Teotihuacan – Explore a Pre-Aztec Empire
Teotihuacan is an amazing archaeological site nearby Mexico City and therefore a perfect day-trip to explore ancient architecture and history. In our blog post, we show you all the major places of this archaeological site, such as the Pyramid of the Sun (the third largest pyramid in the world) or the Calzada de los Muertos. We also give travel tips on how to get there and what else to take care of.
Welcome back! We hope you enjoyed our last blog post and our special tour through Mexico City. If you hadn’t had a chance yet, here is the link to the previous post.
Today’s blog post is for anybody who wants to explore the close surrounding of Mexico City and who is interested in ancient history and archaeological sites.
You can plan your visit easily with our mini travel guides and our free trip planning website.
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Ready to dive into pre-Aztec living?
What makes Teotihuacan so special?
Teotihuacan is an archaeological site and a wonderful place for a day trip – with amazing pyramids and temples from pre-Aztec time.
The site is located ~40-50km northeast of Mexico City.
A lot is actually still unknown about Teotihuacan.
It is not exactly known who the inhabitants of Teotihuacan were. Hoewever, there are hints for multiple cultures like Maya, Mixtec and Zapotec
It is also not clear why Teotihuacan, once a pre-Aztec metropolitan area, fell.
But what is known is that it was huge and lasted long.
How did Teotihuacan look like?
Teotihuacan had its zenith in the first millennium AD, resulting in one of the largest cities in the world – probably something around 100,000-200,000 inhabitants. Most likely it stretched over an incredible area of 30 square kilometers.
It was a cultural, economic and military centre. There were residential areas with single-story apartment buildings, pyramids, temples and plazas.
And the temples were painted in vivid
Unfortunately, large areas and major buildings were destroyed by a fire around the 7th century. The source of the fire is not clear.
After the fire, part of the city remained populated but Teotihuacan had no dominating role anymore.
The name Teotihuacán means “City of the Gods“. However, today archaeologists actually think that it was originally Teohuacan which means “City of the Sun“.
Archaeological finds reveal that people in Teotihuacan deified several gods. For example, they had gods of sun, rain, fire, and fertility.
The temples in Teotihuacan, dedicated to gods, are aligned with the sun on the June solstice suggesting that most likely rituals were performed on important calendar dates.
Excavations started in the late 17th century and last until today, but more than 90% are not excavated yet. Who knows what kind of secrets the place still holds?
Now, let’s have a closer look at some of the special places of the site. Be prepared to see extraordinary constructions, taking into account that all of this is about 2000 years old.
Places to see in Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan, as it can be visited today, consists of excavated pyramids, temple, and squares all situated along the main street, the Calzada de
Pyramid of the Sun
The Pyramid of the Sun is located on the east side of the Calzada de los Muertos, the main north-south axis. It was constructed around AD 100.
Citizens of Teotihuacan built the pyramid in dedication to the god of the sun.
With its five levels, 60 meters in height and about 220 meters length on each side it is the third-largest pyramid in the world. Hence, if you want to reach the very top you’ll have to climb 248 steps.
In 1971 archaeologists found an underground tunnel system and a cave beneath the Pyramid of Sun. The cave was probably once a burial chamber.
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Today, the pyramid with its grey and brownish colours looks completely different than it once did. You have to imagine that it once was decorated with red colours.
Pyramid of the Moon
The Pyramid of the Moon is located at the north end of the Calzada de los Muertos. It was constructed around AD 150-200.
With a hight of 43
The Pyramid of the Moon is actually built on a higher level than the Pyramid of the Sun. So, its top is almost at the same height as the one from the Pyramid of the Sun.
Furthermore, researchers have found buried bodies and animals inside the Pyramid of the Moon, suggesting that these were offerings to gods.
Finally, in front of the Pyramid of the Moon, you’ll see the Plaza de la Luna, which is surrounded by 12 temple platforms.
The centre of the square holds an altar – most probably also for offerings.
Only recently a tunnel was discovered. It seems that the tunnel goes from beneath the central square towards the Pyramid of the Moon. However, the purpose of the tunnel is not yet clear; it still has to be explored further.
Templo de Quetzalcóatl next to Ciudadela
The Ciudadela is a big square located at the south end of the Calzada de los Muertos.
The existence of this square place suggests that it was probably the main marketplace and the political and religious centre of the city.
At the Ciudadela, you find the Templo de Quetzalcóatl – constructed around AD 200.
Once it was richly decorated all over with the head sculptures of the god Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl was the god of winds and rain, creator of mankind and the world and was displayed as a rattlesnake with the feathers of the quetzal bird (bird from Mexico with colourful feathers). Imagine how the temple must have looked like with numerous serpent heads decorated and once painted in vivid colours.
Numerous graves were found around and beneath the temple – most likely offerings to gods. In the graves were the skeletons of young men and women. Another interesting aspect is that their hands were tied behind their backs.
If you’re ok with seeing some skeletons, you get an idea of how such a grave must have looked like in the Teotihuacán Site Museum. A very interesting museum if you are interested in further details about the history of this ancient city.
Additional travel destination tips
So, did we make you curious?
Want to climb the stairs of the pyramids yourself? If yes, here some final tips:
Beware of high altitude
Be aware that the Teotihuacan is located at an elevation of 2300 meters – like Mexico City. If you’ve just recently arrived in the area, and you are originally from a destination with a significantly lower altitude, climbing the stairs of the pyramids can be quite exhausting. It is always a good advice to plan for enough time to enjoy this magnificent place.
However, take into account that the main avenue is about 2 km long. The high altitude combined with humid and warm weather can be challenging when walking up and down the complete avenue. Bring enough water.
How to get there
You can take a public bus from the Northern Bus Station in Mexico City to Teotihuacan. It takes about one hour.
Travelling to Teotihuacan on your own, without booking a guided tour in a group, has some advantages. You are independent in terms of how to organise your visit. You can explore the pyramids at your own pace.
However, be aware that taking public buses implicates some risk. It happens on a regular basis that people on public buses are mugged. Therefore, Guardians with machine guns are usually positioned at most of the bus stops to prevent this. Fortunately, it did not happen to us. I can only tell that it was a very comfortable way of getting there.
So, when will you go?
Or, have you already been there? Why not share what you’ve discovered and inspire others? Share your experience and tips in a short mini travel guide on mundolore.com. We are looking forward to your tips!