Teotihuacan (fl. 300 to 700) was the ancient and holy city of Mexico, “the city where the gods were created”. At its height it had 160,000 people, making it the sixth largest city in the world at the time. In the centre of the city was the third largest pyramid of the world, the Pyramid of the Sun. Teotihuacan is about 40 km north-east of Mexico City.
We do not know what the city called itself. All we have is the Aztec name: Teotihuacan, “the city of the gods”. It was the seed of a civilization that had lasted more than a thousand years by the time the Spanish appeared. Only the Mayans were able to pass Teotihuacan in science and the arts.
The city fell in 700, destroyed by fire. Mexico fell into a dark age that lasted until the time of the Toltecs 250 years later.
In its day the city was the centre of religion and trade. It seemed to have been the centre of an empire too: it was rich yet had no walls and its gods demanded regular human sacrifice which meant fighting and ruling foreigners. Under one of their temples are 130 bodies.
We do not know what language the city spoke. It may have been Nahuatl, what the Aztecs spoke. None of its books have come down to our time.
Teotihuacan started out as a place where people journeyed to in order to worship the gods. In time it built huge pyramids to the gods and grew into a big city. It was ruled by priests who lived in palaces. On holidays the priests walked up the steps to the top of the pyramids and sacrificed humans to the gods.
The priests lived in the centre of the city. Further out were craftsmen and businessmen, who came from all over Mexico. About two-thirds of the people who lived in the city were farmers. They went out to work their fields in the morning and came back at night. Despite that the city did not grow enough food to feed itself but also needed trade and tribute to live.
The Street of the Dead is the main street. It is very wide and runs north to the holy mountain of Cerro Gordo. Along the street were the main temples, palaces and squares. The two main temples were:
- The Pyramid of the Sun at the centre of the city, the largest pyramid in Mexico and the third largest in the world. It is now 63 metres tall but once it was 73. The base 225 by 222 metres – about two Manhattan city blocks on a side.
- The Pyramid of the Moon is to the north along the Street of the Dead. It is smaller, only 43 metres tall.
There is also the temple of Quetzalcoatl, a snake god with feathers seen in the sky as the morning star. The square in front of the temple can hold 100,000, more than half the city.
Under the city are caves and tunnels.
– Abagond, 2009.