Teotihuacan was a pre-Columbian city located in the Valley of Mexico, about 30 miles northeast of Mexico City. There’s a lot of information about its history out there if you want to learn all about it, but I’m feeling lazy and behind on blog posts so I’m going with bullet points:
- Nobody is really sure who the city’s founders and rulers were. The site had been abandoned for several hundred years by the time it was discovered by the Aztecs. They called the sites inhabitants toltecs, but in Nahuatl (langauge of the Aztec ruling class) that word simply means “craftsmen of the highest skill” and doesn’t necessarily refer to the people known today as Toltecs.
- The original name is unknown. Teotihuacan is a word from Nahuatl that means roughly “birthplace of the gods,” as they believed the gods created the universe at the site.
- The city was founded around 100 BCE, peaked at around 450 CE, and may have lasted until the 8th century CE, though it appears to have been sacked and burned around 550 CE.
- At its height in the fifth century, the population was an estimated 150,000 people. This would make it the sixth largest city in the world at the time.
- The city was multi-ethnic, with different sectors occupied by Otomi, Zapotec, Mixtec, Maya, and Nahua peoples.
- Whether it was the seat of an empire is debated, but Teotihuacano influence can be seen in Mesoamerican sites across central Mexico and as far away as Guatemala and Honduras.
- As with many Mesoamerican cultures, the source of its downfall isn’t certain. The long-held theory that the city ended when it was sacked and burned has been called into question, as evidence of burning is restricted to only a few areas of the city. Other possibilities include internal internal conflicts, environmental degradation, and drought.
- There are known major deities associated with Teotihuacano religion: The Great Goddess of Teotihuacan (thought to be the most important), the Storm God, the Feathered Serpent, the Old God, the War Serpent, the Netted Jaguar, the Pulque God, the Fat God, and the Flayed God. Teotihuacan appears to have practiced human sacrifice as part of their religion.
- The two most important structures at Teotihuacan are the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. The Pyramid of the Sun the largest pyramid at the site at 246 feet tall, and the third largest pyramid in the world thanks to its 738 foot base width. It offers 360 degree views of the entire site and the valley around it. The Pyramid of the Moon, a medium-sized pyramid located at the northern end of the Avenue of the Dead (the main thoroughfare extending in a straight line down the entire 2.5 mile length of the site), is the second largest pyramid there and thought to be a ceremonial center dedicated to the Great Goddess.
Entrance to the site is currently $65MX (about $3.70 at the time of publication). It can be reached by bus or a fairly expensive taxi ride if you don’t have a car. Allow several hours if you want to walk the entire length. Bring sunscreen and water, as in middle of the day there isn’t much shade to be found, and wear comfortable walking shoes. If you are feeling fancy, several local operators offer hot air balloon tours. For the best experience, try to arrive first thing in the morning. It may be a bit chilly, but if you can beat the tour buses (which start to arrive around 8:30AM or 9:00AM) you can enjoy the main sites before the masses of people start to arrive.