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Teotihuacan Timeline

Teotihuacan Timeline

  • c. 150 BCE - c. 100 CE

    Teotihuacan is first settled.

  • c. 100 CE

    The Pyramid of the Sun is built at Teotihuacan.

  • c. 150 CE

    The Pyramid of the Moon is constructed at Teotihuacan.

  • c. 200 CE

  • c. 300 CE - 550 CE

    The city of Teotihuacan dominates Mesoamerica.

  • c. 600 CE

    Teotihuacan is deliberately destroyed by fire and abandoned.

Teotihuacan Reaches Peak

The central Mexican city of Teotihuacan came a long way from a small settlement in the Valley of Mexico to a mega-city that rivaled Rome as well as the Han capitals of Chang’an and Luoyang. Teotihuacan reached its peak in 450 BC according to the Bible Timeline Poster with World History. At its height, it was one of the largest New World cities with a population that ranged anywhere between 75,000 and 200,000 people and encompassed an area of 20 to 30 sq km.

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Teotihuacan was a cosmopolitan city, often visited by pilgrims who worshiped at its famed ceremonial centers and merchants for trade. The rich soil of the Valley of Mexico allowed the people to cultivate crops that sustained the large population in the city and the villages that surrounded it while obsidian, a volcanic glass used in rituals or weaponry was a precious commodity in the long-distance trade between Teotihuacan and other Mesoamerican cities.

The political, military, and trade influence of Teotihuacan at its peak spanned from the city to the Oaxaca highlands to the Maya lowland and highland regions in Mexico and Guatemala. Traces of Teotihuacan’s power were found in the city of Tikal located deep in the Guatemalan lowlands as well as the Maya highland city of Kaminaljuyu. It also influenced the Zapotec capital of Monte Alban. The Maya cities were probably controlled by Teotihuacan’s elite through the pochteca, long-distance traders who were sometimes deployed as spies for their wide knowledge about the cities they visited.

Years: c. 1500 BCE - 1525 Subject: History, Regional and National History
Publisher: HistoryWorld Online Publication Date: 2012
Current online version: 2012 eISBN: 9780191736728

Go to Maya in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

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Go to San Lorenzo, Mexico in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology (2 ed.)

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Go to Olmec in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology (2 ed.)

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Go to Olmec in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology (2 ed.)

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Go to La Venta, Chiapas, Mexico in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology (2 ed.)

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Go to Olmec in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology (2 ed.)

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Go to Zapotec in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology (2 ed.)

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Go to Zapotec in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology (2 ed.)

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Go to Maya in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

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Go to Maya in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

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Go to Quetzalcoatl in The Oxford Companion to World Mythology (1 ed.)

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Go to Tikal, Guatemala in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology (2 ed.)

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Go to Maya in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

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Go to Tobacco in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures (1 ed.)

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Go to Toltecs in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

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Go to Tula, Mexico in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology (2 ed.)

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Go to Aztec in World Encyclopedia (1 ed.)

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Go to Tenochtitlán, Mexico in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology (2 ed.)

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Go to Huitzilopochtli (America) in A Dictionary of World Mythology (1 ed.)

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Go to Balboa, Vasco Núñez de (1475–1519) in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

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Go to Cortés, Hernando (1485–1547) in A Dictionary of World History (2 ed.)

Mexico Today

Mexico’s population has greatly increased since World War II, but the distribution of wealth remains imbalanced. Due to negligible legislative assistance, the poor are generally unable to improve their socio-economic status. The state of Chiapas exemplifies the problems caused by financial imbalance. In 1994, the Zapatista National Liberation Army rose up to challenge discrimination against Chiapas’ poor.

Although their rebellion was unsuccessful, the Zapatistas continue to fight against imbalanced land ownership and power distribution, with little success. Further complicating the already problematic social division is the ever-growing problem of drug trafficking, which has contributed to political and police corruption and helped widen the gap between the elite and the underprivileged.

In recent years, the building of foreign-owned factories and plants (maquiladoras) in some of Mexico’s rural areas has helped draw the population away from Mexico City and redistribute some of the country’s wealth. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) of 1994 increased Mexico’s financial ties to the United States and Canada, but the Mexican economy remains fragile. Despite its problems, the Mexican economy, with its growing industrial base, abundant natural resources and variety of service industries, remains important to Latin America.

