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Calendar >  Travels With TR – Treasures of Mexico–Teotihuacan–Mitla–Monte Alban-Tula

Travels With TR – Treasures of Mexico–Teotihuacan–Mitla–Monte Alban-Tula

By   /  February 5, 2015  /  No Comments


Part 1 – The Trip to Mexico City and Teotihuacan

tom & carolMany years ago, before I was married, I, along with a friend of mine, took a Spring Break trip to Mexico. Now, most people would think that would mean venturing to places like Cancun or Mazatlan, but our trip would take us to the pre-Columbian sites of Teotihuacan, Mitla and Monte Alban. This trip took place long before travel in Mexico was of some concern, depending on the destination.

Our adventure began in the Mexican city of Mexicali where we would catch a train and prepare for a 24 hour train ride to Guadalajara. The train ride reminded me of what it must have been like to ride the trains of the Old West. There were 3 prices for tickets: 3rd Class – bench seats only, open windows and animals allowed with the passengers; 2nd Class – bench seats, windows would close to keep out dust and smoke, animals allowed; 1st Class – individual small rooms, a padded seat that made into a small bed, toilets (you could see the train tracks when you looked in). We spent the extra few dollars for 1st Class.  Amazingly, the train would stop in the middle of nowhere to pick up passengers waiting by the tracks and we could step off the train at stops selling food items along the track.

Photos by Tom Robertson

Our late evening arrival in Guadalajara would then lead us to a bus station for an overnight trip to Mexico City. Once in Mexico City, we were able to get around using local buses, taxis (bargaining for each trip) and walking. The one of the main streets of Mexico City, Paseo de la Reforma, had taxis that would take you the complete length of this street only for only $1.00 and packed in as many as it would hold. We visited the main plaza Zocalo, Chapultepec Park, Maximillian’s home – Chapultepec Castle, many local markets and parks and the amazing National Anthropological Museum. This museum contains an incredible collection of indigenous people’s artifacts. Inside the museum, exact replicas of some of the Aztec, Mayan, Olmec, Toltec, Zapotec temples have been re-constructed. One of the main artifacts in the museum is the massive Aztec sunstone calendar that was uncovered many years ago and 2 huge Olmex stone heads.  As we wandered the city we were also able to see the early excavations of the Aztec temple discovered during the expansion of the Mexico City Subway system. That temple is now a center piece that can be seen in the center of Mexico City at the main hub of the city’s subway system.

After several days in Mexico City, we found a local bus that would take us to the Valley of Mexico, and the Mesoamerican religious center called Teotihuacan. This temple complex is a UNESCO World Heritage site dedicated in 1987. It is also the most visited archaeological site in Mexico. The site is 30 miles northeast of Mexico City in an area called the Valley of Mexico and located next to the small town of San Juan Teotihuacan. Teotihuacan covers 32 square miles. There is a lot known about this site, and there is a lot not known about this site.

The actual builders of the original city are unknown. What is known is the temples were under construction in 100 BC and remained under construction until AD 300. By AD 100 the largest of the temples, the Pyramid of the Sun, was completed. By AD 550, the major monuments had been sacked and burned. These dates were established by carbon 14 dating of various materials from the site. What is also known is that Teotihuacan was, at its height, the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas with around 125,000 residents living in and around the surrounding area. It is believed multi-floored apartment type complexes were built to house the large number of people. What is not known is the exact ethnicity of the inhabitants. Debates have led to the belief that Nahua, Otomi or Totonic are the most likely choices for the ethnicity of the residents. The peoples that lived here had no writing system, only the stylized carvings and paintings on the temples.  It is also believed that whomever lived here may have influenced the early Mayan cultures in cities such as Tikal or Copan.  The city was the center of industry, pottery, jewelry and craftsmen.  The obsidian artifacts uncovered  are some of the most artistic in Mexico’s long history. Many of the artifacts found resemble items in the Yucatan. The architecture is also very similar, especially with the designs using snakes. The original name of the city is unknown. The name Teotihuacan is the name given this area by the Nahuati speaking Aztecs centuries after the fall of the city.

The collapse of this culture was possibly internal, not from invasion. It is thought it was brought on by civil war, drought and famine. Many think the residents moved to what would become Tenochititlan, the sacred site of the Aztec empire, in the Mexico City area.

As far as the temples of Teotihuacan, there are 4 major structures and numerous smaller structures. What would have been the city for the local inhabitants is long gone as most of these structures were wooden and would have surrounded the temple complex. It is known that the peoples of this area did practice human sacrifice. It is believed that they used decapitation, hearts removed and some buried alive. The main avenue between the pyramids is called the Avenue of the Dead. This name is from an Aztec word referring to the main walkway. What the actual names are of each of the temples and pyramids is not known. There are a number of small structures that line the Avenue of the Dead. Some of these structures were tombs, probably of religious leaders, and some were ceremonial platforms. In one of the temple buildings there is indication these structures used to have elaborate paintings on both the outside and inside as there is a remnant of painting that remains.

The Pyramid of the Sun is the 3rd largest pyramid complex in the world; behind the Great Pyramid of Cholula in Puebla, Mexico, and the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. Not many years ago a cave system was found underneath the Pyramid of the Sun. Stone masks were found in the cave indicating they were possibly used for some religious function. This pyramid was built using a combination of stone blocks and a massive piling of dirt to create a huge mountain. There are steps leading from the base of the pyramid to the top. Visitors are allowed to walk up the steps from bottom to top and back, unlike the pyramids in Giza where visitors are kept off of the pyramid except to enter the tomb of Khufu. The height of the Pyramid of the Sun is 210 feet and the base is 738 feet across. At one end of the Avenue of the Dead is the smaller Pyramid of the Moon.  This pyramid is 141 feet tall. In front of this pyramid is the Plaza of the Moon. Part way down the Avenue of the Dead is a structure called The Citadel – so called by the Spanish as they thought it was a fort. The other name for this site is the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. There is also a small tunnel complex under this temple. The Temple of Quetzalcoatl is so named because of the stone serpent heads at the base of the temple. Quetzalcoatl is actually an Aztec reference and there is only a small indication the Aztec used this site. This temple is thought to have been the place of sacrifice for Teotihuacan.

Just outside the complex is the Teotihuacan Museum containing many of the excavated artifacts from this site. One of the hardest things to get used to is the  constant harassment from the locals trying to sell various trinkets, clothing, and anything else imaginable. When I was there, guards would keep the locals out of the complex, but some managed to get in and follow you around. From sites on the internet I have read, it seems the same thing still goes on and some even say the vendors get a little aggressive. I think the recent drop in tourism and a decline in the tourist economy to Mexico might have something to do with this. Even with this, the chance to see this amazing wonder of Mexico is something that should be on your bucket list. Do your research, travel with a reputable company and you should have a safe adventure. In next week’s article, my trip to Mexico continues to the cities of Oaxaca and Tula and the archaeological sites of Mitla and Monte Alban.



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  • Published: 9 years ago on February 5, 2015
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  • Last Modified: February 5, 2015 @ 12:37 am
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