Teotihuacan, Mexico

After driving us around the city and visiting the store near the ancient city, our tour guide finally took us to the pyramids. My Dad and I were so eager to see these magnificent wonders. Before this trip happened, we only read about it and saw pictures on TV but now we are truly able to experience the grandeur of exploring these Mesoamerican wonders. We were dropped off at the Eastern side of the ancient city and we took a hike from there. There were plenty of vendors walking around the area selling various things mostly related to the Mexican heritage. Here is a bit of history and the mystery of the people who built and resided in this city:

 

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Teotihuacan

Located about 40 kilometers NE of Mexico City lies the archaeological city of Teotihuacan. The city was inhabited from 100 B.C. until 700 A.D. Its name is a Nahuatl word meaning “place of the gods” and was probably given to it later, or it may be a translation of the original name which has been lost in time since we do not know what language the original inhabitants spoke. Some experts suggest that they were Otomis, others believe they were Nahua-Chichinecs, and yet others relate them to the Olmec-Chochopopolocas. However the most widely accepted theory is that they belonged to a proto-Nahua group.

In the beginning the economy was based on agriculture, supplemented by hinting, fishing and gathering. Later there were social changes due to a population increase and the storage of production surpluses which led not only to division of work and to trade but also the centralization of power and permanent settlement, culminating in the construction of the great urban center.

 

Teotihuacan had systems for utilizing underground water and collecting rain, drains, artisans’ workshops, dwelling complexes, markets, streets, temples, palaces, a large ceremonial center and districts where members of the other Mesoamerican groups lived who had moved into the city. It was possible to built the large structures thanks to the numerous work force available and the priestly class. The latter, in addition to performing ceremonies and rites organized work and were in control of politics, administration and the economy. This was the social stratification and the division of the productive labor.

The activities of the inhabitants of the great city including agriculture, carving bone and shell, trade or exchange both with distant areas and in the city market, pottery, stone cutting, sculpture, painting and weaving textiles for clothes. Teotihuacan’s influence, to be seen in pottery and architecture, spread along the trade routes to other regions in Mesoamerica, for example to the city of Tikal in Guatemala.

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Worshipping the gods

Religion occupied a position of prime importance, and the gods worshipped were associated with water, the earth and fertility. They included Tlaloc, the god of Rain, Chalchiutlicue, the goddess of Water, and Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent. The gods show the basic religious preoccupations of the Teotihuacanos and were represented in sculptures, clay figurines and mural paintings.

The decline of Teotihuacan began in the 7th century A.D. and it was gradually abandoned until in the following century it lay completely empty, surrounded only by a few villages. It is not known exactly what led to this fall although there are several theories about it. These include a famine caused by droughts which forced the inhabitants to migrate; an intense struggle for power that divided the ruling class; invasion by other groups from the north; a popular uprising against the rulers, or some combination of these possible caused, since archaeological exploration have discovered traces of a fire which destroyed several  buildings on the Avenue of the Dead.

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Europeans and Americans

After 8t fell Teotihuacan became a place of pilgrimage for other later peoples who went there to perform ceremonies honoring the gods. This was because according to legend it was here that the Fifth Sun had been created which lit the world in which the heirs of the Teotihuacan culture lived.”

Here is the short description of Teotihuacan and the discovery of it by the Spaniards.

The Citadel

“The large quadrangle which the first Spaniards to visit the site name “Ciudadela” as it reminded them of a fortress because of the central building or “castle” from which ran a wall surrounding a court with one stepped entrance.

Explorations made in the 20th century have revealed that the building was the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and that the “wall” is made up of platforms 7 meters high with pyramidal structures on the top.

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The pyramid of the Sun

Studies have also shown that these buildings once had small temples where festivals and ceremonies were held. More recent investigations have discovered the buildings at the sides of the Temple of Quetzalcoatl that seem to have been used as housing for the ruling class. Inside the Citadel there is a sunken court and a square platform with a staircase on each side and to the southeast, an asymmetrical structure built in seven superimposed stages.