Today, tourism is a major contributor to the Mexican economy. People flock to Mexico from all over the world to sample the country’s cultural diversity, bask in the lush tropical settings and take advantage of relatively low prices. U.S. tourists constitute the majority of visitors to the country. In the past, tourists traveled mainly to Mexico City and the surrounding colonial towns of the Mesa Central unfortunately, the capital city’s reputation has suffered due to social and environmental problems, notably high levels of air pollution and crime. Tourists still flock to the beaches of the world-famous resorts in Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo, Mazatlán, Cancún and Puerto Escondido.

History of Teotihuacan

W2-0006: Pyramid of the Sun Little is known about the emergence of Teotihuacan and the people responsible for building this vast and unique city. Construction began with a huge ceremonial core and the building of three enormous pyramids in the 1 st century AD . There was no progression, not even in the surrounding areas, and so it appears that the Teotihuacano arrived with the knowledge to build on a scale never seen before in the Americas. Their first construction, the Pyramid of the Sun, would be so large that only the Great Pyramid of Giza could eclipse it. The size and grandeur of Teotihuacan’s massive monumental structures has mystified most who have walked along its mighty Avenue of the Dead. It has ignited many imaginations and sparked many theories on who could have built such an enigmatic city. This great city may have even perplexed the mighty Aztecs when they rediscovered it in the 13 th century. They named it Teotihuacan, which approximately translates to “The Place Where Gods were Born” or “The Place Where Time Began”, which suggests even they thought it was to great to be the work of human hands.

W2-0012: View of the ceremonial core and valley to the south Modern historians have been able to expand on Teotihuacan’s formative history through researching other ancient settlements and towns in and around the Basin of Mexico. It is clear that before work began at Teotihuacan, in 100 BC, there were several dozen other settlements populating the basin. However, by the time the monumental core of Teotihuacan was completed in 100 AD the satellite settlements had almost disappeared. Clearly the city required manpower and therefore provided jobs and food, but why would people leave their farms and villages to toil on building such immense structures – structures that were so large, they would take several generations to complete. The answer is surely that Teotihuacan offered something new, something hitherto unknown, for in a volatile world of marauders, droughts and volcanic eruptions, Teotihuacan would provide security. And it would be the volcanoes of the Sierra Nevada, where the warmer climate and rich soils had supported many early agricultural communities, that would provide Teotihuacan’s biggest influx of skilled labour. Evidence of this is found in the ruins of Cuicuilco, which lies 50 miles south-west of Teotihuacan and had been prospering since 700 BC . Cuicuilco was covered by lava 10 metres thick following the eruption of Mount Xitle in the 1 st century AD . This obviously devastated the city and affected a far greater area. It has been suggested that the migrating population of Cuicuilco and its satellite settlements may have founded Teotihuacan as they looked for safety. This would explain how Teotihuacan was planned as a great city from the outset, however the timing of the eruption appears to have come after the construction of Teotihuacan and there is even evidence that Cuicuilco was falling into decline because of a power shift towards the new city of Teothihuacan.

W1-0014: The Beacon of Cerro Gordo rising above the city Regardless of the exact timing, the eruption of Xitle would certainly have displaced huge numbers of people from the city of Cuicuilco and many other towns, settlements and farmlands that were affected by the lava flow and the ashen fallout. Tens of thousands would have been left homeless and left to wander the chilly high-plains looking for food and shelter. The obvious place to go would be north, to rapidly growing city of Teotihuacan. Its massive pyramids and the gargantuan Cerro Gordo, would have been a beacon of safety to all those who ventured north. But, immigration on this scale should have put the city in turmoil, for not even Teotihuacan could have had the resources to feed and house such a large increase in population in such a short time – food simply doesn’t grow quickly enough. Yet, Teotihuacan did support this population increase and appears to have grown stronger with it.

W1-0019-: Pyramid of the Sun The reason for Teotihuacan’s success is built into the very fabric of the city, and the urban planning that can still be seen today is enduring evidence of a well formed civic ideal. The Teotihuacano ideology fused religious formality, social structure and political organisation to control the city’s physical expansion as well as the lives of all who lived within it. These principles were in place when the first stone was set and were locked into the city’s first buildings for all to observe. To ensure the city understood its destiny and its role within the Mesoamerican landscape, they started with the largest monumental structure, the Pyramid of the Sun. This would be the centre-piece of the city, around which all other buildings would be arranged. It would sit at the heart of the city and provide a constant reminder to the people of the city’s power and their achievement. But it would also play a hugely symbolic role, for they built to face the setting sun on the 11 th August, as it headed south towards winter. The sun would set in the very same place 260 days later as it travelled back north, on the 29 th April. To remove any confusion about the Pyramid of the Sun’s symbolic purpose, they also built 260 steps to its summit and made it 260 standard units wide at the base. This epic structure would therefore not only assert Teotihuacan’s power, but it would also be a monument to the beginning of time, which was the 11 th August 3114 BC , and the origin of the 260 day Ritual Calendar.

