|Pre-Hispanic City of Teotihuacan*|
|UNESCO World Heritage Site|
|Criteria||I, II, III, IV, VI|
|Inscription||1987 (11th Session)|
|* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.
Teotihuacan is an enormous archaeological site in the Basin of Mexico, containing some of the largest pyramidal structures built in the pre-Columbian Americas. Apart from the pyramidal structures, Teotihuacan is also known for its large residential complexes, the Avenue of the Dead, and numerous colorful, well-preserved murals.
At its zenith in the first half of the 1st millennium CE, Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas. At this time it may have had more than 200,000 inhabitants, placing it among the largest cities of the world in this period. The civilization and cultural complex associated with the site is also referred to as Teotihuacan or Teotihuacano.
Although it is a subject of debate whether Teotihuacan was the center of a state empire, its influence throughout Mesoamerica is well documented; evidence of Teotihuacano presence, if not outright political and economic control, can be seen at numerous sites in Veracruz and the Maya region. The ethnicity of the inhabitants of Teotihuacan is also a subject of debate. Possible candidates are the Nahua, Otomi or Totonac ethnic groups. Scholars have also suggested that Teotihuacan was a multiethnic state.
The city and the archaeological site were located in what is now the San Juan Teotihuacán municipality in the State of México, Mexico, approximately 40 kilometres (25 mi) northeast of Mexico City. The site covers a total surface area of 83km² and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. It is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico.
The name Teōtīhuacān was given by the Nahuatl-speaking Aztec centuries after the fall of the city. The term has been glossed as "birthplace of the gods", reflecting Nahua creation myths that were said to occur in Teotihuacan. Thelma Sullivan interprets the name as "place of those who have the road of the gods." The name is pronounced [te.oːtiːˈwakaːn] in Nahuatl, with the accent on the syllable wa. By normal Nahuatl orthographic conventions, a written accent would not appear in that position. Both this pronunciation and Spanish [te.otiwaˈkan] are used, and both spellings appear in this article.
The original name of the city is unknown, but it appears in hieroglyphic texts from the Maya region as puh, or "Place of Reeds". This suggests that the Maya of the Classic period understood Teotihuacan as a Place of Reeds similar to other Postclassic Central Mexican settlements that took the name Tollan, such as Tula-Hidalgo and Cholula.
This naming convention led to much confusion in the early 20th century, as scholars debated whether Teotihuacan or Tula-Hidalgo was the Tollan described by 16th–century chronicles. It now seems clear that Tollan may be understood as a generic Maya term applied to any large settlement. In the Mesoamerican concept of urbanism, Tollan and other language equivalents serve as a metaphor, linking the bundles of reeds and rushes that formed part of the lacustrine environment of the Valley of Mexico and the large gathering of people in a city.
The early history of Teotihuacan is quite mysterious, and the origin of its founders is debated. For many years, archaeologists believed it was built by the Toltec. This belief was based on colonial period texts, such as the Florentine Codex, which attributed the site to the Toltecs. However, the Nahuatl word "Toltec" generally means "craftsman of the highest level" and may not always refer to the Toltec civilization centered at Tula, Hidalgo. Since Toltec civilization flourished centuries after Teotihuacan, the people could not have been the city's founders.
In the Late Formative period, a number of urban centers arose in central Mexico. The most prominent of these appears to have been Cuicuilco, on the southern shore of Lake Texcoco. Scholars have speculated that the eruption of the Xitle volcano may have prompted a mass emigration out of the central valley and into the Teotihuacan valley. These settlers may have founded and/or accelerated the growth of Teotihuacan.
Other scholars have put forth the Totonac people as the founders of Teotihuacan. There is evidence that at least some of the people living in Teotihuacan came from areas influenced by the Teotihuacano civilization, including the Zapotec, Mixtec and Maya peoples. The culture and architecture of Teotihuacan was influenced by the Olmec people, who are considered to be the "mother civilization" of Mesoamerica.
