Cempoala or Zempoala (Nahuatl Cēmpoalātl 'Place of Twenty Waters') is an important Mesoamerican archaeological site located in the Úrsulo Galván Municipality, in the state of Veracruz. The word "Cēmpoalli" (from Nahuatl root "Cēmpoal) means twenty and "ā (tl)", means water, hence "twenty waters" perhaps because the city had a lot of aqueducts which provided the vital fluid to the numerous gardens and surrounding farmland fields and irrigation channels. The place was inhabited mainly by Totonacs, Chinantecas and Zapotecs.
Another version considers it is probable, the name referred to commercial activities, according to some sources, these activities were performed every 20 days in prehispanic times. A different version suggests the name meant “Abundant Water”. It was one of the most important Totonac settlements during the postclassical Mesoamerican period and the capital of the kingdom of Totonacapan occupied by the Totonac people
The name comes from the Nahuatl word Cēmpoalli, as Cēmpoal means twenty and ā (tl) means water, hence "twenty waters" perhaps because the city had a lot of irrigation canals and aqueducts which provided vital fluid to numerous gardens and surrounding farmland fields.
Another version considers that probably the name refers to commercial activities, that according to some sources, were carried out every 20 days in pre-Hispanic times. It was one of the most important Tepehua settlements during the post-classic period.
According to some sources, the city was originally founded at least 1,500 years before the Spaniards arrival and there is evidence of Olmec influence. Although not much is known about the Preclassical and Classic Era, the Preclassical town was built on mounds to protect it from floods.
The Totonacs moved into the area during the Toltec Empire peak, having been forced out of their settlements on the eastern slopes of the Sierra Madre Oriental. The totonacs ruled the area of Totonacapan which consisted of the northern part of Veracruz together with the Zacatlán district of Puebla with a total population of approximately 250,000 and some 50 towns. At its peak, Cempoala had a population of between 25,000 and 30,000.
Cempoala was the Totonac capital and was occupied by totonacs, chinantecas and Zapotec becoming the largest city in the Gulf. In its apogee, had a population of between 25,000 and 30,000 people and was one of the most important Totonaca settlements during the post-classic period. It is located one kilometer from the shore of the Actopan River and six kilometres from the coast.