology.
Xochicalco—An Ancient Commercial and Astronomical Center
Xochicalco, a mountaintop city, was important as a commercial control center for Teotihuacan as well as being an astronomical study center in its own right. While most Mesoamerican astronomers were satisfied with making their astronomical observations on the horizon, Xochicalco’s underground observatory allowed its astronomers to make focused observations into the center of the day sky as well as the night sky. It is built in such a way that the underground observation chamber is illuminated at noon for fifty-two days before and after the summer solstice. Perhaps this breakthrough in astronomical observations is what prompted Mayan astronomers to choose Xochicalco for an astronomical convention in 850 A.D. — a time when it was difficult to find a place in the Maya region peaceful enough for a meeting that would go on for weeks if not months. A record of the meeting, with portraits of its participants, is engraved on the Plumed Serpent (Quetzalcoatl) Pyramid.
A Beautiful Colonial Silver City
Taxco, of silver mining and production fame, is also a colonial monument in which even new buildings are required to conform to colonial design. Narrow cobble-stoned streets wind through the city. We’ll visit an old silver mine to hear a brief explanation of the different types of ores in the area and how silver is mined. We will also hear a description of the various kinds of jewelry available in Taxco’s many silver shops. There is ample time to wander the streets of this lovely colonial city before regrouping for a visit to the historic church of Santa Prisca, located on the zócalo.
Tepotzlan—A Beguiling Village
The village of Tepoztlan is surrounded by cliff formations of sandstone-like rock formed from compressed volcanic ash. Its setting was inappropriate for sugar cultivation and probably for that reason it was not absorbed into an hacienda as was the fate of many of Morelos’ villages in the late 19th century. Much of Tepoztlan’s community life is ruled by usos y costumbres (uses and customs) in which elders make decisions, rather than by civil code of law. Participants in this trip can chose to hike to a pyramid at the top of the ridge or stay in town. The Tepozteco pyramid, dedicated to the god of pulque Ometochtli, offers a fun hike and beautiful view of the valley. Those staying in town will get a guided visit to the small museum housing an archeological collection donated by Carlos Pellicer, the 16th century Dominican church and monastery, and the market.
Arts of Mexico—Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo’s world
We will visit a number of places on the southern end of Mexico City: the Bazar Sábado, the art fair in Plaza San Jacinto in San Angel; Diego and Fridas home and studio, also in San Angel; the Frida Kahlo Museum located in the Casa Azul (Blue House) in Coyoacán; and the magnificent Dolores Olmedo Museum in Xochimilco, which houses the largest collection of the works of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in the world. The home and gardens are magnificent, the art is incredible.
Puebla—The City of Angels
Puebla is perhaps the best-preserved colonial city in Mexico. Founded by the Spanish in 1531 and occupied by them for nearly 300 years, its colonial buildings are impressive. Puebla is the home of the talavera tile which is famous all over Mexico. We will visit one of the factories where it is hand painted, as well as the lovely new Amparo Museum, the ex-convento of Santa Monica, and the magnificent popular art museum of Santa Rosa. We will also see the site of the victorious battle, Cinco de Mayo. Before we depart, we will visit Tony’s Tacos, “the best taco place in Mexico” according to Tony and every taxi driver in Puebla.