The city reached its peak in 450 CE, when it was the center of a powerful culture whose influence extended through much of the Mesoamerican region. At its peak, the city covered over 30 km² (over 11½ square miles), and probably housed a population of over 150,000 people, possibly as many as 250,000. Various districts in the city housed people from across the Teotihuacano region of influence, which spread south as far as Guatemala. Notably absent from the city are fortifications and military structures.
The nature of political and cultural interactions between Teotihuacan and the centers of the Maya region (as well as elsewhere in Mesoamerica) has been a long-standing and significant area for debate. Substantial exchange and interaction occurred over the centuries from the Terminal Preclassic to the Mid-Classic period. "Teotihuacan-inspired ideologies" and motifs persisted at Maya centers into the Late Classic, long after Teotihuacan itself had declined. However, scholars debate the extent and degree of Teotihuacano influence. Some believe that it had direct and militaristic dominance; others that adoption of "foreign" traits was part of a selective, conscious and bi-directional cultural diffusion. New discoveries have suggested that Teotihuacan was not much different in its interactions with other centers from the later empires, such as the Toltec and Aztec. It is believed that Teotihuacan had a major influence on the Preclassic and Classic Maya, most likely by conquering several Maya centers and regions, including Tikal and the region of Peten, and influencing Maya culture.
Architectural styles prominent at Teotihuacan are found widely dispersed at a number of distant Mesoamerican sites, which some researchers have interpreted as evidence for Teotihuacan's far-reaching interactions and political or militaristic dominance. A style particularly associated with Teotihuacan is known as talud-tablero, in which an inwards-sloping external side of a structure (talud) is surmounted by a rectangular panel (tablero). Variants of the generic style are found in a number of Maya region sites, including Tikal, Kaminaljuyu, Copan, Becan, and Oxkintok, and particularly in the Petén Basin and the central Guatemalan highlands. The talud-tablero style pre-dates its earliest appearance at Teotihuacan in the Early Classic period; it appears to have originated in the Tlaxcala-Puebla region during the Preclassic. Analyses have traced the development into local variants of the talud-tablero style at sites such as Tikal, where its use precedes the 5th-century appearance of iconographic motifs shared with Teotihuacan. The talud-tablero style disseminate through Mesoamerica generally from the end of the Preclassic period, and not specifically, or only, via Teotihuacano influence. It is unclear how or from where the style spread into the Maya region.
The city was a center of industry, home to many potters, jewelers and craftsmen. Teotihuacan is known for producing a great number of obsidian artifacts. No ancient Teotihuacano non-ideographic texts are known to exist (or known to have existed). Inscriptions from Maya cities show that Teotihuacan nobility traveled to, and perhaps conquered, local rulers as far away as Honduras. Maya inscriptions note an individual nicknamed by scholars as "Spearthrower Owl", apparently ruler of Teotihuacan, who reigned for over 60 years and installed his relatives as rulers of Tikal and Uaxactun in Guatemala.
Scholars have based interpretations about the culture at Teotihuacan on archaeology, the murals that adorn the site (and others, like the Wagner Murals, found in private collections), and hieroglyphic inscriptions made by the Maya describing their encounters with Teotihuacano conquerors. The creation of murals, perhaps tens of thousands of murals, reached its height between 450 and 650 CE. The painters' artistry was unrivaled in Mesoamerica. It has been compared with those of painters in Renaissance Florence, Italy.
Scholars had thought that sometime during the 7th or 8th centuries, invaders attacked the city, sacking and burning it. More recent evidence, however, seems to indicate that the burning was limited to the structures and dwellings associated primarily with the elite class. Some think this suggests that the burning was from an internal uprising. They say the invasion theory is flawed because early archaeological work on the city was focused exclusively on the palaces and temples, places used by the elites. Because all of these sites showed burning, archaeologists concluded that the whole city was burned. Instead, it is now known that the destruction was centered on major civic structures along the Avenue of the Dead. Some statues seem to have been destroyed in a methodical way, with their fragments dispersed.
