Popocatepetl: past to present
SANTIAGO XALITZINTLA, Mexico -- Popocatepetl, the Aztec "Smoking Mountain,"
known as "Popo" to locals, has spewed ash, pumice and lava over the Valley of Mexico for
centuries, although the volcano's last large eruption came 1,200 years ago -- 700 years
before Europeans first saw North America's fifth highest peak -- Mexico's second highest
at 5,465 meters (17,930 feet).
Hernando Cortes saw the mountain erupt in 1519 on his way to conquer Mexico
Spanish. He sent expeditions to the top, and Francisco Montano in 1522 became the first
known European to ascend the peak. Diego de Ordaz, a Cortes lieutenant and sometime
rival, claimed to have reached the summit in 1519, and some reports give credence to his
claim. Montano, however, can lay claim to the first European trip inside Popo's crater. His
men lowered him by rope 122 meters (400 feet) to gather sulfur from the crater walls.
Aztec artifacts and structures have been found on the sides of the mountains,
the Aztecs left no record of an ascension to the summit.
Mexico's National Disaster Prevention Center has
detailed what is known of Popo's eruptive life.
About 23,000 years ago: A large Mount St.
About 14,000 years ago: Large eruption spews
ash and pumice
14,000 to 5,000 years ago: Multiple eruptions, at
least four classified as "large."
3,000 B.C.: Large eruption
200 B.C.: Large eruption
800: Large eruption
1354: Minor eruption
1519: Moderate eruption
1539 to 1549: Moderate eruption
1663: Moderate eruption
1720: Mild eruption
1919-1927: Moderate eruption. Several deaths recorded inside the crater,
workers were extracting sulfur. Small lava dome grew on crater floor
1994 to present: Moderate eruption. Small lava dome fills a fifth of crater.
killed near crater rim in 1996. Scientists say past six years of activity similar to
1919-1927 eruption. Activity has been on a steady increase for most of 2000,
particularly since an explosion in early September sent ash into the air for 25
minutes. The area around the volcano went on heightened alert after an October
31 eruption. Evacuations began December 16.