W2-0037: Temple of the Feathered-Serpent The message that time began at Teotihuacan would be built into all of its structures. The Pyramid of the Moon align with setting of Plaiedes on the very same day as Pyramid of the Sun faced sunset. This would mark the heavenly congregation of Gods, who would meet to create a each new age. And whilst the Pyramid of the Sun marked the sun’s 260 day southern transit, the Pyramid of the Moon would be built precisely north and measure 105 standard units at its base – thus marking the sun’s northern transit and complete the solar year. The Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent would be covered in carved images depicting the creation of the Fifth Sun at Teotihuacan. It would have 260 stone heads of the Feathered Serpent and 13 pyramidal structures that could be used to record the passing of time and it would sit in a plaza so great that the entire population could congregate to observe the rituals of the 260 day calendar. The three great Pyramids would be aligned to match the three stars of Orion’s Belt and reflect the planting of the hearth-stones at the beginning of time, in 3114 BC. The huge Avenue of the Dead would cut through the centre of this heavenly model and be lined with pyramidal stars to reflect the heavens and the Milky Way. Beneath the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent they would create womb like caves and decorate the access tunnel with glowing orbs and starry walls to represent a birthplace of the heavenly gods. Beneath the Pyramid of the Sun there would be four caves that would represent the birthplace of the earth gods. As the Aztecs would later acknowledge, they would build a “Place Where Time Began”.

W2-0027: Mural of Tepantitla Constructing this huge ceremonial centre would keep the ever-growing population busy for over 200 years. After this, the population were set to work building permanent stone residences, both for the elite and themselves. The orderliness of the city’s construction was relentless, and the strict principles and alignments were built into every home – even those that fell outside of the city’s 20km 2 boundary. In total, more than 2,200 residential compounds were constructed, each featuring homes organised around a central patio with a communal kitchen and its own temple. Between these compounds they built streets and pavements, sewers and waterways that supplied running water. The apartments were then decorated with murals that relayed the religious beliefs and doctrines of the city. The murals found in the few excavated complexes, such as Tetitla and Tepantitla, also reveal they formed neighbourhoods, or districts, that had their own priesthood, schools and municipal buildings, with their own identity and distinctive attire. Through such projects, Teotihuacan ensured that every member of their 100,000 strong population were kept busy and actively involved in defining the both the city and themselves.

W2-0025: Religious activities played out at Teotihuacan This work, combined with the fervent religious activities organised around the Ritual Calendar and grand re-enactments of religious events upon its pyramids, is how Teotihuacan maintained order over its immense population. However, the semi-arid plains and colder climate of the Altiplano were unable to support such a large population and Teotihuacan would need to expand its territories to the warmer climates of the south. But first, they would need an army to conquer and control distant lands, and a commodity to trade and persuade distant rulers. They found the origins of both 50km north, on the other side of Cerro Gordo and directly in line with the Avenue of the Dead. There, in Pachuca, were the ancient obsidian mines that had been in use since 12,000 BC. By 200 AD it had become an industrialised mining operation controlled by Teotihuacan, with workshops and buildings arranged and aligned with the Teotihuacano principles. The people of Mesoamerica would become dependent this black volcanic glass, for it could be knapped into a very sharp blade, polished into mirror, or fashioned into jewellery and ornaments. Not only did this obsidian mine provide infinite spear-tips for Teotihuacan’s military campaigns, but it also provided a type of obsidian that appeared to have been given to them by the gods – for it was green. Along with standard obsidian, which needed a constant supply for it quickly blunted, this precious green commodity would be exported throughout Mesoamerica and provide the Teotihuacano with immense riches.

