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Published: July 15th 2010
I decided to spend today at Teotihuacán. Teotihuacán and Chichen Itza were the two images in my head when I first came to Mexico and I was disapointed not to be able to fit a visit to Mexico City into my Easter travels with my boyfriend. I had a map marked with the route I need to get to the pyramids and decided it was more relaxed going alone than joining the tour at 9. As I walked down the stairs I bumped into Theo coming the other way. The coincidence of us both staying at the same hostel and meeting each other was surprising. He was heading off with his visiting friend for other sightseeing and we agreed to meet up for dinner or if not, see each other back in Sahuayo when we returned for work.
I set off alone and found the metro. There is something comfortingly familiar about metros, they have the same atmosphere in all countres; hoardes of people trying to get somewhere ahead of everyone else, the sudden surges in the crowd as a certain train stops and lets off its load, the division of the crowd as they go to opposite platforms and those
few poor people going against the tide as they realise they were heading to the wrong side of the line. Fortunately I managed to get through the bustle and arrive at each stop with relative ease, and I even stopped to admire the dark area with a full glow-in-the-dark map of the constellations in a random section of tunnel.
I arrived back at terminal norte and after asking for directions eventually found the local bus which would take me to the pyramids. The bus journey was under an hour and as we all filed off the bus I looked around for an entrance. Two girls spoke to me in spanish as we wandered towards what appeared to be the entrance, but then seemed relieved when they realised I spoke English, despite the fact they were actually French. We bought our tickets and walked towards the ruins, before splitting up to go in opposite directions. I strolled down the avenue of the dead, already having noticed the Pyramid of the Sun visable above the trees. I was stopped fairly early on by a trader. Used to automatically saying no and walking on I realised I had only one souvenir after all
my travels in Mexico so stopped to buy a silver pendant with the mayan calender on one side and a sun and moon design on the other which seemed an apporpriate reminder of where I bought it. I then turned my attention back to sightseeing.
Around 400 BCE the Valley of Teotihuacán was home to many rural communities with a population of around 5,000 inhabitants covering an area of approximately 4-6 square kilometres. 200 years later peoples from the southern basin of mexico emigrated north resulting in a reorganisation of the settlements in the area and the creation of a new centre. The earliest buildings at Teotihuacan date to about 200 BCE. The largest pyramid, the Pyramid of the Sun, was completed by 100 CE.
The city reached its peak in 450 CE, when it was the center of a powerful culture whose influence extended through much of the Mesoamerican region. At its peak, the city covered over 30 km² and probably had a population of 150-250,000. The city was a center of industry, home to many potters, jewelers and craftsmen. Teotihuacan is known for producing a great number of obsidian artifacts (which must be the thinking behind the hundreds
of obsidian selling touts I spent a lot of time dodging).
The city fell in around 700-750 CE with scholarsoriginally believing that invaders attacked the city, sacking and burning it. More recent evidence, however, seems to indicate that the burning was limited to the structures and dwellings associated primarily with the elite class. Some think this suggests that the burning was from an internal uprising. They say the invasion theory is flawed because early archaeological work on the city was focused exclusively on the palaces and temples, places used by the elite of society.
At the end of the pathway I walked up a set of steps and looked out across the ruins, forming platforms surrounding lower square of grass all the way towards the Pyramid of the Moon at the far end. Each of these stone platforms has a tunnel running through it and I saw numerous children, often holding bows and arrows, running in and out of the holes and crawling through the dark little tunnels.
A man asked me to take a photo for him and then I asked him to return the favour, taking advantage of a kid-free moment to dive into one of the tunnels
myself. Jorge turned out to be from Venezuela and sightseeing at the end of a work trip on his own so we treamed up to see th erest of the site. We went first to the pyramid of th sun as it was the closer of the two.
The name Pyramid of the Sun comes from the Aztecs, who visited the city of Teotihuacán centuries after it was abandoned; the name given to the pyramid by the Teotihuacanos is unknown. It was constructed in two phases. The first construction stage, around 100 C.E, brought the pyramid to nearly the size it is today. The second period of construction resulted in its completed size of 225 meters across and 75 meters high, making it the third largest pyramid in the world behind the Great Pyramid of Cholula and the Great Pyramid of Giza. The second phase also saw the construction of an altar atop of the pyramid, which has not survived into modern times. Over the structure the ancient Teotihuacanos finished their pyramid with lime plaster imported from surrounding areas, on which they painted brilliantly colored murals. While the pyramid has endured for centuries, the paint and plaster have not and
are no longer visible. Few images are thought to have been included in the mural decorations on the sides of the pyramid. Jaguar heads and paws, stars, and snake rattles are among the few images associated with the pyramids.
