TEOTIHUACÁN (open 7AM-6PM
daily, entrance fees : $57) – The site is inscribed on the
Cultural World Heritage list of UNESCO.
The city of Gods is one of the more powerful meso-American cultural
residences (from 200 BC to 650 AD). It spreads on a 24 km2 (5930
acres) surface. Everything is worth the visit !
Teotihuacán probably lost all its inhabitants because of
Left picture : view of Teotihuacán
Located 48 km (30 miles) north of Mexico
City, after passing by the monastery of Acolman, (one of the
first convents built by the Augustins in the sixteenth century),
the old city of Teotihuacán, and the biggest city in pre-Hispanic
America, once spread over a surface of about 150 km2 (37,000
acres). The ceremonial center that can be visited nowadays occupies
a little more than 4 km2 (1000 acres). The word Teotihuacán
means “the place where Gods were created", or simply
"the city of Gods". The Aztecs were impressed by the size
of the monuments and thought that only Gods could have built such
a big city.
The warriors slaughtered and sacrificed many people. The temple
of the "Feathered Serpent" (Quetzalcóatl) reveals
that this empire was organized in distinct classes. It also tells
that the empire was based on the army, the offering of prisoners
as sacrifice which included the cruel practice of pulling out their
hearts. The Mexican Gods thirsted for blood. They saw blood as a
kind of fertilizer.
In Teotihuacán, the sculptures mainly represent animals.
The jaguar, a warlike animal, is the symbol of the politic power
and fertility. However, the most famous animal in the Mexican culture
is the Feathered Serpent, an incarnation of both Heaven and Earth.
From October to May, an enchanting sound and light
show contributes to the magic of the place. What strikes you here
is more the immoderation of the place than its beauty.
Right picture : map
of the site
Each year, since 2007, during the Spring Equinox on March 21st,
you can spend the night of March 20th on the top of the Pyramid
of the Sun.
On March 20th, the gates of the site close at 5 PM and open again
at 7 PM.
If you want to spend the night on top of the pyramid of the Sun,
you have to pay a 57 pesos entrance fee and you will be able to
see the sunrise. It is forbidden to bring a tent or sleeping bag.
The wind could be cold, so bring warm clothes.
The Pre-Hispanic people thought that prior to our world, or "Sun",
there were 4 other worlds that vanished in cataclysms. The last
one, called “Sun of Water” (Atonatiuh) or "Sun
of Fire", is supposed to have been destroyed by a rain of fire.
The present world, under the sign 4- Ollin (4-movement, is the date
when the Sun started to move), will end in earthquakes. The first
Sun was the Sun of the age of cold and North, dominated by Tezcatlipoca;
the second Sun, under the sign of Quetzalcóatl, was the sun
of spells, winds and West; the third Sun, dominated by Tlaloc, God
of Fire, comes from South and the fourth Sun, under the patronage
of Chalchiuhtlicue, God of Water is a deity from East. Our Sun,
the fifth one, is a Sun of fire represented sometimes as a butterfly,
a sun from the center, called Tonatiuh.
: serpent on the temple of Quetzalcóatl (Teotihuacán)
The cardinal points were linked to the calendar which was divided
into 4 series of thirteen years to form a 52-year cycle.
The fifth Sun : after the fall of the fourth Sun, the world lived
in dark and cold. The gods had then a meeting in Teotihuacán
to decide which ones will be converted in lights of the world. Tecciztecatl,
" god of clam" ( representing the female sex), God of
Moon, birth and death of vegetation, and Nanahuatzin, covered with
pustules, "the one who was dead and up risen", God of
Sun, were volunteers for the sacrifice. The two of them built the
two big pyramids of Teotihuacán. Tecciztecatl and Nanahuatzin
stayed four days on the top to do penance before throwing themselves
into a big brazier lighted for the circumstances.
Nice views of Teotihuacan
But Tecciztecatl got scared and back up while seeing the
flames and Nanahuatzin threw himself first.
So the lights rose on East side while the moon was punished
for his cowardice : A God threw her a rabbit whose shape
can still be seen diminishing her brightness.
