The Mysterious City of Teotihuacan

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Panoramic view of the pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico.

Teotihuacan was one of the most sophisticated and powerful cities in Pre-Colombian Mexico. No one knows who exactly built it or why they abandoned it.

Teotihuacan was one of the largest and most influential cities in ancient Mexico. Both its origins and the reasons for its abandonment are a mystery.

Founding of Teotihuacan

The city was first settled in the Late Preclassic Period, which lasted from about A.D. 200-700. Survivors of a volcanic eruption that destroyed their city of Cuicuilco may have migrated to the area. It developed from a few huts to a huge metropolis. An expansive ceremonial center was built in the middle of the city, with many square-based stone pyramids.

Expansion of Teotihuacan

At the beginning of the Classic Period, the city’s most famous structures were built. Its main route, the Avenue of the Dead, was lined with pyramids and civic buildings. These included the Pyramid of the Moon, Pyramid of the Sun, and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl.

The Pyramid of the Moon is located at the north end of the Avenue of the Dead and is 46 meters (151 feet) high. The Pyramid of the Sun is situated along the Avenue and is 65 meters (213 feet) high. The Temple of Quetzalcoatl is near the Pyramid of the Moon and is one of the most visually impressive structures in central Mexico. Some of its original colors can still be seen today.

From A.D. 500-700 Teotihuacan reached its maximum population of 200,000. Many of its houses were rebuilt from straw-roofed huts to brick buildings. Houses were grouped into residential districts and made into apartments to accommodate a rapidly growing population.

The Identity of the People of Teotihuacan is Unknown

The people of Teotihuacan were influenced by many other cultures, but they have never been positively identified themselves. Some historians believe they may have of Otomi origin; others think they were ancestors of the Aztecs.

Art of Teotihuacan

Religion, in particular the Cult of the Feathered Serpent, was extremely important to the people of the city and therefore figured prominently in their art. The Feathered Serpent featured in many murals and paintings on temple walls. Other paintings give glimpse into Teotihuacan religion. The most famous of these, called “Paradise of the Gods”, depicts a spirit kingdom and a spider goddess.

The inhabitants of the city were also expert in many other art forms, including weaving, pottery, and working semi-precious stone. As a result, they left many terra-cotta figures and funeral masks behind for archaeologists to find today.

Decline and Abandonment of Teotihuacan

Between A.D. 650-750 the city suffered some sort of crisis, though archeologists disagree as to what exactly this was. Some believe that the Chichimec people from the north sacked and destroyed Teotihuacan. Others think that a change in climate forced abandonment of the city. Whatever the reason, Teotihuacan was completely deserted by A.D. 900. The ruins its people left behind were so impressive that 500 years later the Aztecs, upon rediscovering the city, named it the “City of the Gods”.

Teotihuacan is still a mystery today. Though one of the largest and wealthiest cities of Pre Colombian Mexico, the origin and fate of its founders is yet to be discovered.

Source:

  1. Longhena, Maria. Ancient Mexico. Barnes and Noble, 2006.