About twenty five miles north of Mexico City sits a mystical and ancient landmark renowned by archeologists, tourists, and locals alike. The ruins of Teotihuacán were once the largest city in the new world with populations varying between 100,000 and 200,000 at the peak of its splendor in the first century AD. Covering approximately 51 square miles, it has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the most visited archeological site in Mexico. The reason for all these visitors is the spectacular architecture, the colorful murals, and the magnificent sculptures that cover the landscape. Unlike many other such sites in Mexico and South America, Teotihuacán was never “discovered”, rather the location and its majesty have been well known and traveled since their original construction beginning around 200 BC.
The dominant structures here are the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. At 738 feet wide and 246 feet tall, the Pyramid of the Sun is the third largest pyramid in the world. It dwarfs the Pyramid of the Moon which measures out at 492 feet at the base and 138 feet high. The original names of both pyramids are unknown as the history of the site is shrouded in mystery. Their current names were given by the Aztecs who inhabited the area many years after it was abandoned by the builders. As Teotihuacán is located well above sea level, be prepared for a lot of walking and climbing in thin air while visiting , because you will want to see the amazing vistas afforded by reaching the tops of these man made mountains. There are numerous other smaller pyramids along the “Calle de los Muertos” which is the main thoroughfare through the city. Two of the palaces you will want to investigate are the Palace of the Jaguar and the Palace of the Quetzal-Butterfly. Each was quite elaborately adorned and they were likely the homes of chiefs or priests. You will see lovely murals of jaguars with feathered headdresses and fantastic engraved pillars with an obsidian eyed sort of butterfly-bird carved in.
Another interesting stop is the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. Covered in protruding sculptures depicting the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl, it was originally painted in brilliant colors, some of which are still visible today. Probably the most fascinating part of your visit to Teotihuacán will be the discussions of who the people were that constructed this amazing city. It is clear they had a very affluent and advanced culture, but no one knows for sure who they were or why they suddenly abandoned the site around 700 AD. Archeologists have discovered evidence of a great fire around that time, but no clear reason why those who were left chose not to rebuild, but rather to desert Teotihuacán all together. Teotihuacán is a fascinating journey into the history of Mesoamerica. Truly a beautiful place to visit, it leaves you with a sense of childlike wonder, a life time of memories, and a camera full of breathtaking photographs.