Teotihuacan is a remnant of a deserted city in Mexico, just 50 kilometers from the country’s capital of Mexico City. It was a massive metropolis; one of the first great cities of the Western Hemisphere and its origins are completely shrouded in mystery.
It was built and it thrived more than one thousand years before the Aztec people came out of the Central American jungles, trying to fulfill their own destiny of forging a Mighty Empire. Once they came across it on their exodus north, they were awestruck by its utter magnitude and momentousness.
Almost everything we know about Teotihuacan, including it’s name, we know from the Aztecs, who like us, knew nothing of its existence before they literally stumbled upon it. They made regular pilgrimages here afterwards and believed that this place was “the place where the gods were created” – which in Nahuatl language (Aztec) is translated to “Teotihuacan”.
The largest monument by far is “The Pyramid of The Sun”-name given by the Aztecs- which with its 730 feet (225 meters) by 730 feet base and 200 feet (63 meters) height, makes it the largest man made edifice in the Western Hemisphere up until the turn of the 1900’s. The city itself would have peaked in power between 100 BC and 650 AD, with the pyramid being built around 200 AD.
Teotihuacan covered an area of roughly 8 sq. miles (20 km.) and supported a massive population of 100,000 people… in 600 AD. London only reached that number in the 1300’s. “It was the largest city anywhere in the Western Hemisphere before the 1400s,” George Cowgill -an archaeologist at Arizona State University- says. “It had thousands of residential compounds and scores of pyramid-temples and was comparable to the largest pyramids of Egypt.”
Who were actually the ones who built this mighty metropolis in the ancient world is still a matter of debate among all scholars. While some say that the architects were a mix of Maya, Mixtec, and Zapotec cultures, other say that these people were a wave of immigrants fleeing into the Teotihuacan Valley after a volcano eruption and either built the city from scratch or bolstered an already existing smaller one.
The truth is that nobody knows anything for sure since historians and archaeologists have only excavated 5% of the site. The rest of the information comes from the buildings themselves while the legends and stories from the Aztecs. Their amazing architecture can only be matched by their brutality and human sacrifice. Inside the Pyramid of The Moon, researchers found buried animals and human bodies, with heads that had been lobbed off, all thought to be offerings to gods or sanctification for successive layers of the pyramid as it was built.
Because of this said brutality and blood lust, historians believe that Teotihuacan eventually fell apart, with the poorer classes uprising against the elite. But the real question we should ask ourselves and as George Cowgill put it: “Rather than asking why Teotihuacan collapsed, it is more interesting to ask why it lasted so long,” he says. “What were the social, political, and religious practices that provided such stability?”