0247: Monte Alban – System IV Complex The Teotihuacano expansion started in Morelos, where evidence of Teotihuacano occupation can be found amongst the ruins of Las Pilas. Here, 100 miles south of Teotihuacan, the warmer climates were ideal for cotton production and farming on a far greater scale than Teotihuacan’s own environment could sustain. From here, Teotihuacan expanded its control a further 300 miles south, piercing the heart of the Oaxaca Valley and taking control of the Zapotec capital, Monte Alban, in around 250 AD . With sustenance already provided for by the acquisition of Morelos, it appears that this campaign was in pursuit of precious commodities and control over the trade routes flowing across Mesoamerica. At Monte Alban, they took control of mica, a fine glassy mineral rock that could be peeled into fine translucent sheets. Exactly why this was important to them is unknown, but the Teotihuacano buried sheets of it within the Pyramid of the Sun and beneath a floor a the “Mica Temple” to the west of the great pyramid. Zapotec workshops have also been found at Teotihuacan within a district called Tlailotlacan, which is also known as the Oaxaca Barrio. Evidence of a Teotihuacano influence at Monte Alban is thought to be found in the construction of the System IV complex, which incorporates facets of the Talud-Tablero design and is offset from the strict north-south alignment of hilltop site, as though it was aligned with the sunset on the 11 th August, as Teotihuacan itself was.

W0767: Altun Ha – Plaza A Around the same time, 250 AD, Teotihuacano influence can also be found as faraway as Altun Ha in Belize, where a burial named F8/1 included 243 pieces of green obsidian from Teotihuacan’s mines in Pachuca. This shortly pre-dates a period a large scale expansion, that would suggest a link between Teotihuacano trade and the cities growth. The Teotihuacano were undoubtedly in pursuit of jade, and Altun Ha is littered with chippings that suggests it was a large-scale centre for jade carving. However, the jade, as they would discover, only came from one place, the mines of the Motugua Valley in south-eastern Guatemala. To gain control of this trade, Teotihuacan focussed on an allied city, Tikal. In 378 AD , Stela 31 at Tikal and Stela 5 at Uaxactun, state that an emissary, or Lord of the West, named Siyah K’ak’ arrived in the Peten area from Teotihuacan. Tikal’s ruler, Jaguar Paw, coincidently dies during his visit and Siyah K’ak’ instated Nun Yax Ayin as the new ruler. Nun Yax Ayin is described on Stela 31 as the son of Spearthrower Owl, who is believed to have been the Ruler or a Great Lord at Teotihuacan (the owl iconography can be seen in many murals at Teotihuacan and features prominently on the carved pillars of the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl).
W1064QSF: Copan – Altar Q Altar Q at Copan then states that a Lord named K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ arrived in 426 AD to found the new Mayan city and depicts him in full Teotihuacano regalia, stating that he had travelled for 153 days to arrive there. The Hieroglyphic Stairway at Copan states that K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ installed a vassal, who had travelled with him, named Tok Casper at nearby Quirigua a few days later. Both of these settlements lie on the river network that leads out to the Caribbean from the Motagua River and their primary role was to control the jade trade. Sitting between the mines and the Pacific coast was the huge Mayan city of Kaminaljuyu, where there is also clear evidence of Teotihuacano influence during the 5 th century.

W1-0015: The long row of ceremonial buildings at the site core By the 6 th century, Teotihuacan appears to have held sway over much of Mesoamerica through its political alliances and vassal rulers. Its control over the trade networks was keeping the Teotihucano people well fed and living in comparative luxury, in their state-of-the-art city, with running water, sewers, brick homes and neighbourhood communities. But they were dependent on these alliances and trade and if those were to fail then so would the city. For reasons unknown, the city did fail at some point during the 6 th or 7 th century. The public revolted and burned down the temples and municipal buildings at the heart of the city and the elite were forced out. From that day onwards, Teotihuacan’s power was gravely diminished and the city shrunk to a population of 20,000 people who lived in relative isolation. Meanwhile, it appears the elite who fled the city went on to create new cultural centres to the south that would one day dominate the landscape yet again. One of those cultures would return 700 years later, and name it Teotihuacan – the Place Where Time Began.


Teotihuacán, which was located in the Valley of Teotihuacán, a pocketlike extension of the Valley of Mexico on its northeastern side, was probably the largest city of the New World before the arrival of the Spaniards. At its height, toward the close of the 6th century ce , it covered about eight square miles and may have housed more than 150,000 inhabitants. The city was divided into quarters by two great avenues that crosscut each other at right angles, and the entire city was laid out on a grid plan oriented to these avenues. The Avenue of the Dead, the main north–south artery of the city, is aligned to a point 16° east of true north, which may have had astrological meaning.

Because irrigation plays some part in the present-day agricultural economy of the Valley of Teotihuacán, it has been suggested that the Early Classic city also was based upon this subsistence system. It is almost inconceivable, however, that a city of such proportions could have relied upon the food production of its own valley or even upon the Valley of Mexico, whether irrigated or not.

