This is Part 2 of 2 articles on Teotihuacan: Part 1 - Teotihuacan: Tips for Exploring Part 2 - Teotihuacan: Highlights and History
In the first part of our feature on Teotihuacan, we discussed some of the practical travel tips to help you enjoy your day in these magnificent ruins. If you want to find out a bit more on the mysteries and discoveries behind this lost civilization — read on below!
The gigantic Pyramid of the Moon
Shrouded in Mystery
As impressive as the city is, Teotihuacan’s origins continue to be a mystery. It is a common misconception that the Aztecs built this great city. But in fact, it was the Aztecs who discovered the site – 700 years after it had been abandoned by its previous occupants. So awestruck were the Aztecs by their discovery, that they were also the ones who gave the place its current name: Teotihuacan — meaning “the place where men come to become gods.”
According to archaeologists, Teotihuacan reached its zenith between 100 B.C. and 650 A.D. What remains today is the only city center, where the pyramids and the Avenue of the Dead stand. But at its peak, the whole city covered 8 square miles (21 square kilometers) and supported a population of at least 100,000 people.
Clues from a Flourishing Civilization
While the inhabitants of Teotihuacan did not leave a lot of written artifacts, they did however leave a lot of other clues through their artwork, everyday objects and even the bones & remains around the complex.
The abundance of obsidian deposits around the area have been credited as the key to the city’s rise. The obsidian found in this area was an especially prized kind. It was used to manufacture large quantities of knives, spears and dart heads. Other goods which were traded during that time were also cacao, cotton, salt, feather and shells.
Also, according to the archaeologists’ analysis of the remains in Teotihuacan, many residents and warriors were not actually born in Teotihuacan. This means many people must have been lured to the great city and immigrated there — thanks to its reputation as an important center of commerce and religion. There also may have been human sacrifices in this area, and like in many Mesoamerican cultures, they considered the sacrifice as an honor.
The Rise and Fall of a Great City
For reasons that are still largely unknown, Teotihuacán’s inhabitants gradually left and abandoned their great city around 700 AD. Scholars have theorized that this decline was probably caused by the city’s overpopulation and depletion of natural resources. Signs of arson have been found around the administrative buildings in the city, which may have been the work of disgruntled citizens.
Seems like the cause of Teotihuacan’s collapse carries a lesson today’s people can still learn from. We need to respect Mother Nature, which has long nourished us and fulfilled our needs. Otherwise, the downfall of the system would ultimately mean the downfall of human beings.
On our own private tour, we started our walk from Gate 3 to Gate 1 within the site – as suggested by our guide.
It was great introduction to the structures as we prioritized the pyramids and moved down to the Calzada de los Muertos. The bus driver was then waiting for us at Gate 1 so we wouldn’t have to backtrack to Gate 3.
We saw the sites in this order:
|Palacio de Quetzalpapálotl
Near Gate 3 – Located in the southwest corner of the Plaza de la Luna, you’ll find the Palacio de Quetzalpapálotl (or the Palace of the Quetzal Butterfly).
Unlike the other structures in Teotihuacan, this is a covered area thus, some carvings and murals have been well-preserved here. The intricate murals and symbols for time in this patio tell us that someone from the ruling elite (like a high priest) lived here.
|Pirámide de la Luna
At the north end of the complex is the The Pyramid of the Moon. It is smaller than the Pirámide del Sol, but more central since it is directly in front of the central sacrificial altar.
Finished around AD 300, its summit is nearly the same height as Pirámide del Sol only because it’s built on higher ground. Some find this pyramid a little harder to scale than the Pirámide del Sol since the steps are steeper.
|Mural de Puma
Between the Pyramid of the Moon and the Sun along the east side of the Calzada de los Muertos, is a well-preserved mural called the Mural de Puma.
It represents a big feline profile, most probably a puma with an open mouth and big claws. This is an example of what the murals would have looked like along the Calzada de los Muertos.
|Pirámide del Sol
Pyramid of the Sun, along the east side of the Calzada, is the 3rd-largest pyramid in the entire world. Its name comes from the fact that beginning in the 16thcentury, accounts claimed that the sun god was worshipped at this immense monument.
At the height of Teotihuacan, the pyramid was covered in bright red plaster, which must have been a dazzling sight from miles away.
|Calzada de los Muertos
The main roadway of Teotihuacan, the Calzada de los Muertos or The Avenue of the Dead, has an overall length of more than two miles.
The Pyramid of the Moon marks its northern end, while both sides of the avenue belong to palace and temple complexes designed specifically for the city’s rulers and priests.
|Temple of the Feathered Serpent
The Temple or Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent is the modern name for the third largest pyramid at Teotihuacan. The pyramid was named as such due to the images of the Mesoamerican “feathered serpent” deity covering its sides. This pyramid is also notable due to the discovery in the 1980s of more than 100 possibly sacrificial victims found buried beneath it.
It is deemed the most beautiful in the complex since some of the plaster on the sides of the pyramid has survived and major work is also currently being undertaken to restore it to its former glory. The structure is also known as the Temple of Quetzalcoatl (an Aztec god).
All in all, the Teotihuacan Archaeological Zone was an amazing way to walk in the footsteps of those who came before us. Moreover, it serves as further proof that indeed there were great ancient civilizations in these areas before the conquistadors came along.
Hope this post helps!
We broke up this article into 2 parts since there’s so much to be said about this sacred place (can you tell we’re archaeology buff/ Indiana Jones wannabes?!) If you would like to learn more about practical travel tips for making the most out of your day in Teotihuacan. Click here >>
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