The Aztecs are a civilization of legend. From enormous pyramids to human sacrifice to accounts of gold and tremendous wealth they’re a people and a culture that’s become a symbol of Mexico. Teotihuacan, their capital was likely one of the largest cities in the Americas before the Spanish came. At its zenith, the city may have been home to over 200,000 people. With modern amenities like trash collection and multi-story apartment complexes, and practices such as bathing 2-3 times per day, the city was likely a shock to Europeans who were coming from cities where urban live was at the very least unhygienic and unpleasant.
Today Teotihuacan remains part of one of the largest cities in the world. About 30 miles outside Mexico City, the ancient site is enormous, even by today’s standards. Evidence of large residential complexes, specialized markets and enormous religious buildings remain. Teotihuacan’s Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon are the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico.
Fortunately we toured the site before the crowded tour buses rolled in. From atop the Temple of the Sun a huge expanse of river plain laid out before us. Today it’s dotted with villages, roads and parking lots, but during the time of the Aztecs, the view from atop the Temple must have been breathtaking.
Like many archaeological sites, the line between preservation and conservation has been blurred with construction. Much of the Temple of the Sun has been rebuilt. In fact, today the Temple has one more level then it did when the Aztec’s used it as a religious building. Go figure.
We climbed from temple peak to temple peak. Most of the colorful murals have been removed to museums, but a few areas of decorative tile still exist. I was struck by the similarity of the site’s layout and design to other Pre-Columbian sites and religious center’s we’ve visited throughout the Americas. Teotihuacan’s Temple of Quetzalcoatl (or the feathered serpent) bore a striking resemblance in both construction and motif to Huaca del Sol (Burial place of the sun) in Trujillo, Peru, so much so that I had to wonder whether the Aztecs and Moches (builders of the Huaca del Sol) had any interaction. Interestingly enough the Huaca del Sol is also situated near a Huaca de la Luna.
IF YOU GO: Unsurprisingly the site has little shade so go early and bring plenty of water. There are steps and handrails up most of the pyramids, but respect the barriers and don’t walk beyond the paths. Many Mexican’s believe the site holds special energy- you may see ceremonies or rituals designed to draw in the energy- be respectful and maintain a distance as for some people these ceremonies have deep spiritual meaning. The site is completely mobbed during the solstices because of the energy and alignment with the sun.
Yes, we had to do it!