Just like Peru, with its countless legends of ancient tunnels and buried treasure, rumors of a vast ancient tunnel network that extends under much of Mexico and Central America are nearly as plentiful, many dating to a time earlier than that of the Spanish conquest. The Aztecs themselves believed that their ancestors had emerged from this mysterious underworld after a great cataclysm. In Aztec myths and legends, this underground world was known as Chicomoztoc, the “place of the seven caverns”. Maya creation stories also speak of the underground kingdom of Xibalba as a real, physical place, from which humanity had emerged at the dawn of time. Caves and ancient tunnels were believed to be the gates to this mysterious subterranean world.
What follows is a list of the most famous ancient cave and tunnel entrances found throughout Mexico and Central America.
|The entrance to the Maya labyrinth of Yaxchilan, in Chiapas, a sprawling underground complex of chambers and corridors that may conceal the entrance to Edgar Cayce's fabulous Hall of Records. [Photo by Author]|
Texcoco – The palace of Nezahualcoyotl
|The entrance to one of the many ancient tunnels that pierce the hill of Tezcotzingo. [Photo by Author]|
A report of our 2016 expedition to Texcoco and Tezcotzingo can be found here.
Mexico City – The “Tomb of the Aztecs” on the hill of Chapultepec
Mexico City – The "Cueva del Diablo" on the Cerro de la Estrella
Many legends surround the so-called Cueva del Diablo or “Devil’s Cave” in Mexico City’s Cerro de la Estrella. The mountain, a prominent feature in the geography of the Valley of Mexico, was a sacred site since pre-Columbian times. Its name “Mountain of the Star”, suggests the hill may have served as a place of astronomical observations in antiquity. The remains of a large Aztec pyramid sit on its summit, where every 52 years a special ceremony was performed. During this celebration, known as the New Fire Ceremony, a giant fire was lighted to mark the beginning of a new calendar cycle. On the hill, among the many ancient petroglyphs and rock carvings, may be found the entrances to several caves. Of these, the Cueva del Diablo has a particularly sinister reputation due to mysterious disappearances and a number of reported attacks by what has been described as an “unknown creature”. The cave connects to a vast network of ancient lava tunnels whose true extent is presently unknown, but which are believed to run under much of present-day Mexico City.
The underworld of Teotihuacan
|A view into one of the chambers that are part of a maze of tunnels extending for miles under the ancient city of Teotihuacan. [Photo by Author]|
|Dry-stone walls and burn marks on the ceiling of some of the caves and tunnels are evidence of a long human occupation of the mysterious underworld of Teotihuacan. [Photo by Author]|
The ancient metropolis of Teotihuacan contains three massive pyramids and hundreds of structures. At its height, between the 2nd and 5th Century AD, it was home to an estimated population of 250,000, which would have made it the largest ancient city in the pre-Columbian world – the “Rome of America”. Yet, the identity of the city's original builders is still shrouded in mystery.
A vast labyrinth of man-made tunnels and natural lava caves exists under the ancient metropolis, believed to extend for tens if not hundreds of miles. In 1880, the French archaeologist and explorer Desiré Charnay was among the first Europeans to penetrate the underground labyrinth of Teotihuacan. In his book “The ancient cities of the new world” he recalls having been led to what he described as the entrance to a cavernous quarry, some two and a half miles west of the pyramid of the Moon. There, several galleries branched off in different directions, leading to vast halls and chambers. Charnay also described an immense chamber with a dome-like ceiling, filled with human remains, which he considered to be the mausoleum of the mysterious race who built Teotihuacan and its great pyramids. Charnay speculated that the tunnels had originally been quarries, and were only at a later point converted into catacombs. Some of the tunnels that Charnay explored were remarkable for their straightness and perfection of construction, with one in particular said to run on a straight line to Amecameca, some 40 miles to the South-East.
The entrance to the original tunnel system first entered by Charnay in the late 19th Century is presently lost, but more tunnel entrances can be found a short distance to the East of the pyramid of the Sun. In 2017 we explored a section of these tunnels, finding a system of interconnected chambers and blocked passageways that seem to extend for an unknown distance in the direction of the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon. Reports also exist of vast tunnels under the Cerro Gordo mountain and in the nearby Tlapacique mountain range, where the openings of several air shafts or “respiraderos” point to the existence of yet more unexplored tunnels and chambers.
