A brief history of Teotihuacan

The Teotihuacan Archaeological Zone lies in the state of Mexico and is regarded as one of the most significant pre-Hispanic sites discovered to date. It is a material testimony of one of the best planned and extensive pre-Hispanic cities of the ancient world.

A brief history of Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan. Image by German Rojas from Pixabay

The Teotihuacan Archaeological Zone is located in the state of Mexico and is considered one of the most important pre-Hispanic sites discovered to date. It is material testimony of one of the best planned and extensive pre-Hispanic cities of the ancient world.

It is a symbol of cultural, artistic, religious, political, and social development of the Mesoamerican culture, and even after its abandonment, it continues to be the object of collective symbolic construction. Because of its historical, cultural, and educational values, it is not only the most visited archaeological site in Mexico, but it has consolidated as an international tourist destination.

Teotihuacan means "place where the gods were created" and owes its name to the Mexica, who called it that way six centuries after their abandonment. It reached 22 square kilometers in extension and was one of the cultural poles of the area known as Mesoamerica. Its reach extended from the north to the south of present-day Mexico, as well as Guatemala and Honduras, regions with which it maintained an exchange of stylistic and architectural influences.

Its universal value can be appreciated in the orthogonal urban design, defined by the Los Muertos causeway on the north-south axis and the channeling of the San Juan River on the east-west, a layout that is linked to the landscape and its natural elevations, such as the Cerro Gordo and the Patlachique mountain range. Streets, palaces, temples, and housing complexes with a multi-ethnic population dedicated to handicraft production, commerce, priesthood, and warfare were built on this plan.

It was also characterized by its material culture, such as mural painting or ceramic and stone objects offered in buildings and burials of all social classes. Of its numerous constructions, distributed in three thousand hectares, the most important are in the road of Los Muertos, among which stand out the pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, the Citadel, the West and La Ventilla complexes, the Great Complex, and the palaces of Tetitla, Atetelco, Tepantitla, Yayahuala, and Zacuala.

Teotihuacan was incorporated into the list of sites considered as World Heritage by UNESCO on December 11, 1987. It meets the six cultural criteria, all of which have been defined by the international organization, to be the object of such declaration:

To represent a masterpiece of man's creative genius.

To be the manifestation of a considerable exchange of influences, during a given period or a specific cultural area, in the development of architecture or technology, urban planning, or pre-Hispanic design.

Represent a unique, or at least exceptional, the testimony of a cultural tradition or of a civilization that is still alive or has disappeared.

Be an outstanding example of a type of construction, architectural, technological or landscape ensemble, illustrating one or more significant stages in the history of mankind.

Constitute an outstanding example of human settlement or occupation of the territory that is traditional and representative of one or more cultures, especially if it has become vulnerable due to the effect of irreversible changes.

Be directly or materially associated with events or living traditions, ideas, beliefs, or artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. Only applies in exceptional circumstances and is used with the other criteria.

Astronomical relevance

According to Alejandro Sarabia, director of the archaeological site, although the subject has been little studied, we know of two places that were essential for astronomical observation at the site: the Pyramid of the Sun and the so-called Astronomical Cave, located near the structure.

The specialist mentions that in this pyramid, the sun hides exactly in front of it, on August 13, while for February 19 it emerges from its backside. As for the cave, it is said that the Teotihuacanos registered in it the zenithal passage of the Sun twice a year, in an exact way.

Another point to highlight about Teotihuacan is that researchers agree that the urban structure of the city was governed, at the time of its construction, by different astronomical points that, so far, have not been defined.