Evidence for population decline beginning around the 6th century lends some support to the internal unrest hypothesis. The decline of Teotihucán has been correlated to lengthy droughts related to the climate changes of 535-536 CE. This theory of ecological decline is supported by archaeological remains that show a rise in the percentage of juvenile skeletons with evidence of malnutrition during the 6th century. This finding does not conflict with either of the above theories, since both increased warfare and internal unrest can also be effects of a general period of drought and famine. Other nearby centers such as Cholula, Xochicalco, and Cacaxtla competed to fill the power void left by Teotihuacan's decline. They may have aligned themselves against Teotihuacan to reduce its influence and power. The art and architecture at these sites emulates Teotihuacan forms, but also demonstrates an eclectic mix of motifs and iconography from other parts of Mesoamerica, particularly the Maya region.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Teotihuacan was a multi-ethnic city, with distinct quarters occupied by Otomi, Zapotec, Mixtec, Maya and Nahua peoples. The Totonacs have always maintained that they were the ones who built it. The Aztecs repeated that story, but it has not been corroborated by archaeological findings.
In 2001, Terrence Kaufman presented linguistic evidence suggesting that an important ethnic group in Teotihuacan was of Totonacan and/or Mixe-Zoquean linguistic affiliation. He uses this to explain general influences from Totonacan and Mixe-Zoquean languages in many other Mesoamerican languages, whose people did not have any known history of contact with either of the above-mentioned groups. Other scholars maintain that the largest population group must have been of Otomi ethnicity, because the Otomi language is known to have been spoken in the area around Teotihuacan both before and after the classic period.
The religion of Teotihuacan was similar to those of other Mesoamerican cultures. Many of the same gods were worshiped, including the Feathered Serpent (the Aztecs' Quetzalcoatl) and Rain God (the Aztecs' Tlaloc.) The dominant civic architecture is the pyramid. Politics were based on the state religion; religious leaders were the political leaders.
Teotihuacanos practiced human sacrifice: human bodies and animal sacrifices have been found during excavations of the pyramids at Teotihuacan. Scholars believe that the people offered human sacrifices as part of a dedication when buildings were expanded or constructed. The victims were probably enemy warriors captured in battle and brought to the city for ritual sacrifice to ensure the city could prosper. Some men were decapitated, some had their hearts removed, others were killed by being hit several times over the head, and some were buried alive. Animals that were considered sacred and represented mythical powers and military were also buried alive, imprisoned in cages: cougars, a wolf, eagles, a falcon, an owl, and even venomous snakes.
The city's broad central avenue, called "Avenue of the Dead" (a translation from its Nahuatl name Miccoatli), is flanked by impressive ceremonial architecture, including the immense Pyramid of the Sun (second largest in the New World after the Great Pyramid of Cholula) and the Pyramid of the Moon. Along the Avenue of the Dead are many smaller talud-tablero platforms. The Aztecs believed they were tombs, inspiring the name of the avenue. Now scholars have established these were ceremonial platforms that were topped with temples.
Further down the Avenue of the Dead is the area known as the Citadel, containing the ruined Temple of the Feathered Serpent. This area was a large plaza surrounded by temples that formed the religious and political center of the city. The name "Citadel" was given to it by the Spanish, who believed it was a fort. Most of the common people lived in large apartment buildings spread across the city. Many of the buildings contained workshops where artisans produced pottery and other goods.
The geographical layout of Teotihuacan is a good example of the Mesoamerican tradition of planning cities, settlements and buildings as a representation of the view of the Universe. Its urban grid is aligned to precisely 15.5º east of North. One theory says this is due to the fact that the sun rose at that same angle during the same summer day each year. Settlers used the alignment to calibrate their sense of time or as a marker for planting crops or performing certain rituals. Another theory is that there are numerous ancient sites in Mesoamerica that seem to be oriented with the tallest mountain in their given area. This appears to be the case at Teotihuacan, although the mountain to which it is oriented is not visible from within the Teotihuacan complex due to a closer mountain ridge. Pecked-cross circles throughout the city and in the surrounding regions indicate how the people managed to maintain the urban grid over long distances. It also enabled them to orient the Pyramids to the distant mountain that was out of sight.
