A few weeks back Leslie and I took a break from work to visit Mexico City, my first time in the capital of the country I currently call home. It was fun to stroll the streets of the city and hang out in the main plaza, and also spend time with some of Leslie’s family, and especially baby Violet. But what I really wanted to do was head out to an archaeological site I’ve been longing to visit for at least a decade. The mighty Teotihuacán.
Not much is known about the site at Teotihuacán, and no one is really sure who built what was once the largest city in the Western Hemisphere. It was believed by some scholars that the Toltec culture built it, while others argue for the Totonac culture. But there’s no doubt that the later arriving Aztecs, believing it to be the birth place of Aztec gods, gave it the name Teotihuacan, more than 1000 years after it was built. Since building commenced, circa 100 B.C., the city has hosted such peoples as the Maya, the Mixtec and the Zapotec cultures. These days it hosts only scurrying tourists…by the thousands. The complex was mysteriously abandoned about 700 A.D., and nobody really knows why. But the cynic in me could hazard a guess: The advent of tourists on this scale is enough to send any group of people scampering, mighty Aztec or not. Archaeologists have uncovered thousands of severed skulls and broken bones beneath the pyramids, almost certainly human sacrifices. Death is in the air at every turn, at this once advanced yet grisly place.
I once wrote a paper on Teotihuacán at university, and I knew the place was vast. But it isn’t until you stroll in awe among the ancient stones, that emanate with a palpable sense of history and mystique, that you can really grasp the magnitude of the place. Of course, the two main temples, the Pyramid of the Sun, the largest, and The Pyramid of the Moon, the next in size, are the most impressive structures, the former soaring 71m skyward. But it’s the sweeping Avenue of the Dead, at 40m wide and 3 miles long, that really amazed me. Running in a north south direction, and with myriad stepped platforms to negotiate, it must have been a mammoth undertaking, first to conceive of building on such a grand scale, but then to actually achieve it. Those ancients certainly knew how to build, and less complimentary, how to organize the masses, or in other words, their subjugated slaves.
I’ve now visited Chichén Itzá, Coba and Tulum, and all are special in their own way. But for me, Teotihuacán, with its massive pyramids, the majestic Avenue of the Dead, and the uniquely mystical atmosphere that radiates from every stone, definitely trumps them all.
All images by The Nomad, at Steven Moore Photography