But, the Gods realized, scared, that the stars didn’t
move and were burning the world. They were dead but asked
for blood to live. The Sun, in the center of the Aztec calendar,
sticks his tongue out to show he is asking for blood. The
Gods were all sacrificed by Quetzalcóatl and the
stars started their trajectory in the sky. Quetzalcoatl
ran towards the coast of the Gulf, lighted a big pyre to
throw himself into in order to become the planet Venus,
and also called Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, meaning the up risen
Quetzalcóatl. Since, the Sun is asking for food and
Chalchiuatl, the precious liquid of human blood. It is the
reason why the Aztecs were fighting : their victims were
sacrificed to make the Sun live.
front of the Cultural Unit (boutiques, restaurants, museums), on
the other side of the Avenue of the Dead, stretches a vast place
surrounded by a plate-form topped with pyramidal constructions (4
on each of the three sides). This place, divided in two units, houses
in its center, a pyramid behind which was excavated an older temple
dedicated to Quetzalcóatl. The façade is adorned with
magnificent sculptures, once polychromes representing feathered
serpents (Quetzal : bird with long feathers, Coatl : serpent) and
masks of Tlaloc, God of rain.
In front of the pyramid, there is a small square plate-form with
a 13 steps stair on each face. It looks like it reveals the purpose
of this ensemble : The sum of the steps (13 x 4 = 52) indicates
the duration of the celestial cycle. At the end of this cycle, there
was the ceremony of “new fire” and the rebirth
of the Sun that could live another 52 year cycle.
Above picture : view
of the Citadel
The avenue of the Dead
(Calzada de los Muertos)
This huge avenue is so called because of the buildings on each side;
once these buildings were mistaken for tombs. This avenue is 2.5
km (1.5 miles) long and 45 m (147 feet) wide. Its difference in
altitude is 27 m (88 feet), which made the builders divide it into
several "patios" separated by stairs. Transverse streets
sometimes linked other "patios" surrounded by buildings.
See the Edificios Superpuestos (layered edifices) excavated
from the nineteenth century and the conjunto Plaza Oeste which shows
a patio with two heads of snakes. Nice view from the top of the
Pyramid of the Sun.
Right picture : view
on the avenue of the dead (on right, the pyramid of the
The pyramid of the sun
on a terrace of 350 m by 350m (1,150 X 1,150 ft), the pyramid of
the Sun is one of oldest and more important buildings in Teotihuacán.
Its main facade looks towards a point on the horizon where the sun
sets during one of the two days of the year in which the sun sits
exactly over the top of the pyramid at the Zenith. (All the buildings
on Avenue of the Dead follow this rule). Its present aspect is different
from what it was because there was an extra layer of buildings.
These buildings, partly destroyed, were about 6 m (20 ft) thick
with paintings and Stuccos.
Originally, it comprised four platforms supported by a quadrangular
base, more than 200 m long on each side; actually, there are five
platforms, since the reconstructions realized from 1905 to 1910,
It is 66 m high, not including the temple that was on the top.
Left picture : pyramid of
This temple contained a stone idol that was destroyed during the
colonization by Archbishop Zumárraga,
The base is 222 m x 225 m (728 X 738 ft), and 63 m (207 ft) high.
When the temple on the top still existed, it was 75 m (246 ft) high.
the back and on each side of the stairs, there are huge buttresses
and built-in stones whose function was to support the mortar coat
covered with red and white stucco. This big structure comprises
a core of porous stone block agglomerated with clay and covered
with a volcanic rock screed. It was built in two phases from the
beginning of our era to 200 A.D; they first built the huge pyramidal
massive structure and later the pyramid covering the central stairway
of the western façade. This façade is made of four
“Talud-Tablero” (slope-panels) platforms.
During the seventies, a natural cave was discovered in the middle
of the stairway with a 100 m (329 ft) long passageway ending into
four rooms where many archaeological artifacts were found.
Right picture : pyramid of the sun
More than one million clay bricks were needed for the construction
: Imagine the number of men used !