It is thought that the pyramid venerated a deity within Teotihuacan society but the destruction of the temple on top of the pyramid, by both deliberate and natural forces prior to the archaeological study of the site, has so far prevented identification of the pyramid with any particular deity. Some scholars have suggested that the deity of the pyramid was the Great Goddess, one of two major Teotihuacan deities and one of the few goddesses in ancient Mesoamerica. However, little evidence exists to support this theory.
The first major archaeological excavation of the site was done by Leopoldo Batres in 1906. Batres then went on to supervise the restoration of the Pyramid for the 1910 centennial of Mexican independence. Later, in 1925 Pedro Dosal discovered children's burial sites recovering skeletons at the four corners of the foundations of the temple, which he interpreted as human sacrifices at the dedication of the temple.
We began to climb the pyramid after a false
start of trying to walk up the down route (well who knew the Maya invented a one-way system for the pyramid!) The careful one-way route obviously does a lot for safety and tourists carefully picked their way up the steep narrow steps, using a thin rubber handrail for balance. As we cleared each set of steps we caught our breathe while resting on each platform. I was a little concerned by how many people, especially children, were sitting right on the edge, feet dangling over the long drop below. I admired the view at each level but only gained the full effect when I reached the top of the pyramid and looked down from the lofty height of 71.2 metres. The top was crowded with tourists taking photos and an inordinate number of them apparently sun worshipping palms and, in some cases, soles raised to the sky. After admiring the view and taking photos we began a careful descent before walking on to the pyramid of the moon.
The Pyramid of the Moon is the smaller of the two pyramids at Teotihuacan and is located in the northern part of the site. Its design mimics the contours of Cerro Gordo
and it covers an older structure which predates the construction of the pyramid of the sun. The visiable pyramid was built between 200 and 450 CE, its construction completing the bilateral symmetry of the temple complex. We climbed the slope at the front, which despite being smaller than the previous temple was hard work after our earlier climb. We reached the flat platform which is the highest point tourists are able to climb to. The platform is believed to have been used to conduct ceremonies in honour of Chalchiuhtlicue, the goddess of water and of the moon. We sat along the edge, pulled water bottles from bags and relaxed, enjoying the view back along the Avenue of the Dead and the Pyramid of the Sun.
Eventually it was time to leave. We descended and slowly walked back towards the entrance. We paused to view a painted mural of a puma, the colours still surprisingly vibrant. The mural was discovered during archeologcal explorations in 1963. Another tout approached us trying to sell an obsidion spear of all things. He wanted to know where we were from so Jorge told him he was from Venezuela and I from very close by! The
guy laughed when I eventually said I'm from England. Jorge managed to get a photo taken holding the spear and get away without having to pay at all. We left by Gate 2 which saved me a considerable walk back to where I'd entered. We located the bus and waited on the side of the road.
I left my new friend at the bus station and returned to my hostel via the metro. Back at the hostel I made a late lunch and once again bumped into Theo, plus his friend. They were ready to leave for Colima so after a brief introduction we agreed to continue the conversation back in Sahuayo. I retreated to my room which after trekking around Teotihuacan seemed blissfully free of sunlight.
After cooling off a little I set off for the shops again. Coming down the stairs I heard familiar dialague and peering into the sitting room saw a group of people glued to a pirated copy of Avatar. Since I needed to shop (and they hadn't got to the good bits yet) I paid a second visit to the supermarket, unpacked in the kitchen and pulled up a chair to join the group
watching TV. By the end of the film I had another new friend and we headed off to stroll around the plaza and see what was happening on the large stage that was constructed over the last day and a half. A group of girls were performing but since their basic skill was volume and we had trouble deciphering a tune we decided it'd be more fun to just go for a stroll and then get a drink somewhere. It proved to be a relaxing end to a long day, although climbing four flights of stairs to my room was exhausting after climbing two pyramids!
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