by Chela Orozco En Español
The view that adorns the world’s largest city – Mexico City – is enhanced by the majesty of two of the highest volcanoes in the hemisphere: Popocatepetl and Iztaccíhuatl.
The presence of these enormous millennial volcanoes has been of great significance for the different societies that have admired and revered them, being a source of inspiration for the many legends about their origin and creation. Among these, the best known are two that we will relate below.
Thousands of years ago, when the Aztec Empire was in its heyday and dominated the Valley of Mexico, it was common practice to subject neighboring towns, and to require a mandatory tax. It was then that the chief of the Tlaxcaltecas, bitter enemies of the Aztecs, weary of this terrible oppression, decided to fight for his people’s freedom.
The chief had a daughter named Iztaccihuatl: the most beautiful of all the princesses, who had professed her love for young Popocatepetl, one of her father’s people and the most handsome warrior.
Both professed a deep love for each other, so before leaving for war, Popocatepetl asked the chief for the hand of Princess Iztaccihuatl.
The father gladly agreed and promised to welcome him back with a big celebration to give him his daughter’s hand if he returned victorious from the battle.
The brave warrior accepted, prepared everything and departed keeping in his heart the promise that the princess would be waiting for him to consummate their love.
Soon afterward, a love rival of Popocatepetl, jealous of the love they professed to each other, told Princess Iztaccihuatl that her beloved had died in combat.
Crushed by such tragedy and overwhelmed by sadness the princess died, without even imagining it could be a lie.
Popocatepetl returned victorious to his people, hoping to find his beloved princess. Upon arrival, he received the terrible news of the death of Iztaccihuatl.
Devastated by the news, he wandered about the streets for several days and nights, until he decided he had to do something to honor her love and to assure that the princess would not ever be forgotten.
He ordered a great tomb built under the sun, piling up ten hills together to form a huge mountain.
He carried the dead Princess in his arms, took her to the summit and laid her on the great mountain. The young warrior lovingly kissed her cold lips, took a smoking torch and knelt in front of his beloved to watch over her eternal sleep.
From then on, they continue together, facing each other. Eventually the snow covered their bodies, forming two majestic volcanoes that would remain joined till the end of time.
The legend goes on to say that when the warrior Popocatepetl remembers his beloved, his heart – that preserves the fire of eternal passion – shakes and his torch smokes.
That’s why, even today; the Popocatepetl volcano continues spewing fumaroles.
As for the coward, Tlaxcala, who lied to Iztaccihuatl, overcome with repentance for the tragedy that ensued, he went off to die very near his land. He also became a mountain, Pico de Orizaba, another of the region’s volcanoes and now, from afar, watches the eternal dream of the two lovers, never again to be separated.
This legend has been passed on from generation to generation since the time of the Aztec Empire, in the XIV century, and the importance given to them is clear, for the names that they have today were given to them since that time.
Popocatepetl derives its name from the Nahuatl word popoa , which means smoke and the noun tepetl , meaning hill ; so its name literally means, hill that smokes , because from that time, its characteristic fumaroles already emanated from it.
Popularly, it’s known as El Popo , although the populations living on its slopes know it by the affectionate nickname of Don Goyo .
Iztaccihuatl, the other volcano, derives its name from the Nahuatl word iztac which means white and ciahuatl which is interpreted as woman , so that its name translates as White Woman.
Today, it is best known as the Sleeping Woman because of its distinctive profile, resembling a woman lying with her face turned skyward.
Popocatepetl is an active volcano with an approximate age of 730,000 years.
It has a symmetrical cone-shape and a maximum height of 5,450 meters above sea level, which places it as the second highest peak in Mexico.
It is united in its northern part with Iztaccihuatl through a mountain pass known as Paso de Cortes, a name that refers to the route taken by Hernan Cortes through that place, before reaching the Great Tenochtitlan.
Iztaccihuatl is an extinct volcano located in central Mexico. It is the third highest mountain in the country, with an altitude of 5,220 meters above sea level and both are located within the territorial limits of the states of Mexico and Puebla.
Currently, both volcanoes are still a source of great artistic and literary creations, which will, no doubt, go down in posterity as will this great legend.