The Pyramids of Teotihuacan


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North America » Mexico » Estado de Mexico » Teotihuacán
August 25th 2013
Published: September 9th 2013
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Taken at the halfway pointTaken at the halfway pointTaken at the halfway point

Seriously, those stairs were hard work...
Wow what a day!

Well, even though it was pretty cool the whole day and it was mostly cloudy, I got sunburned...figures. Anyway, we had an amazing tour guide named Bernard, who was 82, but he looked and acted like a guy in his fifties! Or better, I mean, he was climbing the stairs of the pyramids better than any of us! Although, he did pass on the Pyramid of the Sun, I think because the steps are fairly steep in spots.

The pyramids of Teotihuacan are not quite what people imagine them to be...they are better 😊

The ancient peoples (Mexica) of Mexico, who called themselves Mexica, not Aztec (this word is wrongly used, as it was given to the people by a german. WRONG. These people had an extremely elaborate system of time and measurement, and their system of agriculture was better than anything in Europe.

Alright, well to start, we went to a little tienda or store, where the native drink pulque is made. it is one of the last remaining businesses that makes the drink in the original way. Pulque is a drink made from a type of agave plant, similar to agave tequilana plant, but a different breed. It has very long 6 or 7 foot fronds or spikes that grow straight up. These plants are harvested to make pulque.

Our guide during the visit was Quetzalcoátl. If that name sounds familiar, it should. He was a great emperor of the Mexica people. THIS Quetzalcoátl, however, was a hilarious man who claimed to speak Chinese. He never actually showed us though. He explained all about the Agave plant (Agave americana ) and how the ancient people who lived here. In this area it is called Maguey, not agave, but it does the same thing (haha).

First, Quetzalcoátl started off with a presentation about the plant and showing us the inside of the leaves. Each "leaf" or spike has a very sharp tip that can pierce skin. The central part of the cactus is filled with a sugary nectar that is removed with a hollowed out gourd. The harvester sucks the nectar up the gourd, and this huge gourd allows the harvester to stay away from the bees that hover around the cactus.

Each leaf of the cactus can be opened and contains millions of plant fibers. These can be
NeedleNeedleNeedle

Just pull from the leaf and use!
used for sewing or even the earliest form of paper in the Americas. Quetzalcoátl showed us how the ancient peoples would write on this paper, and then peel off a sheet. It is very convenient, and natural! You may notice in one of the pictures, he is holding the natural sewing thread and part of it is red. He took a flower that is native to the region and rubbed it to the thread. It absorbed the color and was an early form of dyeing.

Afterwards, we tried some of the Mezcal that is produced by the local people. Mezcal and Pulque are the earliest forms of Tequila. Pulque is very much like sweet milk when it is first produced, and an alcoholic content so low, that it is often given to babies as a milk substitute. After 24 hours, the Pulque begins to ferment, and afterwards has a fairly strong alcoholic content. Mezcal is a form of tequila, but is very sweet and easy to swallow.

We visited the small shop where the local people also made clothing and carvings out of the local obsidian stones. It was very cool!

Teotihuacán

The pyramids at Teotihuacán were much bigger than I had believed! According to most historians and archaeologists (Bernard was formerly an archaeologist) they are not "pyramids", but "temples". These were never made for humans to climb. In the days of the Mexica (meh-SHEE-kah), the pyramids had elaborate temples on top, and the steps were at a 40º angle with large stones, because humans were never supposed to climb to the top. Only gods and sometimes high priests. The climb up most of the pyramids is easier if you go in a zig-zag pattern up and down, because then you don't realize how steep of an ascent/descent it is. Looking straight down at a 40º angle is terrifying!

The first temple was the Temple of Venus. It is situated directly under the constellation Orion during the summer months. The Temple of Venus was also important because it was dedicated to the Jaguar and Snake gods of the Mexica people. Both were very important. If I remember correctly, the Snake was the symbol of the universe, and the Jaguar was the symbol of the afterlife. When they were seen combined into one animal it was considered a powerful symbol of death and rebirth.

The entire area of Teotihuacán is at a 16º angle, so that as you visit more of the site, you are slowly walking uphill without really realizing it. There were many ruins where homes used to be, and Bernard told us that the color red was a very powerful color to the ancient people, and in the past, the entire city was painted red. Everything. In some of the pictures I took, some of the original (over 700 years old) red paint is still visible in the (homemade) cement on the walls. The homes of the people in the city of Teotihuacán belonged to the wealthy. The streets always ran North to South, and the doorways and windows were always East to West. Some stone pillars remain, and you can see how they used to support the roofs.

One of the most interesting aspects of the ancient people is that every 150 years or so (and they knew because they kept an extremely accurate calendar) they would build ON TOP OF the existing structures. The Pyramid of the Sun and Moon are actually the 7th edition. Underneath are 6 other pyramids that were built on top of the one we see today. There used to be another layer on the temple of the sun, but in the early 1900's it was excavated too thoroughly and a storm washed away the entire outer layer of stone. In the past the entire outside was smooth and painted red. What the archaeologists found were bodies of children and animals at certain cardinal directions at different heights of the pyramid. It is fascinating to think about. The original structures, the ones at the bottom, have been around for over 2000 years, and they can still support thousands of tourists climbing and walking all over them every day!

There was also a central altar at the Pyramid of the Moon (again, not a pyramid, but that's what it's called), that the ancient peoples believed to be the center of the universe. They would hold animal sacrifices (and sometimes human) here to appease the gods. I am not sure if it's true, but I heard that when there was no rain and the crops were failing, they would sacrifice children, because they were the most precious resource they had. I have no idea if it's true, but it sounds awful. But, desperate times....

Anyway,
Underneath...Underneath...Underneath...

Here, you can see at least three different layers. They built over the top of the existing buildings every 150 years or so. Most places in Teotihuacán have between 5 and 8 layers.
that was quite the adventure! I will try to update again ASAP...I've been pretty busy with school and such. TTFN!


Additional photos below
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Ciudad MéxicoCiudad México
Ciudad México

Mexico City suburbs...lots of people!
Toll RoadToll Road
Toll Road

Yeah, yeah, it's weird, but I couldn't resist taking a picture of the payment. Remember it's about 13 pesos for every 1 US Dollar
Interesting..Interesting..
Interesting..

The flattish mountain you see was actually purposely flattened by the ancient people, to use for farming, as this area used to be one enormous lake
Sweet NectarSweet Nectar
Sweet Nectar

This is turned into Pulque
Traditional GourdTraditional Gourd
Traditional Gourd

It is completely hollow, with a hole at each end. The harvester sucks through one end and fills up the gourd.
GourdGourd
Gourd

It holds a lot of nectar!
GourdGourd
Gourd

It helps keep the harvester away from the bees and flies that are near the agave.
FibersFibers
Fibers

These are very fine and can be used for sewing.
The first paperThe first paper
The first paper

Quetzalcoátl is cutting the inside to be flat, so he can write on it


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