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Teotihuacán
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
 
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Not to be missed !

TEOTIHUACÁN (open 7AM-6PM daily, entrance fees : $57) – The site is inscribed on the Cultural World Heritage list of UNESCO.


Introduction
view of Teotihuacán 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 an epidemic.

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.

map of the site
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.

serpent on the temple of Quetzalcóatl 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.

     Right picture : 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.


Click here for the link with the site of Unesco.



The different buildings

The Citadel (Ciudadela)

view of the CitadelIn 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)

view on the avenue of the dead (on right, the pyramid of the sun)
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 sun)





The pyramid of the sun

pyramid of the sunBuilt 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 the sun


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.

pyramid of the sunOn 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

pyramid of the moon under thunderstorm
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.

place of the moon with the pyramid of the moonThe 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

The 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.

frame with feathered conches in the temple
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

 

 

 

The Palace of Quetzal-Butterfly

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 fire.
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.

palace of Quetzal-Butterfly
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).
mountain lion ornate with a feathered headgear and the back covered with shells, blowing in a feathered conch

   

    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 Museum

serpentine funerary mask showing the characteristics of the inhabitants of TeotihuacánBelow 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





ceramic vase covered with stucco with God Tlaloc painted on itThe 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

Tetitla

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.

Atetelco

It is an important residential ensemble comprising several sectors, including a painted patio with an altar and a white patio with interesting murals.
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 twisted feet.

Tepantitla

general view of Teotihuacán
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.
pyramid of the moon

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




     More information on the site : www.edomexico.gob.mx.


     Map of the archaeological site :


Teotihuacan Teotihuacan Teotihuacan, Mexico Teotihuacan, La ciudad de los dioses Pirámide de la Luna, Teotihuacán
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The ancient 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 ?

general view of TeotihuacánDirect 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.

Experience with balloon (balloon rides) : reservations : (55) 53 31 24 60, mariel@flyvolare.com.mx,
www.flyvolare.com.mx
.


   Right picture : general view of Teotihuacán

 

The Monastery of Acolman

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.

Suffering Convento Acolman, Mexico (Monastery) 010336-03525 010337-03527 2003 - Acolman Monastery (1)
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How to get there ?

To go to Acolman, minibuses start every 10/15 min from Gate 1 in Terminal Central del Norte de Mexico City.

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& Archaeological Researches at Teotihuacan, Mexico (Hardback) - Common par: Introduction by George L. Cowgill,
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