Knowledge of the huge ruins of Teotihuacan was never lost. After the fall of the city, various squatters lived on the site. During Aztec times, the city was a place of pilgrimage and identified with the myth of Tollan, the place where the sun was created. Teotihuacan astonished the Spanish conquistadores during the post-conquest era. Today Teotihuacan is one of the most noted archaeological attractions in Mexico.
Minor archaeological excavations were conducted in the 19th century. In 1905 archaeologist Leopoldo Batres led a major project of excavation and restoration. The Pyramid of the Sun was restored to celebrate the centennial of Mexican Independence in 1910. Excavations at the Ciudadela were carried out in the 1920s, supervised by Manuel Gamio. Other sections of the site were excavated in the 1940s and 50s. The first site-wide project of restoration and excavation was carried out by INAH from 1960-65 and supervised by Jorge Acosta. This had the goals of clearing the Avenue of the Dead, consolidating the structures facing it, and excavating the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl.
During the installation of a "sound and light" show in 1971, workers discovered the entrance to a tunnel and cave system underneath the Pyramid of the Sun. Although scholars long thought it to be a natural cave, more recent examinations have established the tunnel was entirely manmade. The interior of Pyramid of the Sun has never been fully excavated.
In 1980-1982, another major program of excavation and restoration was carried out at the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent and the Avenue of the Dead complex. Most recently, a series of excavations at the Pyramid of the Moon have greatly expanded evidence of cultural practices.
The archaeological park of Teotihuacan is under threat from development pressures. In 2004, then governor of Mexico state Arturo Montiel, gave permission for Wal-Mart to build a large store in the third archaeological zone of the park. According to Counterpunch.org,
"priceless artifacts uncovered during store construction were reportedly trucked off to a local dump and workers fired when they revealed the carnage to the press."
More recently, Teotihuacan has become the center of controversy over Resplandor Teotihuacano, a proposed massive light and sound spectacular, which, according to Statesman.com
"includes large metallic structures, 2,500 lights and three kilometers of cables."
Marble mask, 3rd - 7th century
Serpentine mask, 3rd-6th century
Frontal view of the Pyramid of the Sun
Another view of the Pyramid of the Sun
Model of the Teotihuacan site located at National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
Turquoise mask pendent, 3rd-6th
|Pre-Columbian Civilizations and Cultures|
|Americas||Paleo-Indians · Indigenous Amerindian genetics · Archaeology of the Americas · Indigenous peoples of the Americas|
|North America||North American pre-Columbian cultures · Hopewell tradition · Mississippian culture ·|
|Mesoamerica||Mesoamerican pre-Columbian chronology – Capacha – Chichimeca – Cholula – Coclé – Epi-Olmec – Huastec – Izapa – Mixtec – Olmec – Pipil – Shaft tomb tradition&Teuchitlan – Tarascan – Teotihuacan – Tlatilco – Toltec – Totonac – Veracruz – Xochipala – Zapotec|
|South America||South American Indigenous people – pre-Columbian chronology – Cañaris – Chachapoya – Chancay – Chavín – Chimu – El Abra – Hydraulic culture of mounds (Bolivia) – Las Vegas – Lima – La Tolita (Tumaco) – Manteño-Guancavilca – Mapuche – Moche – Mollo – Muisca (Chibchas) – Nariño – Nazca – Norte Chico – Quimbaya – San Agustin – Shuar – Sican – Taino – Tairona – Tiwanaku – Tierradentro – Valdivia – Wari|
|The Aztec Empire||The Maya civilization||The Inca Empire
|Language||Nahuatl language||Mayan languages||Quechua|
|Writing||Aztec writing||Mayan writing||Quipu|
|Religion||Aztec religion||Maya religion||Inca religion|
|Mythology||Aztec mythology||Maya mythology||Inca mythology|
|Calendar||Aztec calendar||Maya calendar|
|Society||Aztec society||Maya society||Inca society|
|Infrastructure||Chinampas||Maya architecture||Inca architecture (road system)
|History||Aztec history||Inca history|
|Pacal the Great
|Conquest||Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire
|Spanish conquest of Yucatán
(Francisco de Montejo)
Spanish conquest of Guatemala
(Pedro de Alvarado)
|Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire
|Portal:Indigenous peoples of North America – Columbian exchange – Mesoamerican writing systems – Native American cuisine – Native American pottery – Population history of American indigenous peoples – Pre-Columbian art – Painting in the Americas before Colonization|
Teotihuacan The City of the Gods, is an Aztec archeological site 40 km northeast of Mexico City. Náhuatl for "the place where men became gods", Teotihuacan is home to some of the largest ancient pyramids in the world. According to legend, it was here where the gods gathered to plan the creation of man.