The pyramid of the moon
Less high than the previous one (45.8 m or 150 feet), its top is
however located at the same height because the ground at the base
is higher. A vast place of 207.5 m x 135.5 m (680 X 445 ft), flanked
with constructions accessible with stairs, spreads in front. This
place is important because the Avenue of the Dead starts here and
also because of the palaces on the west side (palaces with vestiges
of magnificent bas-reliefs and murals like the palace of Quetzalpapalotl,
the palace of the Jaguars, the temple of the fathered snails, etc.).
It stands on the northern part of the city. Its silhouette looks
like the one of Cerro Gordo (big mountain). It is called
Tenan in Náhuatl, meaning "mother or rock protector".
It is the second largest pyramid in Teotihuacán after the
pyramid of the Sun.
Above picture : pyramid
of the moon under thunderstorm
It covers an older structure. It has been with the same shape since
the period from 0 to 200 A.D.
From 200 to 450 A.D., they added the four “Talud-Tablero”
platforms facing the stairs leading to the Avenue of the Dead. This
structure has an upper platform where religious ceremonies were
held to pay tribute to Chalchiutlicue, the water goddess linked
to the moon. The superior temple was dedicated to her; a Chalchiutlicue
sculpture was found at the feet of the pyramid.
Plaza of the Moon faces the pyramid. It comprises a central altar
as well as an original construction made of four rectangular and
diagonal parts forming what they called the "Cross of Teotihuacán".
Right picture : place
of the moon with the pyramid of the moon
Temple of the Feathered Conches
This temple was built before the Palace of the Quetzal-Papalotl.
The new edifice was built on the ruins of the original structure.
An artificial passageway links these two monuments, Inside, the
access to the walls that gave their name to the temple is located
at the very place where the Temple of the Feathered Conches was
discovered : the pillars are indeed decorated with feathered conches
set in a row and framed with flower frieze and door jambs.
The platform linked to the temple presents the classical “Talud-Tablero
“structure of Teotihuacán, on three sides. The western
face has stairs with a painting representing a parrot watering a
flower with its beck. This design is reproduced inside on panels.
The central altar on the Main Plaza was used by both temple and
palace of the Jaguars.
Left picture : frame with
feathered conches in the temple
Palace of Quetzal-Butterfly
This construction is set by the side of many other edifices. These
edifices belong to earlier periods and were reused afterwards. This
palace was named after the sculptures on the pillars, representing
the mythical Quetzal-Butterfly bird.
It comprises a patio surrounded by portico gallerias on all four
sides and leading to a set of rooms whose roofs were rebuilt after
A the junction of the lowered patio and the portico of the east
side, you find the access to the main vestibule that leads to Plaza
of the Moon via big stairs; At the north end of this portico, a
door leads to smaller raised rooms.
The big stairs that lead to Plaza of the Moon also lead to a smaller
vestibule giving into the western constructions.
These pillars are carved with full and lateral face figures of birds
and butterflies overlaid in a spiral design.
Below and right
pictures : palace of Quetzal-Butterfly
The Quetzal-Butterfly bird, carved on the pillars of the Quetzal-Papalotl
and represented with obsidian eyes, is a symbol of water and fire.
The big rectangular pillars seen on both pictures are carved with
bas-reliefs representing geometric designs, volutes and the symbol
of the "precious value".
The Palace of the jaguars
It is an open construction made of overlaid structures that were
in function at different times; it comprises a “Talud-Tablero”
pyramidal edifice. It sinks in the ground and is the base of a temple
with stairs and balustrades representing a rattle snake.
One part of the palace is constituted by the porticos of the north
edifice and the remains of the constructions located around the
plaza. In the portico rooms, you see talus decorated with felines
carrying shells on their back and blowing into feathered conches.
In the northern and western edifices, there are representations
of jaguars covered with a net and held in the arms of a female torso
dressed with a quechquémitl (a woman’s poncho).
