Coyolxauhqui Plaza

Coyolxauhqui Plaza — Los Angeles Explorers Guild

Coyolxauhqui Plaza

On a quiet corner in City Terrace you can find a full-size replica of a tribute to the Aztec goddess Coyolxauhqui from Tenochtitlan.

In 1978, power company employees working in Mexico City came across an astounding find — a stone disc, more than three meters wide, carved in high relief, depicting the defeat of the Aztec moon goddess Coyolxauhqui (pronounced “koy-ol-shauw-key”), which translates roughly to “Face Painted with Bells” or “Bells-Her-Cheeks.”

The discovery, one of the great archaeological finds of the 20th century, led to the excavation of the Hueyi Teocalli (Templo Mayor) and jump-started the interest in further excavation of Tenochtitlan, the ancient Aztec city that sat beneath modern-day Mexico City.

There is a full-size replica of this stone disc sitting unobtrusively on a street corner in East Los Angeles.

Coyolxauhqui Plaza — Los Angeles Explorers Guild
The replica Coyolxauhqui Stone in City Terrace. Photo from the author’s collection.

The Story of Coyolxauhqui

As the tale goes, Coyolxauhqui learned that her mother Coatlicue (the earth goddess and mother of the gods) had become pregnant (by a hummingbird feather). For some reason this angered Coyolxauhqui, so she gathered her 400 brothers (the gods of the southern stars), and stormed the hill at Coatepec to kill Coatlicue.

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But Coyolxauhqui didn’t know that Coatlicue had become pregnant with Huitzilopochtli, the sun god and patron of the Aztec people. And Huitzilopochtli didn’t take kindly to Coyolxauhqui’s desire to kill his mother. So he sprang from Coatlicue’s womb fully grown — and fully armed. He stabbed Coyolxauhqui, then cut off her head and threw her body down the side of the mountain. As her body fell, it became dismembered with her arms and legs scattered across the plain below.

And this, the dismembered body of Coyolxauhqui, is the image depicted on the stone disc at Tenochtitlan, the same image that’s been re-created at City Terrace in Los Angeles — even right down to what is thought to be the its original coloring (based on pigment analysis).

Coyolxauhqui Plaza — Los Angeles Explorers Guild
Coyolxauhqui Terrace. Photo from the author’s collection.

The Story of Coyolxauhqui Plaza

According the the bronze plaque that accompanies the Coyolxauhqui Stone, the plaza and the replica are not intended to be a tribute to Coyolxauhqui herself. Rather, its “true purpose” is to “recognize and honor the artistic ability, skill, and ingenuity of the native peoples of North America in general and of Mexico in particular.”

The bronze plaque is dated October 1985 and credits a gent named Carlos Venegas as the sculptor. The plaque also attributes work on the site to Padilla Paving (as builder) and Barrio Planners, Inc. (as architect), both of whom are still doing business today.

Coyolxauhqui Plaza — Los Angeles Explorers Guild
The Coyolxauhqui Stone features a mirrored backdrop. Photo from the author’s collection.

The replica of the Coyolxauhqui Stone in City Terrace was a project of the Community Development Commission of the County of Los Angeles as part of the Community Business Revitalization, a program that “… improves the appearance of buildings and entire commercial centers, which enhances a sense of place and makes these areas more inviting places to walk and shop.”

An Update of an Earlier Monument?

Curiously, there are two archival photos, one featuring a dedication and one featuring dancers in Aztec dress, from the Shades of L.A. collection at the Los Angeles Public Library from 1976 that document a dedication ceremony for the Coyolxauhqui Plaza in City Terrace. This is two years before the stone disc of Coyolxauhqui was uncovered in Mexico City.

Equally curious, the descriptions of this event attributes the sculpture to David Moreno, who is not mentioned at all on the bronze plaques posted at the site today.

Was there perhaps a different tribute to Coyolxauhqui, sculpted by Moreno, at this spot in 1976? Was it replaced with the Venegas-scuplpted replica in 1985? Perhaps we’ll never know.

Coyolxauhqui Plaza

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Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


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