Teotihuacan, D.F., Mexico

Mural depicting Feathered Serpent Eagle Warriors

Teotihuacan was a very large city situated in a broad valley, about 50 kilometers north-east of Mexico City and surrounded by beautiful and significant mountains of varying shapes and sizes. Around the time of Christ it was one of the largest cities in the world, with as many as a half million inhabitants, covering an area of 150 square kilometers. If there is any one 'must see' place, to understand the grandeur and magnificence of Mexican civilization, San Juan Teotihuacan is the site to visit.

The area has been occupied since 3000 BC and there were small settlements by 600 BC. Around 200 BC a town developed around the ceremonial center, and it flourished until about 600 AD, when the Teotihuacan civilization controlled the Valley of Mexico and had broad contacts and influences over most of Central America. Sometime between 600-700 AD the city began to decline and was ultimately abandoned, possibly due to barbarian invasions from the north. The Aztecs revered the deserted site as the 'Valley of the Gods'.

The structure of the city was laid out as a gigantic grid in the broad mountain valley, and it was organized along a monumental causeway, the Avenue of the Dead, almost 4 kilometers long, which runs north to south through the center of the city. At the northern end of the axis is the Plaza of the Moon, a large ceremonial complex with the terraced Pyramid of the Moon, facing south down the avenue. The Pyramid of the Sun rises at the fulcrum of the site, north of center, on the east side of the Avenue of the Dead. At the south end of the avenue, and across the San Juan river on the east side, the huge Citadel complex terminates the axis.

View of the Pyramid of the Sun from the Citadel

The citadel is an enormous, rectangular building complex at the south end, and on the east side of the Avenue of the Dead. It is organized around a sunken square courtyard, about 400 meters on a side, surrounded by two tiers of masonry terraces supporting two step temple platforms, 4 each on the north west and south sides for a total of 12 temples. The eastern half of the sunken courtyard is taken up by the magnificent Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl. This view is looking north from the sunken courtyard of the Citadel, to the Pyramid of the Sun, rising like a massive magical mountain, in the distance to the north.

Stone Masks on the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl

The Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl is a large, temple platform, almost 100 meters square, that stands in the eastern half of the sunken courtyard of the Citadel. Built in several successive phases, the interior of the mound has been excavated to reveal the west facade of the original temple, from the period of Teotihuacan in 250 AD. There are 9 stepped platforms on the west face of the pyramid, constructed with the typical sloping talud base and horizontal tablero frieze, lined with rows of alternating stone mosaic masks of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent half-god, and Tlaloc, the god of rain, with his goggle eyes and protruding snout.

Funerary mask found in one of the tombs

Teotihuacan was a center for very fine ceramic manufacturing, and the city exported it's wares throughout the highlands of Mexico and Central America. There were extensive trade routes and regional centers and contacts with cultures as far away as the south-western U.S. and the great centers of culture in the Yucatan and Guatemala, and on the west coast of South America. The ceramic mask was made as a faceplate for the burial of an important personage. It has oval holes for eyes, over-sized earplugs with large, round disks, and a flared mustache over the mouth. The face is decorated with burnt orange and yellow glazes.

Courtyard Palace of the Quetzalpapalotl

The Palace of Quetzalpapalotl is one of many such palace structures in the center of the city. These were typically square or rectangular complexes, located on raised platforms and terraces, organized around interior courtyards and plazas. Thought to have been the royal residence of Teotihuacan, the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl, the quetzal butterfly, is located south-west of the Plaza of the Moon, on the west side of the Avenue of the Dead. It has a large, square patio, lined with columns decorated with bird and butterfly motifs.

Monumental Stone Feathered Serpent Head

This is a close-up view of one of the gigantic stone feathered serpent heads from the terraces on the west facade of the original Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl from about 250 AD. The figure of the half-god Quetzalcoatl, figured prominently in the cosmological hierarchy of Teotihuacan, as it did in most other Meso-American cultures. It combines the ground and the sky with the image of the bird and the snake, in the story of a stranger from afar, who has the potential to attain divinity through his travels and tribulations.

Pyramid of the Moon at Night in Laser Light

Those who stay at the site, can attend the laser sound and light shows that are conducted in the evenings, and get a chance to view the ancient structures in colored and sequenced lighting and with accompanying soundtrack and ceremonial chanting. This view shows the stepped terraces and stairways on the south side of the Pyramid of the Moon in blue lighting, and the platforms in the Plaza of the Moon lit in yellow.

Pyramid of the Sun from the Pyramid of the Moon

This view is looking south from the upper terrace of the Pyramid of the Moon, and along the Avenue of the Dead, towards the Pyramid of the Sun, which towers over the center of the site, emulating the shapes of the mountains in the distance beyond. The Pyramid of the Sun is a huge earthen mound, 225 meters square and 142 meters high, that dates from about 100 AD. There are 248 steps leading up to the top of the pyramid on the west side, and the whole structure was originally covered with bright red plaster, which must have been radiant at sunset.

Ceremonial Stone Sundisk with Giant Skull

The sculpted stone sundisk was found in a subterranean grotto directly below the center of the Pyramid of the Sun, during excavations in 1971. It depicts a human skull with a chin piece, surrounded by the radiating disk of the sun, a powerful representation of the god of the sun, and of death, to whom the pyramid was dedicated. The sun stone bears strong resemblances to much later Aztec sculptures, such as the giant calendar stone.

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