Right picture : mountain lion ornate with a feathered
headgear and the back covered with shells, blowing
in a feathered conch
(It is difficult to take pictures because
the flashes are not allowed).
the Pyramid of the Sun, next to gate 5, there is a remarkable museum
with nice archaeological artifacts and a sculpture garden. One of
the jewels of the hall is a stone carved in relief representing
one of the most important divinities in Teotihuacán, the
one linked to water, earth and fertility. In these rooms, you will
find samples of raw material used on the site, explanations about
the management of ecological environment, examples of architecture
and different arts such as ceramics, bone engraving, sculpture,
painting, precious stone carving, data about cosmology, religion,
symbolism of the murals, funerary masks and urns in which the ashes
of the burnt people were kept. There is also a collective tomb discovered
on one side of the Temple of Quetzlcóatl. This tomb contains
depictions of rituals that occurred at the Temple de Quetzlcóatl,
showing nine men and four women offered in sacrifice.
Left picture : serpentine funerary mask
showing the characteristics of the inhabitants of Teotihuacán
main room has a glass floor through which the visitor can look down
at a model giving him a general view of the archaeological zone;
furthermore, there is a panoramic window that offers a direct view
on the Pyramid of the Sun.
Right picture : ceramic
vase covered with stucco with God Tlaloc painted on it
This room shows an example of architectural superposition created
during the different stages of the splendor of Teotihuacán.
During the first phase, there were three small edifices separated
by narrow streets; they then were enlarged and the walls were suppressed
in order to unite the habitable zones.
Among the vestiges, you can see rooms with porticos forming plazas
and patios, sewers inside houses and, in the center of large plazas,
altars and murals of diverse styles and designs.
On the walls of this complex, the paintings show falcons whose beck
discharge a stream of blood; the portico is decorated with the painting
of “Goddess of Jade", her back to the visitor, her arms
open and her hands presenting precious objects.
It is an important residential ensemble comprising several sectors,
including a painted patio with an altar and a white patio with interesting
A painting on portico 1 represents a feline covered with a net;
a feline head hangs on a net displayed on the vertical walls and
a coyote with humanoid features gets out the mesh. The talus of
the portico 2 shows a feline trapped in a net and a coyote, both
with feathered headgear; on the vertical walls, a painting represents
a personage with a bird of prey shaped head; all these paintings
are special and interesting.
On the talus of portico 3, a personage does a ritual dance; on the
vertical wall, there is a bird with a humanoid face and warrior
attire and on the side of the portico there is a personage with
During the different époques, this residential ensemble got
architectural and pictorial transformations. During the forties,
they discovered the walls of a room that led to two rooms decorated
with paintings representing Tlalocan or Tlacoc’s paradise:
There are paintings of celebrations, games and entertainment on
the talus of the eastern wall. There are also two symmetrical identical
divinities with a bird of prey shaped headgear, open arms and big
drops of water falling from their hands.
Left picture : general view of Teotihuacán
The divinity is surrounded by dense plants and flowers, birds and
butterflies. By the side of Tlaloc, a priest scatters seed on the
ground while people are swimming and playing different ball games
on the leaning wall, The painting of the northeastern wall represents
a ball game on a field demarcated by steles similar to the goal
posts of the Ventilla zone.
When going from the wall of Tlalocan to the one of the Ball game,
you enter a room with murals representing the "Procession of
the sowering priests": there are richly dressed up people and
a crocodile head ornate with feathers and diverse designs coming
from its leg : this painting symbolizes a prayer to God to obtain
a fertile land.
Zacuala and Yayahuala
Zacuala is an elegant residential ensemble with rooms, porticos,
patios, central place and anterooms with sewers connected to the
urban drain set along the streets.
The residential ensemble of Yayahuala is surrounded by walls. The
streets are linked to the system of street-canals. Stairs lead to
a vestibule that opens onto the lowered place. This place is linked
to the three residential or administrative-religious units. It comprises
porticos, hallways and the remains of a less important entrance.
The Mexican century
All the Mexican people had adopted the same calendar
founded on the celestial observations. The Mexican knew the solar
year of 365 days but they corrected it to obtain the exact duration
of the year. This calendar was called Xihuitl by the Aztecs and
Haab by the Mayas, who also used a ritual calendar made of 13 periods
of 20 days, i.e. 260 days, called Tonalpohualli by the Aztecs and
Tzolkin by the Mayas. The century equaled 52 solar years and 73
ritual years and lasted 18, 980 days. The last night of the century
could always be the last of the world if the sun wouldn’t
dawn on the horizon the following day. During this last ritual night,
people gathered on the big place; they extinguished all the fires
and while singing and praying, they performed sacrifices until dawn.
