Located 30 miles northeast of Mexico City in the Valley of Mexico, Teotihuacán is one of Mexico’s most popular archaeological sites and contains some of the largest pyramidal structures built in the pre-Columbian Americas.
Dating back to 100BC Teotihuacán was to become the cultural epicentre of ancient Mesoamerica. Yet very little is known about its origins, its people and where they came from or what language they spoke for although the civilization left many architectural ruins, no trace has yet been found of a writing system. The Totonacs have always maintained that they were the ones who built it, something that was accepted by the Aztecs, although this has not been corroborated by archaeological findings.
The original name of the city is also not known, Teotihuacán, which means ‘place of the gods’, was given to it by the Aztecs although they never lived in Teotihuacán but visited it as a place of pilgrimage as they believed it was the place where the world was created.
Although buildings have been found which date back to 200 BC the development of Teotihuacán began in the first century AD, which was when the Pyramid of the Sun was constructed. This development resulted from the exploitation of natural resources and an increase in agricultural production resulting in the development of trade. Between the 4th and 7th century Teotihuacán was to reach it height with influence throughout most parts of Mesoamerica reaching its peak around 450 AD when it was to become one of the largest cities of the world at that time covering an area of 30 Sq km (11 Sq miles) with a population of between 85,000-200,000 inhabitants.
Its decline is believed to have occurred between 650 and 750 AD and evidence has been found of wilful destruction and damage by fire of some of the main buildings. Some scholars put this down to it being sacked by unknown invaders although others suggest that it may have been an uprising of the people against the elite.
Teotihuacán was believed to have been a multi-ethnic city, occupied by Otomi, Zapotec, Mixtec, Maya and Nahua peoples each with their own distinct with the majority of people living in large apartment. Many of the buildings contained workshops where artisans produced pottery and other goods.
Running along the centre of the city is a broad central avenue, called "Avenue of the Dead" which contained a number of structures. The avenue was 131 feet wide and stretched for 3 miles, although now only 1.4 miles is discernible. At the side of the avenue is the immense Pyramid of the Sun which is 210 feet tall, this was 249 feet as it originally had a temple on top. Its base length is 738 feet, which is 10 feet less than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Below the pyramid is a cave which it is believed gave it its special significance as this was symbolic of the womb. At the north end is the 138 feet tall Pyramid of the Moon, which was the first large structure built in Teotihuacán. Along the Avenue of the Dead are many smaller constructions which the Aztecs believed were tombs, hence the name of the avenue. These are now believed to have been ceremonial platforms that were topped with temples.
Besides the major ceremonial pyramids, which would have been plastered and painted bright red the colour of blood, there were also palaces and temples, especially near the north end of the city surrounding the plaza in front of the Pyramid of the Moon. These included the Palace of Quetzalcoatl, the Butterfly Palace, the Temple of the Feathered Conches, and the Palace of the Jaguars. Adorning the buildings are magnificent murals and stone carvings.
At the side of the Avenue of the Dead is the area known as the Citadel, which contains the ruined Temple of the Feathered Serpent. This area was a large plaza surrounded by temples that formed the religious and political centre of the city. The name "Citadel" was given to it by the Spanish, who believed it was a fort. A large enclosure with a capacity to hold about 100,000 people, it is believed that this may have been used for ritual performances although is also thought to have been the marketplace. The interior space is surrounded by four large platforms surmounted by pyramids. The Feathered Serpent Pyramid - which is adorned with large sculptural heads - was the central pyramid of the complex. Also to be seen are many brilliantly painted frescoes. On the site is the museum which contains many artefacts including numerous masks.
The first major excavations in the city were undertaken by Leopoldo Batres in 1905, since then there have been numerous excavations and the site was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.