Teotihuacan was the largest Pre-Columbian city in the Americas, reaching a total population of 150,000 at its height. The name is also used to refer to the civilization this city dominated, which at its greatest extent included most of Mesoamerica.
Construction of Teotihuacán commenced around 300 BC, with the Pyramid of the Sun built by 150 BC. 150–450 AD.
It is said that the descendents of this city abandoned this city and relocated in Tenochtitlan because it was thought to be a more sacred location.
A lot of artifacts have wisely been moved to National Anthropological Museum, in Mexico City. Elevation: 2,300m/7482f
By car (or taxi) - it takes about 45 minutes from the Mexico City, city center if you use the toll highway. It takes much longer, but more interesting, if you use the old free road. There is a small fee for parking at the site. A taxi may be prohibitively expensive, though sometimes "tours" with a car and driver/guide can be arranged for a reasonable fee if you want the convenience.
By bus - Buses to Teotihuacán leave from Mexico City about every half hour from two bus stations: Terminal Autobuses del Norte (outside Autobuses del Norte Metro station, Line 5) or from the bus terminals outside Indios Verdes Metro station (Line 3). A one-way ticket will cost $33 pesos from either station. From Terminal del Norte, walk towards Gate 8. There is a ticket booth almost at the end of the concourse. Check that your bus goes to the site entrance of Teotihuacán ruinas and not just to the town of San Juan Teotihuacán nearby. From Indios Verdes, exit the metro station and look for bus terminal J, which is the one at the end. Go to the far end of the platform, past the peseros and look for white buses that go to Piramides -- they mean the pyramids of Teotihuacán. The trip will take around an hour, and the buses run until about 6pm -- check the last departure before you leave. You will be dropped off at Puerta 1 (closest to the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl) and you'll be able to catch a return bus from outside Puerta 2 (Closest to the Pyramid of the Sun). The return bus is not marked as it is just an average street corner.
By tour bus - most travel agencies offer half or full day tours to the site, often combined with the Plaza de las Tres Culturas and the Basilica of Guadalupe, both of which are outside the city center. It’s a convenient way to combine the three, but note our comments above about getting to the site early. The price is around $200. As with guided tours everywhere in the world, these tours will waste much of your time by promoting gift shops, but they are still a convenient way to get here for Mexico City-based tourists.
There is an entrance fee of 51 pesos (March 2009) to enter the park. This is a large site, a lot of walking is required as there few other ways to navigate the complex, unless you have a car, then you can freely drive around the perimeter (if you are staying at the hotel in the park or heading to one of the many restaurants). There are tractor-drawn wagons with seats and shelter that run on a schedule known only to them. If you go by bus, they will deliver you to one spot, from which you will be required to walk to and from. If you tire easily, pack light for this excursion (i.e., no backpacks, heavy purses, etc).
There are plenty of friendly park police there, they may limit your driving around the site unless you are staying at the hotel. Taxi drivers are not allowed to drive you around the site, you must have a destination, like a restaurant, inside of the park. If you are adventurous and lucky, you may be able to rent a bicyle to ride around the perimeter on the cobble stone road (a bit bouncy). If you are visiting the site and do not have an opportunity to explore the perimeter where the shops, restaurants and old buildings are, you are missing out. Just a little creativity should help you find some transportation inside of the complex. The locals are very friendly and a few peso's will go a long way. Try to at least find a ride around the perimeter to view the complex. It will be worth the effort
The Temple of the Moon - A medium sized pyramid off from the center of the complex.
