November 19 – 22
Navigating that next morning was made easier as we were to meet our tour group at the front steps of the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Using our knowledge of the metro system this time around, we were able to locate a station a bit closer to the site making for a shorter walk to the starting point. Knowing we’d have a long day ahead of us, we stopped in at the Starbucks we’d discovered and loaded up on coffee and breakfast items.
Once gathered, our group was large enough to split into two smaller ones which would make it easier to move around the site and hear our guide better later on. The 30-mile journey out to Teotihuacan would take roughly an hour as we used the metro and then a city bus to get us there, a minor challenge with a large group but handled well by our guides.
We arrived at the site, which is widely known as one of the most architecturally significant Mesoamerican pyramids. At its zenith, perhaps in the first half of the first millennium AD, Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas, with a population estimated at 125,000 or more, making it at least the sixth-largest city in the world during its epoch. After the collapse of Teotihuacan, central Mexico was dominated by the Toltecs of Tula until about 1150 AD.
The city covered 8 square miles; 80 to 90 percent of the total population of the valley resided in Teotihuacan. Apart from the pyramids, Teotihuacan is also anthropologically significant for its complex, multi-family residential compounds, the Avenue of the Dead, and its vibrant and well-preserved murals.
Additionally, Teotihuacan exported fine obsidian tools that are found throughout Mesoamerica. The city is thought to have been established around 100 BC, with major monuments continuously under construction until about 250 AD. The city may have lasted until sometime between the 7th and 8th centuries AD, but its major monuments were sacked and systematically burned around 550 AD.
The name Teotihuacán was given by the Nahuatl-speaking Aztecs centuries after the fall of the city around 550 AD. The term has been interpreted as “birthplace of the gods”, or “place where gods were born”, reflecting Nahua creation myths that were said to occur in Teotihuacan. Some scholars interpret the name as “place of those who have the road of the gods.” This is because the Aztecs believed that the gods created the universe at that site.
After walking through some outer buildings covered with murals, we started with the Pyramid of the Moon, the second largest in the city. It covers a structure older than the Pyramid of the Sun which existed prior to 200 AD. It’s construction between 100 and 450 AD completed the bilateral symmetry of the temple complex.
The pyramid is located at the end of the Avenue of the Dead (the central road that is 150 feet wide and a mile and a quarter long, named because it is believed to have been paved with tombs), connected by a staircase, and was used as a stage for performing ritual sacrifices of animals and humans.
It was also a burial ground for sacrificial victims. A platform atop the pyramid was used to conduct ceremonies in honor of the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan, the goddess of water, fertility, the earth, and even creation itself.
As the steps were steep and irregular, I stayed at the bottom while Joanna made her way to the top, with its commanding view down the Avenue of the Dead and the entire complex. Once back down at the bottom, we made our way to the Pyramid of the Sun, largest building in Teotihuacan, and one of the largest in Mesoamerica. It is believed to have been constructed about 200 AD.
The name Pyramid of the Sun comes from the Aztecs, who visited the city of Teotihuacan centuries after it was abandoned; the name given to the pyramid by the Teotihuacanos is unknown. Constructed in two phases, the second round resulted in its completed size of 738 feet across and 246 feet high, making it the third largest pyramid in the world, though still just over half the height of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
It is thought that the pyramid venerated a deity within Teotihuacan society. However, little evidence exists to support this hypothesis. The destruction of the temple on top of the pyramid, by both deliberate and natural forces prior to the archaeological study of the site, has so far prevented identification of the pyramid with any particular deity.
As with the Pyramid of the Moon, I decided not to attempt the steps given their steep irregularity, dreading coming down more than going up. Joanna went ahead and managed the ascent and I spent a relaxing 20 minutes or so at the base, watching other tourists as they took multitudes of selfies, documenting their visit to the site.
We regrouped and walked south through a number of sunken patios that contained irrigation/drainage channels before we arrived at the final large pyramid, that of Ciudadela with Temple of the Feathered Serpent Quetzalcoatl.
This structure is notable partly due to the discovery in the 1980s of more than a hundred possibly sacrificial victims found buried beneath it, dated to between 150 and 200 AD. The pyramid takes its name from representations of the Mesoamerican “feathered serpent” deity which covered its sides.
The Ciudadela (Spanish, “citadel”) is a structure with high walls and a large courtyard surrounding the temple. Its courtyard is massive enough that it could house the entire adult population of Teotihuacán within its walls, which was estimated to be one hundred thousand people at its peak.
Years of exposure to the elements have worn down the exterior of the Temple and as we got close, we could see a side with alternating Tlaloc (snake like creature) and feathered serpent heads.
Finished with the last temple, we made our way back to the entrance of the park for a bus ride back to town, getting dropped off at a point where we could hop back on the Metro for the final leg to our station at Insurgentes. It had been a long and rewarding day and before reaching the hotel we’d stop off at Aventura for a post adventure drink. We’ll get to that the next time we meet.
Pyramid of the Moon: https://uncoveredhistory.com/mexico/teotihuacan/teotihuacan-pyramid-of-the-moon/
Pyramid of the Sun: https://uncoveredhistory.com/mexico/teotihuacan/teotihuacan-pyramid-of-the-sun/
Temple of the Feathered Serpent Quetzalcoatl: https://uncoveredhistory.com/mexico/teotihuacan/teotihuacan-temple-of-the-feathered-serpent/
Map Attribution: By Renê Millon – Recreation of a map appeared in the June 1967 issue of Scientific American in the article “Teotihuacán”, CC BY-SA 4.0,