The Pyramid of the Sun The Pyramid of the Sun

The ancient city of Teotihuacan

The ancient city of Teotihuacan is is one of the most visited and oldest known archaeological sites in Mexico. Famous for its large pyramids dedicated to the sun and the moon, beautiful murals, carvings, museums and the majesty of the Calle de los Muertos (Street of the Dead), Teotihuacan draws thousands of tourists each year; at anytime of the year tourists can be seen milling around the city and marveling at the architecture. As one of the most powerful cultural centres in Mesoamerica, the holy city of Teotihuacan was inscribed on the List of World Heritage by UNESCO in 1987. The site's stunning architecture and vast historical importance made it a natural choice for such a designation.
The name of Teotihuacan was given by the Aztecs and it means where man met the gods or city of the gods, that is why, it is known also as The City of Gods. Here, in correlation with astronomical events, human lives were sacrificed to the gods. When the site was excavated, many tombs were found, some with the remains of sacrificed people. It is believed that Teotihuacan is a place of great energy, and it is quite common to witness people meditating at the top of main pyramids – The Pyramid of the Sun and The Pyramid of the Moon.

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The City of Gods was built between the 1st and 7th centuries A.D. and is situated in the Valley of Mexico, some 50 km north-east of Mexico City. Valley of Mexico lies about 7,000 feet above sea level, and it is surrounded by high mountains, some of which are active volcanoes. Water coursing down in streams from these mountains created a series of shallow, marshy lakes that provided a rich source for animals and fish, plants, salt and water for cultivation. The most important constructions of the city - the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon and the Calle de los Muertos – were built between 1AD and 250AD. At its peak it was the largest city in the Americas and one of the biggest cities in the world. It became a religious and economic center, controlling the region’s production of obsidian (the black stone used to make weapons and utensils). With around 200,000 inhabitants its population was greater than that of Rome at the same time. In 650AD, a great fire swept through the city, devastating many communities. Since then the huge population that lived here eventually ended up and no one knows where. Centuries later, the area was revered by Aztec pilgrims. However, the city never regained its concentration of population. For Aztecs, Teotihuacan was a holy place, where the sun, moon and universe were created. They gave Teotihuacan its name, meaning the place where men become gods. They also named the Calle de los Muertos, thinking that the monuments and many ruined temples along the road were burial places of early rulers. Aztecs saw themselves as having done well. They built for themselves a community called Tenochtitlan, surrounded by lush green cultivated fields and water, entered regional politics and allied themselves with neighbors. In 1502, the Aztec empire was at the height of its power. Many wanted to conquer the boomtown. In May 1521, the Spanish conquistador, Hernando Cortés, forced the Aztec to surrender.
The original city was about 22 square kilometres; the pyramids and temple complex still visible today represent only 10 per cent of Teotihuacan's total surface. Most of the city remains hidden, but deep inside the Pyramid of the Moon, Cabrera's team continues its excavations. Every corner of Teotihuacan worth visiting, but the main highlights are the following:
  • Calzada de los Muertos or The Avenue of the Dead is the main axis of the city. It stretches to the north from the Citadel all the way to the Temple of the Moon. The Avenue of the Dead is aligned to 16º north-west; this was apparently done purposefully to come into alignment with the setting sun on a certain date. The avenue divided the city in two and was named by the Aztecs as they felt the grand edifices were burial tombs, but the low buildings that flank it probably were palace residences.
  • Piramide del Sol or Pyramid of the Sun is the city’s most significant landmark boasting a base equal in size to the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt; it is the third largest pyramid in the world and rises to a height of 215 feet. It was constructed around 150 A.D. and held a temple on top. A sacred cave has been located beneath the Pyramid of the Sun, which may have some relation to the Mesoamerican belief about the creation of the world. The best aspect of the pyramid is climbing to the summit for unrivalled views of the city.
  • Piramide de la Luna or Pyramid of the Moon is smaller than that of the Sun, it was constructed on higher ground and its peak is roughly at the same height. Here there are four tiers, and some of the steps are so large that climbing the pyramid requires much effort. It is worth at least climbing to the first platform though, for the view directly down the Calle de los Muertos is highly memorable.
  • Ciudadela named The Spaniards sits at the southern end of the Avenue of the Dead. This immense sunken square was not a fortress at all, despite its impressive walls. Rather, it was the grand setting for the Feathered Serpent Pyramid and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. The feathered serpent is featured in the Ciudadela, but whether it was worshipped as Quetzalcoatl or a similar god isn't known for certain.
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