Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl, Mexico, ca 1950s
The mountain at the upper left is called Iztaccihuatl (can be spelled without or with accent marks), the White Woman in English, or sometimes Mujer Dormida, Sleeping Woman. In the foreground at the right is the companion volcano, named Popcatépetl translated as the Smoking Mountain.
Popcatépetl, located about 43 miles or 70 km southeast of Mexico City, is an active volcano that has erupted more than 15 times since the Spanish arrived in 1519. The peak at 17,802 ft or 5,426 m high is the 2nd highest major peak in Mexico. Since 1993 smoke has been constantly seen coming from the crater. As recently as a 2016 the mountain was spewing lava, rock and ash. Early 16th century monasteries founded by the Spanish are located on the slopes of the mountain and are now listed as a World Heritage site.
Iztaccihuatl, also a volcano, is dormant. Scientists think that this volcano last erupted about 11 thousand years ago. It is 17,160 ft or 5,230 m tall and is listed as the 3rd highest mountain in Mexico. Although the Aztecs or other earlier people may have climbed the mountain, the first modern recorded ascent was in 1889. Snow and glaciers are permanent year round features.
There are several legends or myths about these two mountains. One Aztec myth tells about Iztaccihuatl, a princess, who fell in love with one of her father’s warriors, Popcatépetl. Her father, the emperor, sent Popcatépetl to war in Oaxaca and promised him his daughter’s hand in marriage when he returned. Iztaccihuatl was falsely told that her lover had been killed in battle whereupon she died of grief. When he returned and discovered that she had died, Popcatépetl took her body to a spot outside Tenochititlan. Some say he did this in the hope that the cold would wake her but instead he froze to death. The gods covered them both with snow and changed them into mountains. Iztaccihuatl’s mountain is called White Woman because it resembles a woman lying on her back. Popcatépetl’s rage at losing his love is shown by the volcano raining fire on the Earth. There are various versions of this particular story and also other similar but slightly different tales about these two mountains.
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