Around Mexico City Travel Guide

Around Mexico City Sights

Teotihuacán

  • Archaeological Site/Ruins

Published 01/25/2016

Fodor's Review

Imagine yourself walking down a pathway called Calzada de los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead). Surrounding you are some of Earth's most mysterious ancient structures, among them the Palace of the Jaguars, the Pyramid of the Moon, and the Temple of the Plumed Serpent. From the top of the awe-inspiring Pyramid of the Sun—at about 210 feet, the third-tallest pyramid in the world—you begin to appreciate your 242-stair climb as you survey a city that long ago was the seat of a powerful empire. This is Teotihuacán, meaning "place where men become gods."

At its zenith, around AD 600, Teotihuacán (teh-oh-tee-wa-can) was one of the largest cities in the world and the center of an empire that inhabited much of central Mexico. Many archaeologists believe that Teotihuacán was home to some 100,000 people. The questions of just who built this city, at whose hands it fell, and even its original name, remain a mystery, eluding archaeologists and fueling imaginations the world

over.

Excavations here first began as part of the dictator Porfirio Díaz's efforts to prepare for the centennial celebration of Mexican independence. He sent his official archaeologist, Leopoldo Batres, to work, between 1905 and 1910, principally on the Pyramid of the Sun. Later studies of these excavations have shown that several elements of this pyramid were destroyed in the excavation and others were falsely presented as being part of the original pyramid, even though they were not.

In 2010, archaeologists took part in another commemorative excavation, this time to celebrate 100 years of archeological work at Teotihuacán. They discovered a tunnel, about 40 feet down, that passes below the Templo de Quetzalcóatl and is thought to have been intentionally closed off between AD 200 and AD 250. The tunnel leads to chambers into which thousands of objects were thrown, perhaps as a kind of offering. Archaeologists hypothesize that, after a couple of months of digging, they might find the remains of some of the city's earliest rulers. Although rulers were often deified at other sites, no tombs, or even depictions of rulers, have ever been found at Teotihuacán.

The Ciudadela is a massive citadel ringed by more than a dozen temples, with the Templo de Quetzalcóatl (Temple of the Plumed Serpent) as the centerpiece. Here you'll find incredibly detailed carvings of the benevolent deity Quetzalcóatl, a serpent with its head ringed by feathers, jutting out of the facade.

One of the most impressive sights in Teotihuacán is the 4-km-long (2½-mile-long) Calzada de los Muertos (Avenue of the Dead), which once held great ceremonial importance. The Aztecs gave it this name because they mistook the temples lining either side for tombs. It leads all the way to the 126-foot-high Pirámide de la Luna (Pyramid of the Moon) which dominates the northern end of the city. Atop this structure, you can scan the entire city. Some of the most exciting recent discoveries, including a royal tomb, have been unearthed here. In late 2002 a discovery of jade objects gave important evidence of a link between the Teotihuacán rulers and the Maya.

On the west side of the spacious plaza facing the Pyramid of the Moon is the Palacio del Quetzalpápalotl (Palace of the Plumed Butterfly); its expertly reconstructed terrace has columns etched with images of various winged creatures. Nearby is the Palacio de los Jaguares (Palace of the Jaguars), a residence for priests. Spectacular bird and jaguar murals wind through its underground chambers.

The awe-inspiring Pirámide del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun), the first monumental structure constructed here, stands in the center of the city. With a base nearly as broad as that of the pyramid of Cheops in Egypt, it is one of the largest pyramids ever built. Its size takes your breath away, often quite literally, during the climb up 242 steps on its west face. Deep within the pyramid, archaeologists have discovered a natural clover-shape cave that they speculate may have been the basis for the city's religion and perhaps the reason the city was built in the first place.

The best artifacts uncovered at Teotihuacán are on display at the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City. Still, the Museo de la Sitio, adjacent to the Pirámide del Sol, contains a few good pieces, such as the stone sculpture of the saucer-eyed Tlaloc, some black-and-green obsidian arrowheads, and the skeletons of human sacrifices arranged as they were when discovered.

More than 4,000 one-story adobe and stone dwellings surround the Calzada de los Muertos; these were occupied by artisans, warriors, and tradesmen. The best example, a short walk east of the Pirámide del Sol, is called Tepantitla. Here you'll see murals depicting a watery realm ruled by the rain god Tláloc. Restored in 2002, its reds, greens, and yellows are nearly as vivid as when they were painted more than 1,500 years ago.

There are five entrances to Teotihuacán, each near one of the major attractions. Around these entrances there are small restaurants and vendors. If you have a car, it's a good idea to drive from one entrance to the next. Seeing the ruins will take several hours, especially if you head to the lesser-known areas. A good English-language guidebook is sold at the site.

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Sight Information

Address:

Teotihuacán, Morelos, Mexico

Phone:

594-956–0276

Sight Details:

  • MX$57

Published 01/25/2016

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