Teotihuacán is located in the central section of the Valley of Teotihuacán, 25 miles (45 km) northeast of Mexico City, The site covers a total surface area of 83 km² and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, and is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico. The holy city of Teotihuacán is dominated by two massive pyramids. The twin pyramids are the larg­est artificial mounds on both American continents. The Pyramid of the Moon, a half-mile away (1 km), is half the size and The Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacán, which is aligned with the solstice, is as old as any Maya structure and 20 times as big. The Pyramid of the Sun is 208 feet tall (64 m) and is about one-half the size, in total volume, of the Great Pyramid in Egypt. The sacred peak of Cerro Gordo, (Fat Hill) looms in the distance overlooking the ancient metropolis. Of all the ancient cities of the Americas, Teotihuacán is the most enigmatic. Nobody knows what race of people built it, what they used it for, or why it was abandoned.

Teotihuacan is an enormous archaeological site in the Basin of Mexico, containing some of the largest pyramidal structures built in the pre-Columbian Americas. Apart from the pyramidal structures, the archaeological site of Teotihuacan is also known for its large residential complexes, the so-called "street of the dead", and its colorful well-preserved murals. Located on the largest pyramid are the so-called “glimmer chambers,” which are rumored to be hidden behind padlocked doors. These little-known inner rooms may have been initiation chambers, but admission is not permitted and there is now evidence that this section has been recently sealed up with con­crete. The Pyramid of the Sun was built directly over a four-chambered lava tube in the second century CE.

View of the Avenue of the Dead and the Pyramid of the Sun, from the Pyramid of the Moon

The sides of the Pyramid of the Sun are terraced, and wide stairs lead to the summit. Unfortunately, the surface was restored using the wrong materials to wrong specifications in 1910, and has become a distorted version of the original appearance. Of all the peoples who created the Mexican upland cultures in Maya times, only those in the Valley of Mexico and the Zapotecs built lavish burial chambers, while the people of Teotihuacán raised mighty pyramids. By 300 CE, Teotihuacán was the religious and civic center for 100,000 Mesoamericans, boasting plazas lined with palaces and avenues, paved with polished stucco and drained by an elaborate system of underground conduits. The Plumed Serpent Quetzalcoatl is a sign and ornament found all over Mexico.

Layout of The City

The cult of Quetzalcoatl may have originated at Teotihuacán, but certainly the later conquering Toltecs spread the symbol throughout the whole of Mexico, especially to the cities of the Maya renaissance on the Yucatán peninsula. Indeed, the remains are awe-inspiring, but it is believed that 90 per cent of the city is still buried under the arid Mexican soil. And yet, this great city of culture held 200,000 inhabitants at its peak. So what happened at Teotihuacán?

When later Aztec races found this amazing urban development they were so impressed by its construction that they named it ‘Teotihuacán’, meaning ‘The great city where men become gods’. The focal point of the city, which spread over 12 square miles, was an immense building called the Pyramid of the Sun. This 216-foot-tall structure had a temple at its summit which indicated the city was ruled by native religion. At the base of the pyramid ran a north-south avenue, which stretched for almost three miles. The Aztecs called this the ‘Avenue of the Dead’, believing the small platforms that lined the series of connecting courtyards to be tombs. In fact, they were probably temples – it has since been discovered that the Teotihuacáns actually buried the dead in their own houses.

At the northern end of the avenue, nearest the Sun Pyramid, there was a slightly smaller construction, named the Pyramid of the Moon. About a mile south down the avenue there was a vast open area called the Citadel. This was also surrounded by temples and had the important Temple of the Feathered Serpent in its centre. Intersecting the Avenue of the Dead at its halfway point was another avenue. The city was therefore based on a grid system of four quarters. The houses in this format were built in complexes of adjoining dwellings, linked by terraces and patios. The building of the city began around 200 BC, with the major structures, like the pyramids, being erected from the first century AD.

By the beginning of the fifth century AD, the city covered its maximum surface area, and housed around 100,000 people. Within two centuries this number had doubled. But who were the inhabitants? Although it is a subject of debate whether Teotihuacan was the center of an empire, its influence throughout Mesoamerica is well documented; evidence of Teotihuacan presence, if not outright political and economic control, can be seen at numerous sites in Veracruz and the Maya region.

A Platform along the Avenue of the Dead demonstrating the talud-tablero architectural style

The ethnicity of the inhabitants of Teotihuacan is also a subject of debate and possible candidates are the Nahua, Otomi or Totonac ethnic groups. Often it has been suggested that Teotihuacan was in fact a multiethnic state. Archaeologists and historians really do not know for certain. They were much too early to be Aztecs, and the Toltec race, despite having a similar sense of architecture and civil engineering, did not appear until 200 years after the initial building of Teotihuacán. There is a possibility that the Olmecs, a race of great builders and craftsmen who had flourished between the fifteenth century BC and first century AD, may have been their ancestors. However, there is no proof to confirm this, and the writings and records left by the Teotihuacáns, which would provide us with their own version of their history, have never been successfully translated to. Whoever founded the city did so with intelligent laws and a strict reverence for religious matters.

It has been suggested that the city was a major destination for pilgrims and the training centre for priests. Despite the people enjoying a structured, dignified and privileged life, the city of Teotihuacán was largely destroyed by the eighth century AD. One theory is that the population may have been too great for the local resources although this has been countered by the knowledge that the rulers of Teotihuacán were good enough social and civil engineers to provide for this. It is more likely that invading barbarians from the north attacked the city. Indeed, what historians have garnered from Teotihuacán murals suggests the roles of soldiers took on more prominence in the city’s later years. Teotihaucán itself was not designed to repel attacks, and recent excavations have indicated that large, prepared fires were started in the city during its last days.

Although the origin of the Teotihuacán race is unknown, the influence it had across the Mexican region has been proven to be immense. Some experts consider the possibility that a mass exodus of Teotihuacán citizens founded another town with structure similar to the earlier pyramids at a site 700 miles away in Kaminaljuyú. But nothing is known for certain. Even after nearly a century of intense historical investigation, the mysterious story of Teotihuacán is as unknown now as it has been for a thousand years.

(Sources : 100 Most Strangest Mysteries by Matt Lamy; Sacred Places Around The World by Brad Olsen; and Wikipedia ) (Pics sources : pic1 Strangest Mysteries page 83 (Sun Pyramid); pic 2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:View_from_Pyramide_de_la_luna.jpg; pic 3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Teotihuacancityplan.png; pic 4 Strangest Mysteries page 84)

1 comment

R V said...

Teotihuacán was a major pilgrimage centre in the 5th century AD. It was one of the very well planned and civilised cultures in the world.

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