Planning and construction of Teotihuacán began, according to radiocarbon dates, about the beginning of the Common Era, in the Tzacualli phase. At this time, the major avenues were laid out and construction of the major ceremonial structures along the Avenue of the Dead began. Figurines and potsherds extracted from fill inside the 200-foot (61-metre)-high Pyramid of the Sun, the most prominent feature of Teotihuacán, prove that this was erected by the end of the Tzacualli phase. The pyramid rises in four great stages, but there is a fifth and much smaller stage between the third and fourth. An impressive stairway rises dramatically on its west side, facing the Avenue of the Dead. Reexamination suggested the presence of a huge tomb at its base, but this has never been excavated.

On the northern end of the Avenue of the Dead is the Pyramid of the Moon, very similar to that of the Sun but with an additional platform-temple jutting out on the south. This exhibits the talud- tablero architectural motif that is typical of Teotihuacán culture: on each body or tier of a stepped pyramid is a rectangular frontal panel (tablero) supported by a sloping batter (talud). The tablero is surrounded by a kind of projecting frame, and the recessed portion of the panel usually bears a polychrome mural applied to the stuccoed surface.

Near the exact centre of the city and just east of the Avenue of the Dead is the Ciudadela (“Citadel”), a kind of sunken court surrounded on all four sides by platforms supporting temples. In the middle of the sunken plaza is the so-called Temple of Quetzalcóatl, which is dated to the second phase of Teotihuacán, Miccaotli. Along the balustrades of its frontal stairway and undulating along the talud-tablero bodies of each stage of this stepped pyramid are sculptured representations of Quetzalcóatl, the Feathered Serpent. Alternating with the Feathered Serpents on the tableros are heads of another monster that can be identified with the Fire Serpent—bearer of the Sun on its diurnal journey across the sky.

On either side of the Avenue of the Dead are residential palace compounds (probably occupied by noble families), which also conform to the Teotihuacán master plan. Each is a square, 200 feet (61 metres) on a side, and is surrounded by a wall. The pedestrian would have seen only the high walls facing the streets, pierced by inconspicuous doors. Within the compounds, however, luxury was the rule. Roofs were flat, constructed of large cedar beams overlaid by brush and mortar. Interior walls were plastered and magnificently painted with ritual processions of gods and various mythological narratives. Interconnected apartments were arranged around a large, central, open-air court.

These dwellings were the residences of Teotihuacán’s elite. Toward the periphery of Teotihuacán, however, the social situation may have been quite different. One excavation on the eastern side of the city disclosed a mazelike complex of much tinier and shoddier apartments that recall the poorer sections of Middle Eastern cities. It may be guessed that there lay the crowded dwellings of the artisans and other labourers who made the city what it was. There is also evidence that certain peripheral sections were reserved for foreigners.

Teotihuacán must have been the major manufacturing centre of the Early Classic, for the products of its craftsmen were spread over much of Mesoamerica. The pottery, particularly during the Xolalpan phase, which represents the culmination of Teotihuacán as a city and empire, is highly distinctive. The hallmark of the city is the cylindrical vessel with three slab legs and cover, often stuccoed and then painted with scenes almost identical to those on the walls of buildings. There are also vessels shaped like modern flower vases and cream pitchers. Thin Orange ware is a special ceramic type produced to Teotihuacán specifications, perhaps in southern Veracruz, and exported by its own traders. Figurines were produced by the tens of thousands in pottery molds.

Among its many commercial specializations, obsidian was probably preeminent, for the Teotihuacanos had gained control of the mines of green obsidian above the present-day city of Pachuca, in Hidalgo. They also had a local but poorer quality source. Millions of obsidian blades, as well as knives, dart points, and scrapers, were turned out by Teotihuacán workshops for export.

The name Teotihuacán meant “City of the Gods” (or, “Where Men Became Gods”) in Aztec times, and although the city had been largely deserted since its decline, the Aztec royal house made annual pilgrimages to the site. Teotihuacán culture exerted a profound influence on all contemporary and later Mesoamerican cultures. Many Aztec gods, such as Tlaloc, his consort Chalchiuhtlicue, and Quetzalcóatl, were worshiped by the Teotihuacanos. Like the Aztec, the Teotihuacanos generally cremated their dead. In fact, there are so many congruences between Teotihuacán practices and those of the later Toltec and Aztec that some authorities believe them to have been speakers of Nahuatl language and the precursors of those people. Some linguistic authorities, however, believe that the Teotihuacanos spoke a Totonacan language, similar to what was spoken by the inhabitants of central Veracruz. It is not known whether the people of the city, like the Maya, were literate.