The Temple of the Sun - The largest pyramid in the structure with an excellent view of the surrounding mountains. Wear sunscreen, they don't call it the Temple of the Sun for nothing.
The Temple of Quetzacotl - One of the most sacred Temples in the complex. This temple is decorated with many stone dragon heads.
Museo Teotihuacán, The museum at the park with outstanding displays and a miniture recreation of the entire site. Well worth the visit.
There are also some smaller structures surrounding the complex, no more than four or five meters in height. A drive around the perimeter, on the road along the park will provide many surprises and is worth the trip. Hitching a ride or even paying a few peso's for a ride will be worth the effort.
There are also many interesting constructions along the Avenue of the Dead which runs along the middle of the site, so don't just walk from one temple to the other. On the left side of the plaza in front of the Temple of the Moon are several areas including the Palace of the Jaguars which house many wall paintings, sculptures, and underground rooms.
You can exit one of the back gates into the adjacent town of San Juan Teotihuacán. There you can shop for consumer items like groceries, water, bakery items, fresh OJ and such. Nice little town. Get a Telemex prepaid calling card for Mexico's pay phones. They are available from several vendors and the savings are substantial.
There are a lot of vendors selling silver product. Remember in México, silver is thought to be cheap and only for tourists. You will find a lot of silver products at this location. Also, you will find obsidian rocks for sale. Some of these types of things will be just a round stone, or something more elaborate like a statue. Also, there will be salesmen everywhere with Aztec flutes.
Around the inside perimiter of the site you will find several shops that not only sell, but also manufacture obsidian art and other stone objects for sale. Shop and compare quality and prices before buying.
There are a plenty of restaurants near the exits of the complex, inside and outside of the park and in the hotels in San Juan Teotihuacan as well as grocery stores and bakeries. Consider having one prepare a picnic for you and enjoy it at the park.
Restaurante La Gruta is located on the eastern perimeter around Teotihuacan, 500 meters down the road across from the "Puerta No. 5" entrance. The restaurant is located deep inside a subterranean cave and illuminated by two large holes on the side along with other ambient lighting. There is a bar with a vast selection of beers, wines, and liquors. Prepare for the possibility of a serenade by a small Mariachi band or weekend shows featuring live Aztec dancers.
Hotel Villa Arquelogica of Teotihuacan is located inside of the park and close to the entrance it has a very pleasant dining room serving 3 meals a day. It is reasonably priced, food is excellent and the staff very helpful.
Museo Teotihuacán, The museum at the park has a restaurant.
There are a lot of small vendors in and outside the complex that sell water, juices, and sodas. Alcohol is available at the hotel and several vendors around the perimeter (on the road) sell cold beer.
Hotel Villa Arqueológica of Teotihuacan, is the only hotel located in the archaeological zone at only 5 minutes walking distance from the main entrance of the site. The hotel is open all year round, and is accessible to the public. There is a small swimming pool, dining room and patio. The rooms are a bit small, but very clean. There is secure parking, having a car at the site is a real plus! You will be allowed to drive around the entire site without much restriction. email@example.com  Phone: 011 52 55 58 36 90 20 (from USA/Canda/Abroad)
The main thing you will notice inside and around the complex are people constantly approaching you trying to sell you trinkets. Be prepared, as this will be unusual if you have never been to Mexico before. Sometimes they can be very aggressive and persistant. If you are not interested, don't make eye contact or they will continue to harrass you.
The climb to the top of the pyramids is a long one. You may want to take several breaks on the way up, unless you are exceptionally fit or young.
There are numerous stray dogs around the park, they do not seem to be dangerous, but touching them, feeding them or paying any attention to them is not in your best interest, especially at the restaurants.
Be aware of the weather. Sunny days can suddenly turn rainy.
The only way to get out of the area is by bus back to México City. They come by the entrance every 30 minutes or so outside of the parking lot for entrance #2 ("Puerta 2").
|This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!|