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Richard A. Diehl

[Náhuatl: ‘snake wall’]

Wall decorated with serpent motifs built adjacent to temple pyramids in the Post-Classic period (c. ad 900–1521) in cultures of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Three coatepantlis are known: the courtyard wall in front of the Great Temple, the most important Aztec temple in the imperial capital at Tenochtitlán (c. 1500; see Mexico City, §I); a line of serpents depicted in the round at the Aztec religious centre, Tenayuca (c. 1500); and a free-standing vertical wall at Tula, the earlier Toltec capital (c. ad 950–c. 1200).

Although he did not actually see it, Fray Diego Durán (1537–88) seems to have described the Great Temple coatepantli from eye-witness accounts: ‘Its own private courtyard was surrounded by a great wall, built of large carved stones in the manner of serpents joined one to another … This wall was called Coatepantli, Snake Wall’ (...


Elizabeth Baquedano

Type of sculpture made with melted sugar. It is confined to Mexico, and its origins are uncertain, although it seems likely that it developed in imitation of the Pre-Columbian custom of creating images with tzoalli dough (a Náhuatl term for maize and amaranth seeds kneaded with honey), as described in detail by 16th-century Spanish chroniclers. The latter tradition has survived to the late 20th century alongside sugar sculpture. Aztec deity images were made of clay, stone, wood or tzoalli dough, and less frequently of gold, silver or jade. The last three, more expensive materials, were used for temple images, but tzoalli images were also ‘sacred’, in that pieces were broken off and eaten, perhaps as if they represented the flesh of the gods. The 16th-century chronicler Diego Durán described how birds were made with such dough, with wings, feathers and other details attached to them and painted, techniques also used by modern sugar sculptors....


J. C. Langley

Spanish term for a form of wall profile found throughout Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, comprising a vertical panel (tablero) resting on a slanting talus (talud). It is particularly associated with the type of pyramidal structure developed at Teotihuacán in the Basin of Mexico and characteristic of its culture (see fig.). Its origins are uncertain, but it occurs between 400 and 300 bc in the Puebla–Tlaxcala region together with other cultural traits later found at Teotihuacán. The talud–tablero was introduced at Teotihuacán c. ad 200 and during the next 500 years became almost ubiquitous on the stepped pyramids, which are typical of the city’s religious architecture. Each step of the pyramid comprised a vertical riser set in a frame or moulding, either extended the full width of the pyramid or intersected by a stairway. This tablero is cantilevered and rests on a talud that slopes inwards at an angle of about 45°. The ratio of ...