Teotihuacan was a religious center in the Mexican Highland 30 miles north of Mexico City at an elevation of about 7000 feet. The city started early in the Christian Era. In 1-200 A. D., they started constructing the massive pyramids that define the site. The name Teotihuacan, or “birthplace of the gods,” was later given to the city by the Aztecs.
The Avenue of the Dead from atop the Moon Pyramid. The Sun Pyramid is on the left and the Citidal and the Quetzalcoatl pyramid at the end of the avenue. Photo in public domain.
The culture that built the site isn’t known. The site doesn’t have writing or texts to determine the constructors. The Aztecs claimed to have built it, and Teotihuacan was the name they gave the city years after the site was abandoned. The Aztecs built the city on what is now Mexico City. The Toltec, Totonac, Zapotec, Mixtec or Maya have been considered as the constructors at one time or another. The Olmec influenced Teotihuacan, and all Mesoamerican cultures.
Teotihuacan appeared to be a multicultural city. There is evidence Otomi, Zapotec, Mixtec, Maya and Totonac were among the population. At Teotihuacan’s peak in approximately 450 A. D. the city covered about eleven and a half square miles. It was the sixth largest city in the world with a population of approximately 100,000. Teotihuacan was bigger than Rome in the fourth century. The residents abandoned the city about 650 A. D. It’s influence covered the nearby region and as far South as the Maya civilization in Guatemala. Teotihuacan was a religious and commercial center with no fortifications or military influence. The military forays were to capture people for sacrificial purposes. The culture influenced all Mesoamerican art and religion. Other Mesoamerican cultures have similar gods, feathered serpents, religious practices, and human sacrifice.
The Temple of Quetzalcoatl with serpent heads and rain gods. Public domain image.
The Temple of Quetzalcoatl
The Temple of Quetzalcoatl is located on the West side of the avenue between the two pyramids. It may have been where the priests lived. Inside are remnants of the original paintings. These are still colorful enough to give an idea of the arts vibrancy at the time they were painted.
The Sun and Moon stepped pyramids are the most impressive structures on the site. They overpower the rest of the site even though all the buildings are coordinated.
The smaller Moon pyramid is the smallest and it is on the North end of the Avenue of the Dead and faces South. The pyramid of the Sun is on the East side of the avenue, and faces West. It is about a kilometer from the Moon pyramid. Both had temples on top when they were finished.
The feathered serpent pyramid faces West on the Citadels East wall. It is a small six-step pyramid. The façade is decorated with sculptures of the feathered serpent, Quetzalcoatl, and the rain god, Tlaoc. Some still have remnants of the original paint. Over a hundred sacrificial victims are buried inside.
The pyramids do contain burials, but that doesn’t appear to be the main purpose. It was not like the Egyptians who built their pyramids to be Pharaohs tombs.
The Avenue of the Dead
The name, Avenue of the Dead, is the Aztec name, as they thought the temples and pyramids that flanked it were tombs. These temples and pyramids have sculptures of Quetzalcoatl, and Tlaoc, the rain god on their faces. They are low and flat. These temples have 2 or 3 steps.
The avenue is about two kilometers from the Moon pyramid to the Citadel. Its orientation is 15.5 degrees clockwise off North. The avenue may be excavated further South in the future.
The Citadel was thought to be on the Southern end of the city, but the city was divided into quarters, and the avenue actually extends past the Citadel. It is a large square area with walls. It is thought to be ceremonial gathering area that was big enough to contain the entire population inside the walls.
The origins and builders of this city are open for debate, but Teotihuacan is an impressive place to see. The size, the art and architecture are all stunning. Teotihuacan tours are among the most popular in the world. It is a humbling experience to stand and walk through the ancient pyramids and temples.