- « the city of Gods » in Náhuatl
In parallel with the Olmecs civilization, other
cultural forms developed in different regions of the country. In
the highlands, close to the Valley of Mexico
City, a group specializing in the work and trade of obsidian
took place in Teotihuacán.
The first constructions, from second or third century BC reveal
a complex and powerful society. Soon after, they started to build
the urban group that survived until now. It is oriented North-South,
located between two big pyramids, and called the pyramid of the
Sun and the Moon.
From the time of the Christ, the fast expansion of the city because
of the growth of the population, forced the development of agricultural
activities. Soon, the irrigation works covered soon the whole valley.
The constructions of so many temples could be explained by the crowd
of dealer-pilgrims who visited regularly the city.
From the second century AD, the expansion of the economic activities
adopted an imperialism model. On the one hand, the metropolitan
region extended beyond the valley of Teotihuacán and covered the valleys of Mexico City and Puebla; its influence covers
also a big part of the actual State
of Hidalgo where there were important obsidian beds. On the
other hand, we can find the influence of Teotihuacán in very
remote regions, in the valley of Oaxaca,
Veracruz and the highlands of Guatemala, in Kaminaljuyu, Belize and maybe further south.
city extends itself
The city kept growing according to the same plan
designed during the previous age. The three elements, temple, palace
and market, defined the character of the power of Teotihuacán.
They defined and conserved the principle of the construction, grounded
on “talud” and “tablero”, meaning the “inclined
plane and vertical plane”. It was the main architectural innovation
Around the huge group of the Avenue of the Dead, were found remains
of the neighborhoods where worked the artisans specializing in ceramic,
obsidian, flint, etc… Other groups of workshops, like the
ones of the cabinetmakers, the weavers or the basket makers, disappeared
without leaving a trace. They also found the neighborhoods of the
foreign people with different funeral rituals and warehouses with
objects from far away countries. The city became a real metropolis
and covered a surface about 8 sq miles (20 km2) where about 100,
000 persons lived.
The following period, covering 3 centuries until 650, reinforced
the situation. The city didn’t spread in surface but became
denser, with 200,000 inhabitants. Compared to Rome where there were
only 10,000 inhabitants, Teotihuacán was a huge city. Most of the constructions still visible now date
from this period because they never were covered. The amazing vitality
of this period left traces throughout Guatemala (in Kaminaljuyu
and Tikal) and in Salvador. It was not a question of colonization
in the roman style but commercial shackles maybe supported by troops
from which radiated the technical and religious influences.
fall of Teotihuacán was slow. It was the result of a series of setbacks, inside as well
as outside. The region of Puebla seemed to free itself, cutting communication with Oaxaca and the South. The deforestation of the valley seems to have caused
long periods of dryness that sapped the agricultural production,
which created the dissatisfaction with the population against the
government, and finally, the Otomis were the ones who delivered
the coup de grace. Teotihuacán was burned and plundered.
Because of the fall, the political and economical imbalance had
disastrous consequences, not only on the Mexican highlands but also
in Oaxaca where Monte
Albán had been abandoned at the end of the eighth century
and also in the Maya cities, which were destroyed and abandoned
in the ninth century.
special chapter about Teotihuacán
ALBÁN - Imposing center of ceremonies at
the top of a hill looking down upon the vast valley of Oaxaca
The region of Monte
Albán was populated at least since the Christ’s
age with Zapotecs. A few sites were completely excavated. Monte
Albán, the most important, is used as a reference. Since
the twelfth century, it was under the influence of the Olmec civilization
but it knew very soon how to impose its own characteristics. Between
650 and 200 BC, a first stage was built on the hilltop looking down
the valley, in Monte
Albán. There were hypothesis to explain the meaning of
the carved steles, known as the “Dancers”. It could
be representations of the villages, obedient and humiliated by the
defeat. The power of Monte
Albán appears by the extent of the works put in hand.
The summit of the hill was leveled to make a vast horizontal place
covered by a layer of stucco. They drew the plan of the whole site
and built the first constructions with vertical walls made of huge
blocks. There were more hieroglyphic inscriptions on the steles
than before and the numbers seems to indicate dates of some events.
The period that inherited the Olmec influences from Chiapas and Guatemala stopped with the “Dancers” of Monte
Albán and the players of Ball from Dainzu. Then a new
period started : the one of Teotihuacán.
Albán was isolated
Until the seventh century, the Meso-American world lived its golden
age. The nascent splendor of Teotihuacán was penetrating in Monte
Albán. Some shapes of pottery were drawn from the ones
of the highlands while conserving at the same time the local characteristics.
