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The Legend of Popocatépetl

Popocatépetl volcano in Mexico
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Have you heard about the legend of Popocatépetl, the most important volcano in Mexican History? If you haven’t, please read on!

It all started thousands of years ago when the Aztecs ruled over the valley of old Mexico. They were the most powerful nation located in the great Tenochtitlan. All of the small civilizations around the big city had to pay tribute to the Aztec Emperor and participate in the Guerras Floridas, or “Ritual Wars.”

The Guerras Floridas were organized by the Aztecs against the Tlaxcaltecas and the towns of Texcoco, Cuauhtepec and Ocelotepec. The purpose of these wars was mainly to capture prisoners to use them for human sacrifices to the God of War, Huitzilopochtli. Another purpose was to keep the population level low so they wouldn’t starve when food was not abundant.

In one of these wars a marvelous warrior arose. His name was Popocatépetl. Popocatépetl was from the tribe of the Tlaxcaltecas, the most feared enemy of the Aztecs. He was strong, intelligent and skillful in the art of war and definitely not hard on the eyes. He fell madly in love with the daughter of the Tlaxcaltecas’ chief. Her name was Iztaccíhuatl, and she was very wise and the most beautiful princess of all.

Popocatépetl asked the chief for Iztaccíhuatl’s hand. The chief wasn’t sure about this marriage because Popocatepetl was a warrior who could die in any battle. However, the chief accepted that the princess Iztaccíhuatl could marry the young warrior, but only on one condition: he would have to return victorious from battle. The warrior accepted these terms and left for battle very confident of his victory.

There was also another warrior who did not like Popocatépetl and was also in love with Iztaccíhuatl. He was so mad that Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl were going to get married when the war was over that he sent a false message to Tlaxcala saying that Popocatépetl was killed in battle. When young Iztaccíhuatl heard about the news she became depressed. She was so inconsolable over the loss of her loved one that she went up to the mountains to get closer to the gods to complain about the death of her love. With no will to live, she passed away.

Meanwhile, Popocatépetl won the war and came back with the great news of victory, but when he began looking for his love, he could not find her anywhere. When he found out about the letter his rival had written and discovered that Iztaccíhuatl went away to the mountains, he flew in search of his loved one. But, when Popocatépetl climbed the mountain, it was too late. Beautiful Iztaccíhuatl had already passed away. He cried inconsolably. Finally, he made the decision to stay with her for the rest of his life, with a torch lighting her life for eternity.

This legend of love is part of Mexican mythology and Mexican folklore. These two volcanos are located in the territorial limits of the states of Morelos, Puebla and the State of Mexico, only 72 kilometers southeast Mexico City.

Popocatépetl is the second highest volcano in Mexico (5,500 meters above sea level, or just over 18,000 feet) and it’s the most active volcano in the country. Last year two explosions were recorded, which put seismologists on alert.

The last violent eruption of the volcano was recorded in December 2000, which, following the predictions of scientists, led to the evacuation of thousands of people in the areas near the volcano. On December 25th, 2005, a new explosion occurred in the crater of the volcano, which caused a column of smoke and ash three kilometers high and a lava flow. All the big cities near the volcano were showered with ashes from this eruption.

According to the legend of Popocatépetl, all these eruptions are the promise of the warrior to his princess to light her body forever. The princess, the volcano Iztaccíhuatl that lies next to Popocatépetl, is shaped with the body of a woman lying down and covered in snow.

You can see the two lovers in the shape of mountains from miles away, a most wonderful landscape.

We hope that you and your families are well and safe during this terrible pandemic. We send our regards and best wishes.


  1. Yes, it is a lovely Nahua legend, and I think of it every time I am at the Palacio de Bellas Artes looking at the beautiful Tiffany screen of the two volcanos. There are many variations of the legend of Popoca and Izta.

    But the second paragraph is misleading, though I have read it verbatim in other articles about this legend. Tenochtitlan was not founded until between 1325-1345 AD, which is roughly the time of the Aztec (Mexica) arrival in the Valley of México. Hence, there were no Aztecs “thousands of years ago” (their origins are still being debated) and it was not until the fifteenth century that Aztec hegemony took over the Valley, exacting tribute from neighboring kingdoms such as the Tlaxcalans. Another very common version of the story has Popoca going to war against Oaxaca.

    It is a minor point, but an inaccurate chronology does a disservice, I think, to other major cultures in Mexico over the longer time span, of which there were dozens – Olmecas, Toltecas, Teotihuacanos, Zapotecas, Huastecas, Totonacas, Purépecha, etc. The legend was likely appropriated from one of these other groups, whose presence predates the Mexica presence in the area by more than a millennium, Nahua speaking groups having inhabited the Valley of Mexico as early as 500 BCE.

    Cheers! 🙂

    • Thank you for your comments! And congratulations on your knowledge of Mexico’s history!

      You are correct “thousands of years…” is not historically correct, we wanted to give a mystical sense of story. Sorry about that. It is also true that this legend has many versions and we chose the one we like best.



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