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Day 207 – I Am Jack’s Mexican Ruins (Teotihuacan)

May 5, 2011

Location: The ruins of Teotihuacan, Outside Mexico City, Mexico

Date: Thursday, May 5, 2011

Turns out there’s a lot more to Mexico than Aztecs and Mayas. We’re just not always sure who they are. Take for instance the ancient city of Teotihuacan. Not nearly as famous as Machu Picchu, it should be. For one, it was built 1,200 years early in 250 A.D. Unlike Machu Picchu, which was probably a holy site or resort for royalty, Teotihuacan was an actual metropolis that probably held up to 200,000 residents. And no one knows for sure who built it.

It is still imposing even in its ruined state. Bisected by a large boulevard known quaintly as Calzada de Los Muertos (Road of the Dead), the central avenue runs for more than 3 km. The calzada was the main thoroughfare of the urban area, but houses of commoners, markets, and more rudimentary structures filled out the lands to the left and right.

The La Ciudadela (The Citadel) sits on the south end of the site and features a large Temple of the Feathered Serpent (Templo de Quetzalcoatl). The area likely housed the city’s ruler.

Moving north of La Ciudadela, the shadeless Calzada de Los Muertos changes into a roadway lined with houses said to have been residences of the upper class.

The big draws, though, are the two giant pyramids. Piramide del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun) is the third largest in the world with a height of 70 meters (230 feet) and a massive 225 x 225 meter base (739 feet). Only Cheops in Egypt and Chulula in Mexico are larger. Piramide del Sol was built in 100 A.D. without metal tools, pack animals, or a wheel. We’re talking a lot of slaves.

In its heyday, it was plastered and painted bright red. Today, it’s more a pile of carefully piled rocks. Tourists are still allowed to climb the nearly 250 steps to the top. Once you reach the summit, if you are in a Chinese tour group, you are also apparently allowed to bellow Chinese songs and scream like a wild man.

If you aren’t, you at least get a spectacular view of Piramide del Sol’s sister pyramid, Piramide de. . .(wait for it). . . la Luna! (Yup, “Pyramid of the Moon.”) At 116 feet (35 meters), it still rises to the same height because it is built on higher ground. You cannot climb to the top of this one, only partway. No reports on whether singing is allowed.

No one knows how the civilization at Teotihuacan ended. At some point the city was abandoned. Some believe a war dispersed the city. The fact that only the houses and the temples of the wealthy exhibit evidence of burning suggests there may have been an internal uprising. Alternatively, a famine may have shut down the city. Or a famine caused the uprising. Or it was aliens.

This civilization’s exquisite sculptures, their rich culture, their lovely handicrafts, their giant pyramids–they’re all in the historic dustbin. We’re left to guess about one of the most impressive cities of its day (circa 100 A.D.).

A great philosopher once said, “On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.” For the people of Teotihuacan, the timeline was a few hundred years. New York City’s working on nearly 500 years. How many more’s it got left?

GALLERY: Click through for more pictures of pyramids, some other artifacts, and a few of Mervyn looking silly hot in the sun.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Laura Camacho permalink
    May 8, 2011 9:36 pm

    Ooh! I’ve been there! Only it was in 1997 and I don’t remember being able to go inside anything… Very, very impressive site though. And I still have a very nice wool blanket from the stalls at the entrance. 😉

  2. May 10, 2011 7:45 am

    I was there in 1968 and you couldn’t climb to the top of anything because it was still mostly rubble. There was no interpretive site and I don’t remember seeing the painted walls of the Jaguar Palace–I seem to remember it was just a mound they were working on. But the grandeur was still there. Immense and amazing that it could all just disappear like that. It was great to see this update of the work done in the last 40 years.
    I can’t remember if you went to Chan Chan in Peru?

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