In the 1950s, archaeologist René Millon speculated that the largest pyramids at Teotihuacan were built on top of vast underground cavities. He even found evidence of what he described as a “huge sealed pit” under the pyramid of the Sun, which he believed could lead to a tomb of immense proportions. Another tunnel was explored under the pyramid of the Sun in 1971, terminating in a clover-leaf chamber. This seems, however, to bear no relationship with Millon’s supposed tomb.
In 2003, torrential rains revealed the entrance to another ancient tunnel under the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent. Vast quantities of liquid mercury, mysterious pyrite spherules and over 50,000 buried artifacts were recovered from the excavation, yet no burial could be found. At present, the function of these tunnels is unknown, It is possible that they may have formed part of a secret representation of the Underworld extending for miles under the ancient city of Teotihuacan.
A report of our latest explorations into the mysterious underworld of Teotihuacan can be found here.
Find also a video from the 2017 expedition here.
The subterraneans of Xochicalco
|A view of the Acropolis of Xochicalco from the lower terrace. The entrances to several caves and man-made tunnels are visible at the base of the cliff, penetrating deeply into the rock face [Photo by Author]|
|A map drawn at the beginning of the last century of a section of the subterraneans of Xochicalco, forming part of the so-called "Cave of the Sun". [Courtesy: INAH]|
In another article we even suggest that the hieroglyphs of the pyramid of Xochicalco may in fact tell the history of Atlantis - Read the complete article here.
The so-called “Cave of the Sun” is the only one of several tunnel entrances under the hill of Xochicalco that are presently open to the public. The main attraction of this tunnel system is a small, nearly circular chamber with an opening on top. On the day of the Spring and Autumn equinox, a ray of sun enters through the opening in the roof to light up the chamber. More blocked tunnel entrances can be found along the cliff face. In 1791, the learned scholar father Alzate y Ramirez was the first to report the existence of the tunnels or “subterraneans” of Xochicalco. One in particular he describesd as consisting of several “hallways” connected by winding stairways. The Indians accompanying the father on his expedition warned him that a person entering the underground labyrinth in the early hours of the morning would still not be able to find an end to it by sundown, or risk getting forever lost in the maze of tunnels and chambers.
Mitla's Temple of Doom and the Liyobaa cavern
|A view into one of the tombs of Mitla - Note the extremely fine workmanship of the stones and the mosaic panels on the walls. [Photo by Author]|
|Another view of the chambers and tunnels under one of the main palaces of Mitla. A similar cruciform structure may have served as the antechamber to the legendary Liyobaa cavern, believed to be an entrance to the underworld. [Photo by Author]|
Several tombs have been found under the main ceremonial structures of Mitla, the largest and most elaborate ones mimicking the architecture of the palaces above ground. The subterranean chambers are built of stone, finely cut and dressed, and frequently contain monolithic pillars and stone mosaics.
The first European reports of the ruins of Mitla date to the early 16th Century. One such report by a father Torquemada describes an immense cavern by the name of Liyobaa, believed to be the entrance to the underworld and the seat of a powerful oracle of the dead that was famous throughout the land. This cave was entered though a set of three underground chambers located under the main palace of Mitla, which father Torquemada calls the “Palace of the Living and the Dead”. The cave itself was said to extend for more than 30 leagues underground, its roof supported by pillars. The Spanish priests sealed the entrance to the cave and built a church on the former site of the palace. Portions of the ancient building, including some immense monolithic lintels and columns, can still be appreciated under the small colonial parish church of Mitla. A comparison with the floor plan and orientation of the other surviving palaces of Mitla suggests that the entrance to the underground chambers and the cavern of Liyobaa would be found in the approximate location occupied by the altar of the present day Church.
|The entrance to a subterranean chamber at Yagul, another archaeological site located in the vicinity of Mitla. [Photo by Author]|
|At Yagul, a short distance from Mitla, one can still see the entrances to many ancient tunnels believed to be part of an immense necropolis. [Photo by Author]|
Other tunnels and cruciform tombs built of enormous megalithic stone blocks are found at Guiaroo and Xaagá. An ancient tunnel under the ruined hacienda of Xaagá is said to run all the way to Mitla, a distance of nearly 5 miles, its walls built of interlocking stone blocks like the underground tombs of Mitla.
