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Teotihuacan (4th century)

Teotihuacan (4th century)

Majestic even in its ruins, this city was the largest and most populous settlement in the pre-Columbian Americas.

History

Keywords

Teotihuacan, Columbus, Mexico, Basin of Mexico, Valley of Mexico, America, Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon, New World, pyramid, Feathered Serpent, sanctuary, culture, indigenous people, conquistador, civilization, Aztec, church, architecture, native, necropolis, religion, Avenue of the Dead, capital city, 4th century AD, city, history, antiquity

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Questions

  • On the territory of which present-day country is Teotihuacan located?
  • In honor of which god was a temple built in both Tenochtitlan and Teotihuacan?
  • What animals were not sacrificed by the inhabitants of Teotihuacan (according to archeological findings)?
  • What color is the tezontle rock that was used for building some of the structures in Teotihuacan?
  • In honor of which deity was the Pyramid of the Moon built?

Scenes

'Birthplace of the Gods'

Teotihuacan was located in Central America, on the territory of present-day Mexico. The name Teotihuacan was given by the Aztecs after the fall of the city; the name probably means 'the birthplace of the Gods'. This culturally varied city was one of the largest and most populous cities in the pre-Columbian Americas. At its peak, in the first half of the 1st millennium A.D., it covered an area of ​​20–30 km² (7.7–11.6 sq mi) and had a population of about 150–250 thousand.

In the 5th and 6th centuries the city started to decline. Besides external attacks, an internal unrest probably also contributed to this. The once prosperous city was abandoned both by the gods and its inhabitants.

Archeological excavations of the city began in the 19th century; structures found in a poor condition were reinforced. Today, millions of tourists walk along the Avenue of the Dead, looking at the top of the pyramids in awe. The ​​ancient city of Teotihuacan was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1987.

Pyramid of the Moon

This structure, called Tenan ('mother stone' or 'protective stone') in Nahuatl, is located in the western part of the ancient city of Teotihuacan. Its currently known name was given by the Aztecs.

The Pyramid of the Moon is the second largest pyramid in the city; its original height exceeded 40 meters (131.2 feet). It was probably built in the 3rd century A.D. but it covers a structure that is older even than the Pyramid of the Sun. The Pyramid is thought to have been built in honor of the Great Goddess, the patron deity of Teotihuacan, in order to conduct ceremonies and offer sacrifices to her.

The Great Goddess is believed to have been the goddess of the underworld, darkness, the Earth, water, war and creation. She was usually represented wearing a bird headdress. She was often represented together with a jaguar, an owl and spiders.

This goddess is often referred to as the Spider Woman of Teotihuacan, as several murals found in the city show her with spiders hanging from her clothes or arms, or just surrounding her.

A staircase led from the shrine built atop the Pyramid of the Moon to the plaza located in front of the pyramid. This was surrounded by small palaces, platforms and temples. It is the northern end of the Avenue of the Dead.

Pyramid of the Sun

The Pyramid of the Sun, named so by the Aztecs, is the largest structure in the ancient city of Teotihuacan. The construction of the pyramid was completed around 200 A.D. Its original height probably exceeded 70 meters (229.7 feet) but today it is only around 66 meters (216.5 feet) high. The sides measure 220–230 meters (721.8–754.6 feet) in length. The volume of the pyramid in its original state was estimated to be around 1.2 million cubic meters (42,377,600 cubic feet).

The exterior of the pyramid was covered with tezontle, a volcanic rock which had a characteristic red color. A temple was also built on the top of the pyramid; however, it has not survived into modern times and it is not known which god it was dedicated to.

Smaller temples were also built in front of the Pyramid of the Sun, which is located near the Avenue of the Dead and is surrounded by platforms from three sides. Archeologists also found a 'cave' under the pyramid. Contrary to previous suggestions, the latest excavations show that the tunnels and chambers inside this 'cave' are not natural, but artificial. The chambers might have served as tombs.