After dodging the vendors, my Dad and i followed the trail to the biggest pyramid and it was the first pyramid we saw in reality. There were more vendors at the base of the pyramid. We stopped by the stairs and looked up to see how high we needed to climb.  The weather was cool so we started to ascend to the Pyramid of the Sun.

Pyramid of the Sun

“Originally this consisted of four tiers standing on a square base measuring 200 m. along each side, although today there are five levels due to the rebuilding carried out between 1905 and 1910. Thy pyramid is 60 m. high, without taking into account the small temple which used to stand on top and housed a stone idol that Archbishop Zumarraga ordered to be torn down in Colonial times.”

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Pyramid of the Sun

By the time we reached the 3rd tiers, we were already tired so we took a break and kept taking more pictures as the site astounded and awed us. It didn’t take too long before we reached the 5th level where most of the tourists were. It was the most beautiful view of the whole city because you can see everything from up there. When we saw another pyramid on our left, we decided that is where we will be going to see next.

At the sides of the staircases on the rear part there are large buttresses and inset stones for retaining the covering of tamped gravel overlaid with stucco painted red and white. This great monument is built with “boxes” of tepetate rock filled with earth and adobe to form the core, which was the n covered with volcanic rock (tezontle). Construction was in two stages: between 0 and 200 A.D. the great pyramidal mass was raised and later the pyramid covering the central staircase of the west face, which also has four talud-tablero stories.

A natural cave was discovered under the center of the staircase during the 70s with a tunnel that runs for almost 100 m. into the center of the Pyramid and ends in four chambers where various archaeological objects were found.

Descending the pyramid was a whole lot easier than ascending it. By the time we set foot back on the grass, the vendors were already clamoring over us. We tried to resist but they kept following us, setting their prices lower and lower until we finally gave in. We bought two wooden spear throwers with Native designs and a whistle. Afterwards, we followed the crowd to the Avenue of the Dead.

Avenue of the Dead

Teotihuacan developed because of the great projects of urban infrastructure undertaken by the inhabitants. They built the N-S highway known as the Avenue of the Dead (Miccaotli in Nahuatl) which runs for 2 km. From the Pyramid of the Moon to the Citadel then continues south for further 3 km.

This 40 m. Wide road was interrupted by the Citadel Square and the Great Complex which housed the market. The streets running parallel to the avenue separated the city into districts and suburbs that spread to the four cardinal points.

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Local vendor with the talud-tablero in the background

On the stretch between the Ciudela and the Pyramid of the Moon there is a masonry bridge replacing the original one over the San Juan River. This northern part of the avenue consists of 5 to 6 plazas with large staircases between them compensating for the rise of the terrain, until it reaches a slight slope down to the Pyramid of the Moon. The first plaza contains the Superimposed Buildings whose oldest structure had a decorated talud-tablero wall and the risers of the stairs were painted with chalchihuites. In another section there is a talud-tablero wall with a buttress and a small wall topped with merlons. At the same level a wide overlaid staircase led to a small temple that was destroyed in the last building stage. The constructions on the upper part include groups with three pyramidal base platforms that have staircases covering the older buildings.”

 

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The Avenue of the Dead still busy as ever

As we continued to walk at the avenue leading to the next pyramid, we came across this ancient mural.

Mural del Puma

“This mural was discovered during an archaeological explorations in 1963. it is part of a group of platforms and temples that comprise an architectural unit known as the Puma Complex. This representation acquaints one with the type of decoration on the slope panel facades of the buildings located on both sides of the Avenue of the Dead.

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The Mural

In the scene shown here you see the profiled portrayal of a large wild cat, probably a puma, with open jaws and large claws protruding from its paws. It is painted over a background of slanting bands alternately colored red, white and green, symbolizing an aquatic atmosphere. The panel molding is decorated with green circles that represent “chalchihuites,” or precious stones.”

We found more vendors walking around the avenue as if its a marketplace might have just like the glory days of the city. When we finally reached the the Plaza de Luna or Moon Park we were stopped by a vendor. My Dad finally bought a blanket for a cheap price and it has designs of the Aztecs I believe. We continue walking down the Avenue and here is the continued history of the Avenue of the Dead.