However, this influence was rapidly eliminated and the Zapotec civilization
started its independent evolution. Step by step, the valley became
isolated from the other regions. The number of objects made outside
went down, and then disappeared completely, meaning the interruption
of the commercial relations. In the valley, more villages appeared
and 18 of them could be considered as important. The population
reached 35,000 inhabitants in Monte
Albán. The sides of the mountains were arranged in terraces
in order to increase the cultivated surfaces.
city was abandoned
They enlarged the main place in the Mesoamerican way, meaning with
a new layer of bigger and more sumptuous constructions with bigger
underground tombs. There were many more Gods represented on the
urns. The urns made the fame of this civilization. Everything indicates
a growing power of the priestly class. But the fragile balance between
the production, the demographic growth and the needs of the clergy
absorbing always more resources, was not long to break. And the
decline of Monte Albán started at the beginning of the eighth century. The fall of Teotihuacán was maybe one of the unknown reasons of the fall of this metropolis
as it was abandoned about 750, leaving no traces of fire or vandalism.
Maybe the cause was the isolation with no possible exchanges, choking
the economy and increasing the influence of the dominant class.
the special chapter about Monte Albán
MAYAS - Contemporaneous civilization of Teotihuacán -
The culture of the Mayas was so close to the culture of the Olmecs
that some researchers would affirm that not only were they their
heirs but they would have constituted an only people. The Mayas
developed the pyramids, the places, the steles, the ball courts,
the jaguar God and the jades, the hieroglyphs, the mathematics and
the chronologies based on “long serials”, invented by
However, a cultural gap separated the last Olmec manifestations
from the first Maya ones. Between the second century BC and the
third century AD, nothing indicated the presence of civilized people
in the region where the Maya culture developed except some dated
steles and monuments found in the Pacific Coast of Chiapas and Guatemala (Izapa, BI Baul).
The Maya civilization developed in a vast unity of city-sanctuaries,
maybe grouped as confederations.
The territory itself is divided in 4 regions :
The central zone covered the Petén (Guatemala), Belize and
the valley of Motagua up to Honduras. The main sites are Tikal,
Uaxactun, Quirigua, Copán…
The Valley of Usumacinta in Chiapas,
Bonampak, Yaxchilan, Piédras Négras
the lowlands of the North covering the whole Yucatán
Peninsula, with the sites Chichén
ltzá, Uxmal, Coba,
The south, covering the highlands of Guatemala.
splendor of the city-sanctuaries
were living in this territory before the construction
of the first urban sanctuaries and might have developed some kind
of regional cultures under the influence of the Olmecs.
Under the influences of the civilizations of Teotihuacán and Monte Albán,
the Maya civilization reached its peak in the third century, especially
in the central region. Tikal is the most important group. The center
of this metropolis, covering 16 km2 (about 6 square miles), has
more than 3,000 constructions. The highest one, the Temple IV, reached
70 m (230 feet).
The crests overhanging the temples were decorated with big motives
made of painted stucco. At the foot of these huge units, rows of
steles, painted or decorated with stucco or sculpted, and round
altars seem to indicate the existence of a cult of important people.
And there were also rows of glyphs and dates from 292 to 879. It
looks like there was a slack season in the seventh century. Some
elements, representations of the God TIaloc and platforms “talud
and tablero”, indicate a sure influence of Teotihuacán
in the fifth century.
The Maya developed a very complex system of writing using 300 to
500 pictographs and phonetic symbols. This system was at last deciphered
in the eighties and it was a big progress in the understanding of
this civilization. On the Maya calendars, used by other pre-Hispanic
populations, the Mayas even noted celestial and earthly events imagining
the solar eclipses and the trajectories of the moon and Venus.
valley of Usumacinta
In this valley crossing the state of Chiapas in Mexico, you can see the influences of Teotihuacán and Petén on some sites like Piedras Negras and Yaxchilan.
But the necropolis city of Palenque,
because of its architecture style and sculpture, keeps a specific
particularity. Located at the edge of the jungle, on the foothills
of the sierra, it dominates a vast savanna with numerous farming
villages. The prosperity of this region and the number of the inhabitants
allowed the accomplishment of fantastic works, which, like the paintings
of Bonampak and the treasure of the tomb in Palenque,
are glories of the Mayan art.
For unknown reasons, it looks like Palenque was abandoned by its inhabitants and occupied by strangers at the
end of the ninth century.
Its regions underwent diverse influences, among
them the styles Rio Bec,
Chen and Puuc. The most known is the last one with sites like Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil and
Labna. Puuc architecture has several predominant features, most
notably constructions with a plain lower section and a richly decorated
upper section. The friezes are always richly decorated with geometric
designs and more elaborate figurative sculptures with many representations
of Chaac, God of rain.
special chapter about Uxmal and the region Puuc
mystery of the abandon of the Mayan cities
The classic period saw its decline in the ninth
century. In some regions like the valley of Usumacinta, especially
as well as in Petén, marks of violence and destruction have
been discovered. Change of climate, epidemics, revolutions and invasions
: every supposition has been proposed but nothing explains yet the
definitive abandon of the big Mayan cities of the classic period.
These Mesoamerican phenomena will remain unexplained for a long
time. In the region Puuc,
it looks like the transition went smoothly and you can see in the
post classic period an harmonious mix of the influences of the Mexican
high lands with Mayan elements.
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hi, i have been doing some research work on Mexico recently as a work of Cultural studies.
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