Day 16: Teotihuacán

San Juan Teotihuacan Travel Blog

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view from the pyramid of the moon
 

We got up early and took the subway and a bus to the ancient Aztec city of Teotihuacán. This is the largest pre-Hispanic city in Mexico, and almost the entire former religious centre has been restored. This is another place I had already visited three and a half years ago, but as it was one of the highlights of my trip back then I figured it would be worth another visit and to show Robbel.


Little is known about the people that inhabited the The World Heritage listed city of Teotihuacán, but in its heyday around 600 AD it must have been one of the most important cities in the region, with over 200,000 inhabitants. Historians say it must have been the sixth largest city in the world at the time. About a century later the city was captured and raided and after that pretty much forgotten.

pyramid of the sun
Even during the Spanish conquest the city was considered of little significance and largely ignored. It was only at the beginning of the 20th century that the city was rediscovered and excavations and renovations started.


Back then the city must have covered over 20 square kilometres, and these days about 3 square kilometres has been renovated and is open to public. That doesn't sound as much, but trust me, it is huge. Teotihuacán is the largest archaeological site in Mexico, and while less than 15% of the original city has been excavated, it is more than enough to spend a full day. The old main street, the Avenue of the Dead, has been restored, and the surrounding temples have been partially renovated. I say partially, because Aztec built their temples on stone mounds (usually pyramid shaped) and then a wooden temple was erected on top of it.

beautiful cacti in Teotihuacán


The pyramids haven't been renovated in the most authentic way (they are rebuilt using a mixture of earth, rubble and concrete, and only for the outer layer the original stones have been reused. But the site is hugely impressive nonetheless.

The main attractions are the two huge pyramids, the Templo del Sol, or temple of the sun, and the smaller Templo de la Luna, temple of the moon. The former is the third largest pyramid in the world by volume, and the second highest in the world - only the Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt is taller.


The smaller Templo de la Luna is actually more impressive than the large one. Most of the front of this pyramid has been completely restored, with beautiful, but very steep steps leading up.

detail of a temple base
Only the uppermost part of the pyramid has not been restored, but is just a pile of rubble held together by concrete. However, let that not deter you as it is most definitely worth braving the tenuous air (the city lies at an altitude of 2600 metres) for the stunning view from the top. From the top of the pyramid you can see the entire Avenue of the Dead and the surrounding temples, as well as the huge pyramid of the Sun.


It is funny when you reach the top of the pyramid, and you see the rest of the pyramids and temples bases, you can clearly see only the front sides have been restored. As if it was made as a film set, the backs of the buildings still look the same as when they were discovered: a pile of rubble with grass growing on top of it.

Only then can you appreciate the work of the restorations.

Pyramid of the moon in the distance
To the untrained eye it just looks like a grassy knoll, but apparently people much smarter than me are able to recognise those as temples, and even better still, they are able to restore them to their original state, including all the steps and decorations.

 

The site was absolutely packed. There were thousands of other tourists and almost as many souvenir sellers at the site. Perhaps Boxing Day isn't the best of days to visit a place like this. Nonetheless it was a great day out, and an excellent proper first day of our trip together. The first archaeological site, with many (many many) more to follow.


Biedjee says:
You're right. I corrected it.
Posted on: Apr 22, 2009
montecarlostar says:
Hmm there's little something here that I have to correct... Teotihuacan was never the capital of the aztec empire. It belonged to an almost unknown civilization, probably of toltec origin. The capital of the aztecs was Tenochtitlan which is now buried below Mexico City. You must have seen some of the ruins by the cathedral in Mexico City.
Posted on: Apr 19, 2009
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view from the pyramid of the moon
view from the pyramid of the moon
pyramid of the sun
pyramid of the sun
beautiful cacti in Teotihuacán
beautiful cacti in Teotihuacán
detail of a temple base
detail of a temple base
Pyramid of the moon in the distance
Pyramid of the moon in the distance
an ancient warrior in Teotihuacán
an ancient warrior in Teotihuacán
Teotihuacán
Teotihuacán
detail of the pyramid of the Sun
detail of the pyramid of the Sun
Pyramid of the Sun
Pyramid of the Sun
Robbel having a hard time climbing…
Robbel having a hard time climbin…
Pyramid of the Sun
Pyramid of the Sun
Pyramid of the Sun
Pyramid of the Sun
Me with the Pyramid of the Sun in …
Me with the Pyramid of the Sun in…
detail of a relief
detail of a relief
Somehow we felt very welcome in th…
Somehow we felt very welcome in t…
Some locals showcasing a tradition…
Some locals showcasing a traditio…
Some locals showcasing a tradition…
Some locals showcasing a traditio…
Some locals showcasing a tradition…
Some locals showcasing a traditio…
Some locals showcasing a tradition…
Some locals showcasing a traditio…
Some locals showcasing a tradition…
Some locals showcasing a traditio…
San Juan Teotihuacan
photo by: boicot