“Groups which originally stood around the East Plaza were destroyed by the builders of the coaching road between the villages of San Juan and San Martin de los Piramides who used stones from them to correct the different levels. The overlying levels of the West Plaza were noticed when restoration work was being done which revealed two plazas with small temples dating from different periods. The ramps of the oldest staircase end n the end of a serpent, and those of the more recent one finish with the head of a feline.

The buildings standing along almost 2 km. of the avenue all have a very similar architectural profile, due to the talud-tablero design typical of Teotihuacan, although each one has its own particular features. The temple of Agriculture has a different look because when the later building were taken down during explorations at the end of the last century the first building stages were revealed that pre-date the classic talud-tablero style. In the substructure of the adjoining building a chamber was discovered with whimsical mural paintings that were named “Mythological Animals”. On the other side of the Avenue there is a wall that incorporates a slab painted with a feline surrounded by waves.

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Across from the Jaguar Mural

We finally reached the base of the pyramid but my Dad was too tired to go up so he had to take a break. By myself, I walked around the plaza and climbed its stairs since there were only three floors. Here is some information about the Pyramid of the Moon:

Pyramid of the Moon

“This stands in the northern part of the city and by its shape imitates the Cerrro Gordo whose Nahuatl name, Tenan, means “mother or protector of stone.” It is the largest construction at Teotihuacan after the Pyramid of the Sun, covering an earlier building, and already had its present shape in the period 0 to 200 A.D.

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Pyramid of the Moon in the background

Between 200 and 450 A.D. a structure was added to it with four talud-tablero tiers, opposite the staircase leading to the Avenue of the Dead. This had a platform at the top where ceremonies were performed in honor of Chalchiutlicue, the goddess of Water, associated with the moon, to whom the top temple was dedicated and whose statue was found at the foot of the pyramid.

 

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Stairs to the Pyramid of the Moon

In front of the pyramid is the Plaza of the Moon which has an altar in the middle and . curious building with divisions inside. It is formed of four rectangular tiers and four o the diagonal, giving what is known as the “Teotihuacan cross.”

 

 

 

Afterwards, we headed to the Palace of Quetzal-Papalotl and took a quick glimpse. Since there is an entrance fee to this place, we just walked around the sides, catching a glimpse of the inside as we were heading out. Here is information about the palace:

Palace of Quetzal-Papalotl

This building stands next to others that seem to be part of it but in fact belong to earlier stages and were reused later. The pillars of the palace are decorated with craved figures of the mythical Quetzal-Mariposa (Quetzal-Butterfly) bird from which it takes its name. It has a rectangular inner patio surrounded by porticoes on its four sides that give access to rooms whose roofs were reconstructed because they were lost in a fire.

Where the interior patio and the east portico come together there is an entrance into the great antechamber, which can be reached from the Plaza de la Luna up a wide staircase.

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Another entrance to the palace

At the north end of this same portico another doorway leads to a group of smaller chambers on a lower level. The great staircase that connects with the Plaza de la Luna also leads to a smaller adjoining antechamber from which there is access to the west buildings.

Those were the only buildings we managed to visit due to lack of signs. We just followed the flow of people missing some of these sites in area.

  • Palace of the Jaguars
  • Temple of the Feathered Conches
  • Tepantitla
  • Tetitla
  • Atetelco
  • Zacuala and Yayahuala
  • The Museum

Upon exit, we bought some more souvenirs at the booths by the side entrance, then waited to be picked up. It was almost 1pm so our tour guide took us to a nearby restaurant to eat.

Tlacaelel Restaurant

We were welcomed at the Tlacaelel Restaurant and since its past lunchtime. We were welcome by the servers and had the option to choose a buffet or order in the menu. The food was awesome, I had some chicken and Dad a burrito mix.  Then we watched a small presentation of the Aztecs. They were wearing native clothing and played through a drum and a con shell. It was a beautiful melody and the dancing was genuine in my eyes. Even though I am not sure that their outfit is genuine Aztec.

 

 

After a little tour around the restaurant and looking at the souvenirs they sell we decided to move on to our next destination, The Guadalupe Shrine.

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