Teotihuacan, Mexico

Just 40 km northeast of Mexico City lies the archaeological site of Teotihuacan, the largest pre-Hispanic city in the western hemisphere.  The city was inhabited from 100 BC to 700 AD and its name derives from a Nahuatl word meaning “place of the gods”. 

Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan

Teotihuacanos formed a theocratic society and religion occupied a position of prime importance.  They worshipped gods associated with the natural elements of water, the earth, and fertility.  The gods included Tlaloc (the god of rain), Chalchiutlicue (the goddess of water), and Quetzalcoatl (the feathered serpent).   The decline of Teotihuacan began in the 7th century AD, and the most accepted hypothesis is that the abandonment was due to droughts leading to famine.

Palace of the Jaguars
Palace of the Jaguars

The most prominent features of Teotihuacan are the Avenue of the Dead, Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon.  The Avenue of the Dead runs north to south for 2 km between the Pyramid of the Sun and the Citadel (a gathering area for festivals and ceremomies) and then on for another 3 km.  The avenue was named by the Aztecs after the city was abandoned because they assumed the pyramids were tombs as at other sites.  This is actually incorrect and the pyramids were used as ceremonial sites lead by local priests.

The Pyramid of the Sun is the third largest pyramid in the world.  Estimates put the duration of construction at 300 years using a total of three million tons of volcanic stone without the aid of metal tools, pack animals, or the wheel.  The pyramid is comprised of five levels, 244 steps, and at a height of 65 m.  Today, you´re still able to climb to the top and gain a heightened perspective of the area.

Temple of the Sun Pyramid
Temple of the Sun Pyramid

The Pyramid of the Moon is at the far north end of the city and its shape is reminiscent of Cerro Gordo (“fat hill”) in the nearby mountain range.  Its smaller in size than the Pyramid of the Sun – the sun received greater admiration by the Teotihuacanos.  You can only climb to the first level because of reconstruction activity at the top, but the view is much better than elsewhere on the site.  From here, you can see Teotihuacan in its impressive entirety.

The building construction at Teotihuacan is in the talud-tablero (slope-and-panel) style – the rising portions of stepped, pyramidal buildings have both sloping (talud) and upright, panel (tablero) sections.  The talud-tablero style can be seen at other archaeological sites in Mexico including the earlier sites in Tlaxcala and Puebla and the later Mayan sites like Tikal.

Teotihuacan Talud-Tablero
Teotihuacan Talud-Tablero

If you make it to Mexico City (yes, it´s as big and urban as its reputation suggests), try to find time to visit Teotihuacan.  Get there early before the heat and crowds appear, hire a local guide to get the insider story, and walk in the steps of one of Mesoamerica´s great ancient civilizations.  It´s most definitely a worthwhile journey.