Teotihuacan “Pyramids”

There are many pyramid sites throughout Mesoamerica, but this was my embarrassingly first visit to one, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Not to be disrespectful, but for me this was a bit underwhelming. It is worth visiting, but after overcoming my personal trepidation about making it up to the top of the first pyramid, I got cocky and culturally chauvinistic and decided that scaling these were a piece of cake.

The site is approximately one hour outside of Mexico City. Being alone and not managing to convince Gee Kin to take time off to come with me, I decided the safest and most efficient way was to sign up for a tour. Aviator made good on its commitment and duly picked me up at the hotel at 6:20am as agreed. There were only 6 people on the tour, and the mini-van easily and comfortably accommodated us. The guide was OK, not the “archaeologist” advertised nor able to pack us with details. None of the information at the pyramids were translated into English, so we were dependent on the guide’s words. The gist I got was that there were 3 periods: Pre-Classic, Classic, and Post Classic.

Pre-Classic entailed the period before the Teotihuacan people occupied and developed the site. They migrated here from another location in Mexico. Explanation why is sketchy, but there were other indigenous people living here before, who worshipped the subterranean earth, earth above, and the heavens.

Classic: From 100 BC-200AD, the temples were built. The Teotichuanan people built the large pyramid originally to pray for the rain. It was later converted to worshipping the Sun. The smaller temple at the end of the main axis is dedicated to the Moon.

The Teotihuacan people lived in this area from 100BC to 900AD, or nearly 1000 years, and had already been destroyed as a culture prior to the occupation of the Aztecs. The Aztecs used the temples, but they did not conquer the Teotihuacan people.*

Post-Classic: from 900 AD to 1521, this was considered the post-Classic or pre-Hispanic period. The Aztecs were the third culture to develop after the Olmec and the Mayan cultures. The Spanish came and destroyed the Aztec culture that had adopted this temple area. First Montezuma welcomed the Spaniards, then the second Aztec chieftain defeated them, followed by the final conquest of the third chieftain in 1521.*

But…back to the pyramids. The main axis approach was 2 km. and took about 1/2 hour to walk at a slow pace. We stopped along the way to look at a few houses that were set at corners surrounding an open courtyard. It was a very hierarchical and class conscious society from the get-go. Only the upper classes who managed the temple matters were allowed to live along the main access.

There is debate whether the human sacrifices used for prayers were Teotihuacan or other people in the area. The Aztecs continued this tradition. The Spaniards were horrified by this practice of human sacrifice so went about converting as many indigenous people as they could quickly. My way or the highway guys.*

The tour guide spoke sufficient English, but he didn’t deliver much more than a canned tour. The only good feature was that we left at the crack of dawn to avoid the crowds. That worked; what didn’t on the way back was contending with MC traffic that can kill your incentive to go anywhere by car. We managed to get back, however, at a decent hour of 2pm.

To do this site justice, please go to the UNESCO world website at http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/414 to learn more.**

Having just climbed Emei Shan in September this year, I found this experience a bit disappointing. Maybe the high altitude (over 7,700 feet) made the Teotihuacan designers of the temples a bit light-headed. The large platforms served as the landings for breaks in the stairs and were a welcome relief. Cables covered with rubber tubing provided a sense of safety and were added (later, of course). Even as I became winded from the thin air, I couldn’t help but think that these temple makers appreciated the reduced sets of steps themselves and declared, “oh heck with it, let’s just call it a day here! Everyone gets the point!”

Photos, from top, left to right:
1. View of Temple of the Moon from the Base
2. Overview of approach to Temple of the Moon.
3. View of the Temple to the Sun from Temple of the Moon
4. View of Approach to Temple of the Moon
5.6. Details of initial stairs with sculptural elements

* a few errors in dates corrected thanks to the advice of the second guide. He also provided information on the conversion techniques of the Spaniards. What the local people didn’t like doing or thinking, the Spaniards stuck them with smallpox. The second chieftain, while succeeding in thwarting the Spaniards, died a few years later of chicken pox after his successful battle (per tour guide, he might have meant smallpox).
** Addenda

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