Read here a full report of our 2017 expedition to Mitla and Xaagá.
|The entrance to an ancient tunnel under the old Hacienda of Xaagá, said to run for nearly 5 kilometers in the direction of the ancient city Mitla. [Photo by Author]|
|Inside another ancient tunnel in Xaagá. The tunnel leads to a large cruciform chamber from where local tradition has it that a now blocked well-shaft in the floor communicates with a fabulous cavern. [Photo by Author]|
The tunnels of El Barreno in Morelia
|A 1956 sketch of the tunnels under El Barreno, in Morelia [Source: http://www.espejel.com/]|
The lost caves of Chalcatzingo
|The most famous Olmec bas-relief found at Chalcatzingo. It shows a seated figure holding a bundle of scrolls or a tablet inside a cave from which emanate curious guts of steam or air. [Photo by Author]|
In this article we discuss the possible existence of an ancient and still undiscovered cavern at Chalcatzingo which may hold evidence of the visit of ancient "Gods".
The Sacred Valley of Tepoztlán and Daniel Ruzo
The Loltun cave in Yucatan
The Loltun cave in Yucatan is a large natural cavern containing extensive layers of human occupation that date back to the last ice age, some 10,000 years ago. It also contains a set of cave paintings attributed to the Maya civilization from the Pre-Classic period or even older. The true extent of this labyrinthine system of caves and passages is presently unknown, although nearly two kilometers of the entire cave systems have been mapped and explored. In 1931, the American archaeologist Robert Stacy-Judd recounted a strange episode in which, after getting lost in the cave, he was rescued by a mysterious man dressed like a Maya priest and carrying a torch. The explorer even managed to take a photograph of the mysterious “hermit”, which appeared in several newspapers at the time. There are rumors of secret passages inside the cave, and of a blocked rock-cut tunnel which is believed to lead into a deeper, unexplored section of the cave where great treasures are said to be buried.
The secret tunnels of Aké and Izamal
Within the Maya region of Yucatan, early explorers like Brasseur de Bourbourg, Stephens and Catherwood reported the existence of extensive ancient tunnels at both Aké and Izamal. These sites contain a number of pyramids and megalithic structures unlike any other in the Maya region, which may point to great antiquity. A sacred cave exists under the pyramid of Kinich Kakmo in Izamal, where a tunnel is said to connect this pyramid (the 3rd largest in Mesoamerica and one of the largest in the world, with a base of 195 by 173 meters and a height of 35 meters) with another that existed on the site now occupied by the great Franciscan convent of Izamal. Brasseur de Bourbourg explored and left a description of this tunnel in the early 1800’s, in which he mentioned a great subterranean chamber and more blocked passageways built of immense megalithic stones. Unfortunately, there seems to be no record of the existence of these tunnels in any of the more recent publications on the ruins of Izamal and Aké.
The Maya labyrinths: Oxkintok, Toniná, Yaxchilan
|The entrance to the ancient Maya labyrinth of Toniná, in Chiapas also known as the "Palace of the Underworld". [Photo by Author]|
A lost Hall of Records at Yaxchilan?
|A view of Structure 19 at Yaxchilan, being the main entrance to the labyrinth near the base of the Acropolis. [Photo by Author]|
Find out more about the Maya labyrinths of Yucatan and Chiapas and our quest for the Yaxchilan Hall of Records here (part I and part II).
And also a video from our 2018 expedition into the mysterious labyrinth and tunnels of Yaxchilan.
The mysterious cavern of Tibulca at Copán
The ancient city of Copán, in present day Honduras, is one of the greatest marvels of Maya civilization. Its discovery dates to the early 1700’s, although reports of the city’s existence had been in circulation perhaps for nearly a century before then. One of the most curious reports, published by Fuentes and quoted by several other antiquarians, including Galindo, Bancroft and Stephens, is that concerning the great cavern of Tibulca. This is usually described as a temple of great size, carved from the living rock in one side of the hill a short distance from the “Temple” and the “Great Circus” of Copan (no doubt referring to the main plaza of the ceremonial center, near the Acropolis). According to Fuentes, all these ruins still stood entire in his time around the year 1700. The underground temple of Tibulca in particular was said to be “adorned with columns, with bases, capitals and crowns”. A great number of windows, also hollowed out of the solid rock, illuminated the gloomy interior. No trace of this fabulous cavern of Tibulca could be found by later explorers, who additionally found many of the buildings first described by Fuentes in ruins, many having been washed away by the nearby river. Although a vast network of caverns was discovered in one of the hills near Copán during the 1800’s, no trace of the fabulous cavern of Tibulca nor of its underground temple has so far emerged.