Teotihuacán was the greatest city of Mesoamerica, indeed, of all pre-Columbian America. Authorities are divided as to whether it was the capital of a great political empire. Some believe that Teotihuacán’s expansion was carried by force of arms others believe its power to have been largely economic and religious. In either case, at its height in the 6th century Teotihuacán was the greatest civilization in Mesoamerica, with an influence that far outstripped that of the later Aztec empire. For the archaeologist, the universal spread of Teotihuacán ceramic and other traits constitutes an Early Classic horizon.

Historic timeline of the city of pyramids

Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, so wasn’t Teotihuacan either. Scholars argue that the city evolved in four distinguished, albeit consecutive periods known as Teotihuacan I, II, III, and IV.

The first period is traced back to between 300 and 200 BC and marks the birth of the city according to scholars. It was during this period when the builders of Teotihuacan laid down the necessary elements for the construction of the Avenue of the Dead. As many as 23 clusters of temples from this period have been identified by experts existing along the massive boulevard. It was during the first period when Teotihuacan saw the beginning of the construction of its most impressive monuments the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of The Moon. Both monuments were built honoring the Sun and Moon, although the Pyramid of the Sun was erected as a temple worshiping Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent.

Teotihuacan’s second period marks the evolution of a city-state to a Metropolitan power that by 300 AD controlled the greater province. It was during the second period that the builders completed the Pyramid of the Moon and the temple located in front of it.

This period also marks a notable development in monumental architecture and sculpture. In fact, scholars argue that some of the most aesthetical monuments such as the Temple of Cetzalkokal were built during this period.

The Third Period marks the city reaching the apogee of its power. By that time, around 650 AD, the city was inhabited by up to 200,000 people, making it one of the largest in the world during the time. Spanning around 30 square kilometers, more than 2,000 buildings were created in the city.

The Fourth Period (around 750 AD) marks the decline of one of the greatest ancient cities of Mesoamerica. The collapse of Teotihuacan took place during the fourth period when the mighty Toltecs are thought to have invaded and consequently destroyed the city, and many of its temples.

Aerial View of the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan Mexico. Shutterstock.

From Ancient Mesoamerica to the Toltecs

c. 8000 B.C.
The first human experiments with plant cultivation begin in the New World during the early post-Pleistocene period. Squash is one of the earliest crops. This agricultural development process, which continues slowly over thousands of years, will form the basis of the first villages of Mesoamerica (including Mexico and Central America).

1500 B.C.
The first major Mesoamerican civilization–the Olmecs–grows out of the early villages, beginning in the southern region of what is now Mexico. This period is marked by the effective cultivation of crops such as corn (maize), beans, chile peppers and cotton the emergence of pottery, fine art and graphic symbols used to record Olmec history, society and culture and the establishment of larger cities such as San Lorenzo (about 1200-900 B.C.) and La Venta (about 900-400 B.C.).

600 B.C.
In the late Formative (or Pre-Classic) period, Olmec hegemony gives way to a number of other regional groups, including the Maya, Zapotec, Totonac, and Teotihuacán civilizations, all of which share a common Olmec heritage.

The Mayan civilization, centered in the Yucatán peninsula, becomes one of the most dominant of the area’s regional groups, reaching its peak around the sixth century A.D., during the Classic period of Mesoamerican history. The Mayas excelled at pottery, hieroglyph writing, calendar-making and mathematics, and left an astonishing amount of great architecture the ruins can still be seen today. By 600 A.D., the Mayan alliance with the Teotihuacán, a commercially advanced society in north-central Mexico, had spread its influence over much of Mesoamerica.

With Teotihuacán and Mayan dominance beginning to wane, a number of upstart states begin to compete for power. The warlike Toltec, who migrated from north of Teotihuacán, become the most successful, establishing their empire in the central valley of Mexico by the 10th century. The rise of the Toltecs, who used their powerful armies to subjugate neighboring societies, is said to have marked the beginning of militarism in Mesoamerican society.

The early Post-Classic period begins with the dominant Toltecs headquartered in their capital of Tula (also known as Tollan). Over the next 300 years, internal conflict combined with the influx of new invaders from the north weaken Toltec civilization, until by 1200 (the late Post-Classic period) the Toltecs are vanquished by the Chichimecha, a collection of rugged tribes of undetermined origin (probably near Mexico’s northern frontier) who claim the great Toltec cities as their own.


