At its prime, Teotihuacan was about 14 square miles, (36 square km), in size and was home to a variety of native people from many different regions, including the Maya, Mixtec and Zapotec. By A.D. 400, Teotihuacan was the most densely populated city in all the Americas with a population of more than 100,000 individuals.
Away from the ceremonial area, a grid-like layout of apartment complexes, similar in architectural design, were available for extended family groups. Many of these family groups appear to have specialized in a specific craft, such as the creation of ceramics or the working of obsidian.
Lost to history is any common language of the Teotihuacanos, but with so many differing groups of people, the city was most likely multilingual.
A mix of cultures
Along with the Texcoco and Tepaneca people, the Mexica formed a triple alliance establishing what modern historians call the Aztec empire. The great Aztec calendar stone, shown above, was found buried beneath a public plaza known as the Zócalo in Mexico City in 1790.
Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent
The smallest of the pyramids (shown above) is known today as the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent and has a base measuring 213 feet by 213 feet (65 by 65 m) and towers 75 feet (23 m) high. It is located at the southern end of today’s restored Avenue of the Dead, but it was once at the center of the City of Teotihuacan, in a ceremonial area known as the Ciudadela Complex.
The Ciudadela Complex encloses a massive sunken area of 1,400 square feet (130 square m) that would have created a space large enough for all 100,000 citizens to gather and engage in large public rituals.
Archeologists now believe that the sunken plaza was periodically flooded, representing a primordial sea. The Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent would have been a sacred mountain rising above this primordial sea, representing the beginning of the people’s time on Earth. When considering the size and amount of stone blocks used to sculpture the four sides of this pyramid, the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent is the most labor-intensive structure found at Teotihuacan. Archeologist now believe that the sunken plaza was periodically flooded, representing a primordial sea. The Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent would have been a sacred mountain rising above this primordial sea, representing the beginning of the people’s time on Earth. When considering the size and amount of stone blocks used to sculpture the four sides of this pyramid, the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent is the most labor-intensive structure found at Teotihuacan.
Massive and striking
It is the second largest pyramid in the city, with a base measuring 427 feet by 512 feet (130 m by 156 m) and a height of 141 feet (43 m). Twelve small pyramid platforms are located around the large plaza in front of the Pyramid of the Moon — certainly large enough for large ceremonial and sacrificial rituals.
Stages of production
Pyramid of the Sun
The Pyramid of the Sun was completed in the second century, taking more than 100 years to complete. It has more than 38,846,133 cubed feet (1.1 million cubed m) of adobe mud bricks at its core. The rough exterior seen today was once covered with 645,835 square feet (60,000 square m) of stucco and was once decorated with large painted murals.
The square base of the Pyramid of the Sun measures 733 feet (223 m) and its height reaches 234 feet (71 m).
Under the government of President Porfirio Díaz, Mexico began a major project to excavate and restore the Pyramid of the Sun, beginning in 1905 in preparation of the 1910 centennial celebration of Mexican Independence from Spain. Further excavation and study continued through the 20th Century and are ongoing even today.
The pyramid that stood during Teotihuacan’s glory years was built with four stepped platforms, but a fifth platform was mistakenly added during the 20th-century restoration. These original platforms were made with stone blocks, covered with a lime plater and painted with brilliant colors. Exactly 248 steep and uneven steps lead from one platform patio to another, making climbing the great pyramid a challenging task.
The astronomical knowledge, understandings and technical building skills of these early Mesoamerican people rival any society anywhere on Earth during this time period.
The photo above is looking 1.5 miles (2.5 km) north down the Avenue of the Dead at the Pyramid of the Moon, with the Pyramid of the Sun to the right.
In addition, a 338-foot-long (103 m) human-made tunnel containing a large quantity of liquid mercury, jade statues, bones of jaguar, carved shells, rubber balls and other artifacts were found under the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent.
In 1897, the Mexican government took control of the ruins of Teotihuacan. Even though Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History began overseeing the preservation of Teotihuacan in 1939, the immediate area around Teotihuacan — including many acres (1 acre is 0.4 hectares) of yet-to-be excavated parts of the ancient city — are under threat today due to modern expansion, including a highly controversial Walmart store and booming firework displays.
Teotihuacan was designated a World Heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1987.