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Teotihuacan is a large and majestic archaeological site located about 25 miles (40 km) north of Mexico City. It is famous for its large pyramids dedicated to the sun and the moon, but the site also contains beautiful murals and carvings and several museums through which you can explore the city's fascinating history. This is one of the largest and most important archaeological sites in Mexico, and one of the must-visit sites on a trip to Mexico City.
Quick facts about Teotihuacan:
- Construction began on the site around 200 B.C.
- At its peak, it was one of the biggest cities in the world, with around 200,000 inhabitants.
- The Aztecs considered Teotihuacan a sacred site even though it had been abandoned long before their time.
- Teotihuacan is the name that was given to the site by the Aztecs and it means "city of the gods" or "where men become gods."
- No one knows the ethnic group or the language is spoken by the inhabitants of Teotihuacan, so they are called... "Teotihuacanos."
- It's pronounced " tay-oh-tee-wah-KAHN," with the emphasis on the final syllable.
Tips for travelers:
There are five entrances to the archaeological site. To do a full tour of the site, enter at entrance 1 at the south end of the site. You will walk the length of the Avenue of the Dead (about one and a quarter miles or 2km). For a shortened tour, many tour groups begin at entrance 2, level with the Pyramid of the Sun. This is a good option if your time is limited or you don't want to walk much.
Don't forget to take water, a hat and sunscreen!
There are many companies that offer day trips to Teotihuacan from Mexico City. But if you would like to spend more time exploring the site, you may prefer to go on your own. You can get there fairly easily using public transportation. Take the metro to the Central del Norte station and from there you can find a bus to take to the ruins. The buses are marked "Piramides."Continue to 2 of 10 below.
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The Citadel and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl
The Citadel was the center of the city of Teotihuacan, but it is the southernmost point of the area open to visitors today. While visiting the site, keep in mind that the actual city of Teotihuacan extended over 12 square miles (20 km) and was intensely populated.
The Citadel is a large open space with temples surrounding it that was probably used for ceremonies. Walk across the square and climb the steps on the opposite side to view the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl was one of the most important gods in the Mesoamerican pantheon, and its name means "feathered serpent." The photo here shows the decoration on the facade of this building: alternating heads of the serpent and another figure, sometimes called Tlaloc (the Aztec rain god). The building is also decorated with snails and shells, symbols of water.Continue to 3 of 10 below.
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The Avenue of the Dead
The Avenue of the Dead (Calzada de los Muertos) is the main axis of the ancient city. It stretches to the north from the Citadel all the way to the Temple of the Moon. As you leave the Citadel, turn right and walk north. On the left, you’ll see the "Edificios Superpuestos" (superimposed buildings) where excavations have unearthed living quarters below the present level, which were filled in with rubble in order to build the second stage.
Rather than being directed exactly north-south, the Avenue of the Dead is aligned to 16º northwest. This was apparently done purposefully to come into alignment with the setting sun on a certain date.Continue to 4 of 10 below.
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The Pyramid of the Sun
The Pyramid of the Sun is one of ancient Mexico's largest structures. It is nearly 200 feet high and 700 feet wide. The pyramids of Mexico never came to a point on top like the pyramids of Egypt, but were flat on top and were often just bases for temples. This pyramid was built on top of a cave which was discovered in 1970. The cave is over 100 yards long and ends in the shape of a four-leaf clover, with four chambers. In ancient Mexico, caves represented passageways to the underworld but were also thought of as the womb of the earth.
On the days of the fall and spring equinox, Teotihuacan is packed with folks who dress in white and climb to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun. They stand at the top with arms outstretched to receive the special energy of the site on that day.
If you're not afraid of a few stairs (around 250), the views from the top are excellent. Just remember the old adage "don't look down" when you're on your way back down!Continue to 5 of 10 below.
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Farther north along the Avenue of the Dead, on the left-hand side just before arriving at the Pyramid of the Moon, you will find the entrance to the Quetzalpapalotl Palace. It's possible this was the residence of Teotihuacan's ruler: other living spaces are less ornate and generally divided into smaller areas.Continue to 6 of 10 below.
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Quetzalpapalotl Palace Patio
The pillars surrounding the patio of the Quetzalpapalotl Palace are made of stone blocks carved with images of birds. Some are shown in profile and others are facing forward. A few still retain obsidian incrustations for the eyes. The roofs have been reconstructed based on evidence that the archaeologists found during their excavations and are made up of wooden beams covered with stucco on the outside, making them waterproof.
The name Quetzalpapalotl is a combination of the Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs) words for butterfly (papalotl) and bird (quetzal).Continue to 7 of 10 below.
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Patio of the Jaguars
Behind the Quetzalpapalotl Palace there is a rectangular patio surrounded by rooms with jaguar murals. The Jaguars pictured here are holding conch shells in their mouths. The Jaguar is an important symbol throughout Mesoamerica as it was by far the most powerful and feared animal in the region, as such it was greatly revered by the ancient civilizations.Continue to 8 of 10 below.
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Looking south along the Avenue of the Dead
Looking back along the Avenue of the Dead, you can appreciate the magnificence of this ancient site. It's easy to understand why the Aztecs felt this was such a special place that formed a part of their mythology, even though it had been abandoned long before their time.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Pyramid of the Moon
The Pyramid of the Moon is located at the far north end of the Avenue of the Dead.
The Fall of Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan was abandoned around the year 800, which is considered the end of the Mesoamerica's Classic period. The causes of the fall are not known, but it's possible there was a prolonged drought or an epidemic. It's also possible that there was a conflict with another group or an internal conflict: some of the buildings show evidence of destruction by fire, as opposed to merely being abandoned, like many of the Mayan archaeological sites.Continue to 10 of 10 below.
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The View from the Pyramid of the Moon
A good way to end your visit to Teotihuacan is by enjoying the view from the top of the Pyramid of the Moon.