An impressive city of 125,000-200,000 inhabitants, by the 6th century, Teotihuacan was the first large metropolis in the Americas. Teotihuacan, as the city is called, is a Náhuatl name that means “ the place where the gods were created ” and was given by the Aztec centuries after it was abandoned in the 7th century . The Aztecs attributed names and significance to its buildings but had no contact with this earlier culture. Very little is known of the people who built Teotihuacan, and as a result much of our knowledge of the site , its art, and Teotihuacan culture is derived from Aztec sources. Largely created before 250 C.E., Teotihuacan is a testament to the ambition of its people, who built the first American city on a grid plan.

Pyramid of the Moon seen from the Avenue of the Dead with Cerro Gordo in the distance, Teotihuacan, Mexico

Due to an absence of (or as of yet undiscovered) royal palaces and graves, the lack of evidence for a cult of personality, and the as-of-yet undeciphered hieroglyphs, the governing system of Teotihuacan remains largely elusive to scholars. Nevertheless, the dramatic monumental architecture and dense urban fabric reveal a complex environment carefully planned to support a large population but also structured by the surrounding natural environment and in relation to specific constellations and planetary events. In keeping with the stratified nature of other Mesoamerican societies, Teotihuacan also benefitted from rulers, or a ruling elite, who commissioned massive architectural landmarks such as the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon , and who spread Teotihuacan’s sphere of influence throughout Mesoamerica—even into the Maya region as far away as Guatemala .

Pyramid the Temple of Quetzalcoatl (feathered serpent), Teotihuacan, Mexico

Plan and pyramids

The city of Teotihuacan is aligned, like other Mesoamerican cities such as La Venta, on a north-south axis. This alignment is made explicit by the central artery, known as the Avenue of the Dead, which extends more than 1.5 miles across the city. Entering the city from the south, the Avenue of the Dead leads visitors to the city’s three main architectural monuments, t he Ciudadela , a sunken plaza at the southernmost tip that contained temples, including the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent (above), the Pyramid of the Sun further down the avenue (below), and the Pyramid of the Moon (top of page) located at the northernmost point . In the distance and behind the Pyramid of the Moon, visitors can also catch a glimpse of the impressive Cerro Gordo, an extinct volcano that frames the pyramid and demonstrates the harmonious relationship between architecture and natural topography . Running perpendicular to the Avenue of the Dead another street follows the San Juan River. These axes help to define the grid of intersecting horizontal and vertical corridors that structure and organize the city plan. The urban grid helped to establish order for religious, domestic, and commercial complexes and a structural coherence that supported the management of the city and its population. Thousands of apartment complexes also reflect the ordered planning of the site.

Pyramid of the Sun and the Avenue of the Dead, Teotihuacan, Mexico

The Pyramid of the Sun, which reaches a height of over 200 feet, was the tallest structure in the Americas at the time. Built over a cave, it is unclear who, or what, the pyramid was built to commemorate although art historians have suggested that creation mythology may be at issue, since Aztec and Maya sources refer to caves as places of origin and fertility . The pyramid was meant to be viewed and approached from the East. Visitors can still climb the pyramid’s steep staircase, which originates near the Avenue of the Dead and rises over five levels to what is now a bare flattened top (above). Keep in mind that this pyramid was heavily reconstructed in the modern era, so its original shape may have appeared somewhat differently than it does today.

Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl (feathered serpent), Teōtīhuacān

The Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent occupies a prominent place in the Ciudadela, a large open space that offers a respite from the massive presence of the Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon. Like so much else at Teotihuacan, the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent was built in the talud-tablero style. The temple stands out for its sculptural ornamentation depicting the feathered serpent, known by its Aztec name Quetzalcoatl. The feathered serpent is associated with water imagery and is depicted numerous times on the exterior of the temple as an undulating snake navigating among seashells (above). Two faces project outwards, one of which depicts the feathered serpent (above left). The identification of the other head is more challenging. One interpretation is that it represents an early version of the Aztec god Tlaloc (known for his goggled eyes) and associated with rain and warfare (above right). However, some scholars identify the head as an early precedent of Xiuhcoatl, or Fire Serpent, and who was associated with warfare, fire, and time (or the calendar). Most scholars agree that the temple was associated with warfare and human sacrifice, as confirmed by numerous skeletal remains (presumably of warriors) that were discovered by archeologists in the 1980s. Speculation has also arisen about whether the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent may have contained the body of a ruler.

