Teotihuacán

Teotihuacán ('place of the gods') has some of the most remarkable relics of an ancient civilization in the world. Thought to date from 300 BC-AD 600, the site's builders remain a mystery. Where they came from and why the civilization disappeared is pure conjecture. It seems that the city may have housed 250,000 people who were peace-loving but whose influence spread as far as Guatemala. However, the 'peace-loving' theory is constantly being challenged. There are definite indications that human sacrifice was being practised at Teotihuacán long before the arrival of the Aztecs to the Valley of Mexico. Recent research indicates that an individual from Teotihuacán arrived at Copán in Honduras and usurped the power of the rightful ruler, thus continuing to spread the influence of Teotihuacán throughout the Maya region. Teotihuacán was not just a ceremonial centre; vast areas of enclaves have been excavated showing that, apart from those zones designated as sacred, there were also areas occupied by artisans, labourers, merchants and representatives of those crafts and professions that contribute to a functioning city. One zone housed merchants from the Maya area, another was occupied by representatives from Monte Albán in Oaxaca. At some point in the seventh century, Teotihuacán was ravaged by fire and may have been looted, causing an exodus of its inhabitants. So completely was it abandoned that it was left to the Aztecs to give names to its most important features. There are many questions still to be answered about Teotihuacán culture and new discoveries are being made all the time.

Sights

There are three main areas: the
Ciudadela
, the
Pyramid of the Sun
and the
Pyramid of the Moon
. The whole is connected by the Avenue of the Dead, which runs almost due north for nearly 4 km. To the west lie the sites of Tetitla, Atetelco, Zacuala and Yayahuala . To the northeast lies Tepantitla, with fine frescoes. The old city is traceable over an area of 3½ km by 6½ km. Capable of holding 60,000 people, the citadel's main feature is the
Temple of Quetzalcoatl
('the Plumed Serpent', 'Lord of Air and Wind'). Go to the east side of the 1-km square. Behind the largest of the temples (take the right-hand path) lies an earlier pyramid, which has been partially restored. Lining the staircase are huge carved heads of the feathered serpents.

Follow the Avenue of the Dead to the Plaza of the Sun. You will pass small grassy mounds, which are unexcavated temples. The plaza contains many buildings, probably for the priests, but is dominated by the massive Pyramid of theSun (64 m high, 213 sq m at the base) and covering almost the same space as the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt. The sides are terraced, and wide stairs lead to the summit. The original 4-m covering of stone and stucco was removed by mistake in 1910. The view from the top gives a good impression of the whole site. But beware, it is a steep climb.

The car park to the north leads to Tepantitla. The murals here depict the rain god Tlaloc. The museum, now lies south of the Pyramid of the Sun. It is well laid out and contains a large model of Teotihuacán in its heyday as well as many beautiful artefacts; recommended.

The Pyramid of the Moon is about 1 km further north. On your right a tin roof covers a wall mural of a large, brightly coloured jaguar/puma ('the Jaguar Temple'). The plaza contains the 'A' altars - 11 in a peculiar geometric pattern. The pyramid is only half the size of the Pyramid of the Sun. The best view of the Avenue of the Dead is from the first level of this pyramid - 48 steep steps but well worth the climb.

To the west of the Plaza of the Moon lies the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl ('the Precious Butterfly'), where the priests serving the sanctuaries of the moon used to live. The palace has been restored together with its patio. Note the obsidian inlet into the highly decorated carved pillars. Follow the path left under the palace through the Jaguars' Palace, with catlike murals protected from the sun by green canvas curtains, to the Temple of the Feathered Shells. The base of the simple altar is decorated with shells, flowers and eagles.

At the spring equinox, 21 March, the sun is perfectly aligned with the west face of the Pyramid of the Sun; many ad hoc sun worshippers hold unofficial ceremonies to mark the occasion. This is also Benito Juárez's birthday so entry is free.

At the exit to the rear of the Jaguars' Palace (which is the usual way out), and across the road, is the delightful Museo de Pintura Mural Teotihuacana, which contains collections and explanations of ancient wall painting.


This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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