Citadel

The Temple of the Feathered Serpent is the third largest building of the ancient city of Teotihuacan. It is located at the southern end of the Avenue of the Dead within the Citadel whose name was given by the Spanish. The temple is about 20 meters (65.6 feet) tall and its sides are 65 meters (213.3 feet) long.

The square-shaped Citadel is located in the center of Teotihuacan, near the junction of the two main roads, the Avenue of the Dead and the East-West Avenue. The large area might have been able to accommodate the entire population of the city. It was also a venue for festivals and ceremonies as well as being the religious and political center of Teotihuacan. This is supported by the fact that archeologists found tombs of the ruling elite in the tunnels below the temple.

The Temple of the Feathered Serpent is located at the back of the Citadel. It was built in one stage and the construction was completed at the beginning of the 3rd century A.D. Its sides were decorated with magnificent works of art, including carvings of the head of the Feathered Serpent (known as Quetzalcoatl for the Aztecs). There is a platform attached to the front of the Temple (known as the Adosada platform).

Interestingly, the position of the three main buildings of Teotihuacan with respect to one another is the same as the position of the three Pyramids of Giza and the Orion’s Belt.

Avenue of the Dead

The Avenue of the Dead (Miccaotli in Nahuatl) was one of the central avenues of Teotihuacan. Located in the center of the ancient city, it is about 40 meters (131.2 feet) wide on average and 2.5 km (1.6 mi) long, though its original length could have been twice as much.

The Citadel was located at the southern end, while the Pyramid of the Moon was located at the northern end. The houses of the highest class and numerous smaller temples were symmetrically arranged along both sides of the avenue. Even the stairs of the Pyramid of the Sun, the largest building of the ancient city, led here.

The sinister-sounding name, 'Avenue of the Dead', was given by the Aztecs, who mistook the temples near the avenue for tombs.
Interestingly, one end of the avenue points towards the direction on the sky where the Pleiades star cluster sets.

Feathered Serpent

The Feathered Serpent deity was present in several Mesoamerican cultures. The Aztecs called him Quetzalcoatl, while the Maya called him Kukulkan. This deity might originate in the ancient city of Teotihuacan and probably dates back to the late 1st Century B.C. or early 1st Century A.D.

Some researchers trace the image of the Feathered Serpent back to an existing person, a leader or a priest. The deity has a dual nature: the feathers symbolize his divine nature, the ability to reach the sky; while being a serpent represents its human nature, its earthly life.

The Feathered Serpent was a central figure in the pantheon of Teotihuacan. He was endowed with the qualities of several gods. He was associated with the wind, the planet Venus and the dawn among others. The Feathered Serpent was the patron of priests, merchants, learning and knowledge.

It is believed that he had created mankind from the bones of previous generations, and he had given the people of Teotihuacan science, ethics, laws and writing. As its name suggests, he usually appeared as a serpent. He was portrayed with a huge mouth, teeth curving inward, a feathered body and the tail of a rattlesnake (although occasionally he was portrayed with feathers around its head only). There are other representations that depict him as a male warrior.

Narration

Teotihuacan is located in present-day Mexico, in Central America. This culturally varied city was named by the Aztec; the name probably means "the birthplace of the Gods". It was one of the largest and most populous settlements in the pre-Columbian Americas, reaching its peak at the first half of the 1st millennium. The Avenue of the Dead was the central avenue of Teotihuacan. The Citadel was located at its southern end, while the Pyramid of the Moon was located at its northern end.

The Pyramid of the Moon, the second largest pyramid in Teotihuacan, is located in the western part of the city. It is thought to have been built in honor of the patron deity of Teotihuacan, the Great Goddess.

The largest pyramid in the city, the Pyramid of the Sun, is not far from here. Its exterior was covered with tezontle, a volcanic rock which gave it a characteristic red color.

The Temple of the Feathered Serpent is the third largest building in the ancient city of Teotihuacan. It is located at the southern end of the Avenue of the Dead within the Citadel which was named by the Spanish. Interestingly, the position of Teotihuacan's three main buildings with respect to one another is the same as the position of the three Pyramids of Giza and that of the stars that form Orion’s Belt.

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