When the Sun appeared, they re-lighted the fires and they were filled
with joy because the world would last at least another 52 year period.
Teotihuacán represents the apogee of the
classic culture of High Lands and its memory, transmitted by the
Toltecs then by the Aztecs, had always had a sacred nature. The
visitors of today can feel the same respect that the City of Gods
inspired to its heirs.
Teotihuacán is not only a monumental city but also a place
where the painted frescos allows you to imagine the world of mythical
shapes of gods, jaguars, people of the night and aquatic skies.
The teotihuacano art doesn’t’ stop outside the site.
It creates its microcosms of pottery and ceremonial objects, which,
tried during centuries, reached perfection.
This teotihuacana presence between far away villages also created
rivalries that increased in the seventh century. And the city that
grew at the detriment of the lands of culture imported raw materials
and sold out the natural resources. It started a crisis. In the
ninth century, other cities of teotihuacana tradition became bigger
than the metropolis : Tajín,
Cholula and Xochicalco.
The people arriving in the area built new cities on the teotihuacano
model. They developed a complex mythology around their religious
tradition. They highlighted specially the form of Ce-Acatl Topiltzin
Quetzalcóatl who united the idea of civilization and agricultural
cult; Tlaloc, the God of rain, is a fertility god but he is also
responsible for both floods and droughts. In the building called
the "Citadel", it is possible to see molded figures of
the two deities on stone and stucco.
Left picture : pyramid of the moon
city of Teotihuacán The place where men become gods
is the most visited of Mexico's archaeological
sites. The Pyramid of the Sun is the tallest of the two major
pyramids, Pyramid of the Sun (the third largest pyramid in
the world) and the majesty of the Calle de los Muertos (Street
of the Dead) Teotihuacán was a large settlement by
150BC, its importance probably arising from a cave system
with religious significance, located underneath the present
day Pyramid of the Sun. As other settlements in the area diminished,
Teotihuacán flourished and became a religious and economic
center, controlling the regions production of obsidian (the
black stone used to make weapons and utensils). Between 1AD
and 250AD the ceremonial core was completed, including the
Pyramids of the Sun and Moon and the Calle de los Muertos
in The Citadel and Temple of Quetzalcoatl.
How to get there ?
Direct bus from North Terminal in Mexico
City, every 20 min at the gates 1, 2 or 3. Same ride on the
way back. AUTOBUSES TEOTIHUACANOS,
(55) 57 81 18 12 or 55 87 05 01, www.centraldelnorte.com.mx.
The monastery is located about ten kms (6
miles) from Teotihuacán and was converted into a museum (open
10 AM-5 PM - Tue-Sat, $42). The old convent of San Augustin Acolman
illustrates the fortified style of the first monasteries of New
Spain. This edifice, fully accomplished in 1560 by the Augustinians,
was abandoned two centuries later because of repeated flooding in
the valley. In the middle, stands an impressing cross with sculptures
inspired by pre-Hispanic
designs. These sculptures show the Tequitqui art, naïve
religious art realized by indigenous artists. The façade
of the church, with pure lines, doesn’t have any Indian inspiration.
Two double columns support a cornice and frame sculptures and statues.
A window opens between two escutcheons; on the top a pierced tower
protects the bells. Masses were said outside from the balcony of
the second floor where is painted the portrait of Saint Catherine
of Alexandria. The edifice has a remarkable Renaissance façade
with a Plateresque framing.
The one-nave inside is adorned with frescos, a mix of Renaissance
and Gothic styles. The thick walls support a veined vaulting. In
the back of the nave, dignitaries of the Order are represented on
frescos of the sixteenth century. These frescos, painted in red,
ochre and black differ from the Churriguresque lateral altar pieces.
The convent opens on the square through a portico. Its cloister
called the Orange tree cloister (claustro de los naranjos)
with massive columns and arches is still very medieval.