Reconstruction of mural from Tepantitla in Teotihuacan in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City


Teotihuacan was a heavily painted site, with murals found throughout the city . For example on the walls of the apartment complex in the Tepantitla district, we find an elaborate mural showing a figure often identified as the Great Goddess and more recently as a mountain-tree. The female figure stands frontally while a blossoming tree with butterflies and spiders emerges from her head (potentially a reference to the heavenly realm), while her feet remain attached to the underworld. The inverted u-shape found below the mountain-tree may function as a symbolic womb, similar to the cave found at the Pyramid of the Sun.

The identity of the two individuals to her side, possibly priests, have sparked interest. Considering the cosmopolitan nature of the city, it had been thought that Teotihuacan’s figurative art was not portraiture, but rather generic representations that sought to unify a diverse population. Recently however, some painted signs have been recognized as representing the names of individuals, leading to a re-examination of whether Teotihuacan artists portrayed specific individuals and reminding us that there is still much to learn about this complex and ancient city.

Archeologists have dated the city’s collapse to the seventh century when many of Teotihuacan’s buildings were destroyed.

The name Pyramid of the Sun comes from the Aztecs, who visited the city of Teotihuacan centuries after it was abandoned the name given to the pyramid by the Teotihuacanos is unknown. It was constructed in two phases. The first construction stage, around 200 CE, brought the pyramid to nearly the size it is today. The second round of construction resulted in its completed size of 225 meters (738 feet) across and 75 meters (246 feet) high, [ clarification needed ] making it the third-largest pyramid in the world, [7] though still just over half the height of the Great Pyramid of Giza (146 metres). The second phase also saw the construction of an altar atop of the pyramid which has not survived into modern times.

Over the structure, the ancient Teotihuacanos finished their pyramid with lime plaster imported from surrounding areas, on which they painted brilliantly colored murals. While the pyramid has endured for centuries, the paint and plaster have not and are no longer visible. Jaguar heads and paws, stars, and snake rattles are among the few images associated with the pyramids. [ citation needed ]

It is thought that the pyramid venerated a deity within Teotihuacan society. However, little evidence exists to support this hypothesis. The destruction of the temple on top of the pyramid, by both deliberate and natural forces prior to the archaeological study of the site, has so far prevented identification of the pyramid with any particular deity. [ citation needed ]

Dimension Value
Height 71.17 metres or 233.5 feet [ clarification needed ]
Base perimeter 794.79 metres or 2,607.6 feet
Side 223.48 metres or 733.2 feet
1/2 side 111.74 metres or 366.6 feet
Angle of slope 32.494 degrees
Lateral surface area 59,213.68 square metres or 637,370.7 square feet (assumes perfect square base and smooth faces)
Volume 1,184,828.31 cubic metres or 41,841,817 cubic feet (assumes perfect square base and smooth faces)

The pyramid was built on a carefully selected spot, from where it was possible to align it both to the prominent Cerro Gordo to the north and, in perpendicular directions, to sunrises and sunsets on specific dates, recorded by a number of architectural orientations in Mesoamerica. [8] The whole central part of the urban grid of Teotihuacan, including the Avenue of the Dead, reproduces the orientation of the Sun Pyramid, while the southern part exhibits a slightly different orientation, dictated by the Ciudadela. [9]

The pyramid was built over a man-made tunnel leading to a "cave" located six metres down beneath the centre of the structure. Originally this was believed to be a naturally formed lava tube and interpreted as possibly the place of Chicomoztoc, the place of human origin according to Nahua legends. More recent excavations have suggested that the space is man-made and could have served as a royal tomb. Recently scientists have used muon detectors to try to find other chambers within the interior of the pyramid, [10] but substantial looting has prevented the discovery of a function for the chambers in Teotihuacan society. [ citation needed ]

Only a few caches of artifacts have been found in and around the pyramid. Obsidian arrowheads and human figurines have been discovered inside the pyramid and similar objects have been found at the nearby Pyramid of the Moon and Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent in the Ciudadela. These objects may have represented sacrificial victims. A unique historical artifact discovered near the foot of the pyramid at the end of the nineteenth century was the Teotihuacan Ocelot, which is now in the British Museum's collection. [11] In addition, burial sites of children have been found in excavations at the corners of the pyramid. It is believed that these burials were part of a sacrificial ritual dedicating the building of the pyramid.

Watch the video: ANCIENT Teotihuacan Pyramids, Near MEXICO City (January 2022).