Teotihuacan was home to 1,300 foreigners where migrant groups lived in three architectural complexes

During the Classic period (200-250 / 650 A.D.) migrant groups inhabited three architectural complexes in the Teotihuacan metropolis.

Teotihuacan was home to 1,300 foreigners where migrant groups lived in three architectural complexes
Panoramic view of the Archaeological Zone of Teotihuacan, State of Mexico. Photo: Ministry of Tourism

Like the great cities of today that receive a good number of migrants, as it is the case of New York or Mexico City itself, the ancient Teotihuacan was the cosmopolitan city par excellence of the Mexican Altiplano, because according to studies, for more than 300 years, in a permanent and oscillatory way, it housed in two neighborhoods and in a housing complex around 1,300 individuals of foreign origin.

During the Classic period (200-250 / 650 A.D.), a time in which Teotihuacan influenced all Mesoamerica, groups of migrants settled in three architectural complexes of the metropolis, according to diverse investigations. The three architectural complexes that were permanently inhabited by migrant groups are those known as the Merchants and Oaxacan neighborhoods, and a third named Structure 19, where archaeological evidence shows the settlement of two ethnic groups that interacted in the same area.

After the first groups of individuals moved to participate in the city, a new flow of migrant collectivities was attracted by the territorial expansion, ideological and material dominance of Teotihuacan. It should be said that at its peak, around 500 A.D., it reached its maximum extension, 22 km2. Thus, the foreign sectors began to provide their services in a more developed way and with a recognized hierarchy, because they were sponsored by their towns and cities of origin. In this way, alliances and economic and political relations were created that benefited them, participating with the Teotihuacan State itself.

An interesting example of this is the Barrio de los Comerciantes, built on the banks of the San Juan River. Its first inhabitants were originally from the Gulf Coast, later groups from the lowlands of the Mayan area and the current state of Puebla were incorporated. Through studies of stable isotopes of oxygen and strontium present in teeth and bones of human skeletons, it was possible to define that the adults and young people who inhabited this neighborhood migrated during their childhood or adolescence from distant lands, dedicating themselves to the exchange of products with towns and cities. These groups practiced exogamy because the males only stayed to marry women of Teotihuacan origin.

Based on their traditions and customs, they built their rooms and workshops in a circular shape, in which after their abandonment, bone needles were found to make textiles and remains of pigments in miniature metates that they used to dye them. In the workplaces, the inputs were greenstone, such as jade, as well as flint (both materials from Belize), onyx, slate, mica, pyrite, and obsidian.

Communities from the Gulf Coast, Zapotecs, the Mayan area, the current state of Puebla and the center-north of Michoacan settled in Teotihuacan.

At the same time, to the west of the city, in at least 15 housing complexes of the Barrio Oaxaqueño or Tlailotlacan, around a thousand individuals of Zapotec origin from the highlands of Monte Albán settled. They settled around 200 A.D. and built their homes respecting the Teotihuacan orientation of 15° 30' east of the astronomical north and incorporating Zapotec designs, such as double scapular facades, tiled floors, or mosaic-like cobblestones.

Even after death, those who lived in the Barrio Oaxaqueño maintained a hierarchy. The high-status characters were buried according to the Zapotec funerary tradition, being deposited in an extended manner inside tombs or cists and accompanied by offerings. Contrary to what happened in the Barrio de los Comerciantes, in Tlailocan endogamy was practiced to maintain lineage, values, and traditions. Likewise, women played an important role in the cohesion of this community, so that they used to accompany them on visits to the homeland or on trips made for commercial purposes.

Another example of the foreign presence in Teotihuacan arose as a result of the discoveries made in the vicinity of the Zapotec neighborhood, where archaeologist Sergio Gómez Chávez explored in the early 1990s an architectural complex in which Zapotecs coexisted with family groups from the center-north of the current state of Michoacán. Both groups inhabited the housing complex called Structure 19, only divided by a wide wall.

The first to settle on the south side of the complex were people from the Central Valleys of Oaxaca, then a second settlement was formed on the north side, as a result of kinship relations and marriage alliances between the two groups (Zapotec and Western). In four centuries, belonging to approximately 10 generations, they maintained and reproduced their identity through their traditions and customs, carried out until the collapse and abandonment of the great metropolis.

It is probable that the foreign ethnic groups settled in Teotihuacan were dedicated to the trade of products from their native regions, therefore, it is thought that shortly before the collapse (around 650 A.D.) they returned to their places of origin, carrying behind them the prestige of the already mythical city.

San Juan Teotihuacán and San Martín de las Pirámides

Teotihuacán was one of the largest pre-Hispanic cities in Mesoamerica and one of the most admired in the world, but both towns combine pre-Hispanic and colonial cultures. For what you must discover: the former Convent of San Juan Bautista stands out for its architecture, or the Temple of Our Lady of Purification with its imposing facade and original interior.

The meaning of Teotihuacan is composed of teolt: "god"; Hua: possessive and can: "place", which means "Place where the gods are" or "Place that has our gods". Therefore, according to Nahuatl mythology, it represents the place where the sun and the moon were created. The Teotihuacans developed their culture from 500 B.C.  Teotihuacan became the largest city in Mesoamerica reaching about 25 square kilometers. The pyramids of The Sun and The Moon rose in 300 B.C.; The city was extended in 5 stages in 600 A.D., around 650 A.D. Teotihuacan reached its peak, and by 800 Teotihuacan mysteriously expired.

After the conquest, in 1594, the Spaniards founded San Martín Obispo and named it San Juan Teotihuacán. By 1935 there is a separation of municipalities, and in 1945 the archaeological zone is declared federal property; it is in 1988 that UNESCO declares the archaeological zone a world heritage site. Teotihuacán de Arista, is the current name for San Juan Teotihuacán. Located at 2,300 m of altitude; it has a temperate and dry climate, with an average temperature of 15º C and 10º C in winter; the rainy season is in summer. The main vegetation is cactus, maguey, cactus, and lollipops.

The local gastronomy is wide and offers barbecue, carnitas, mixiotes of chicken or ram with nopales, quesadillas, tlacoyos, soups; for more epicurean tastes there are chinicuiles, maguey worm, quesadillas with chapulines, tamales, or scamoles cakes. As for drinks, there are pulques and liquor of nopal, tuna, and xoconostle. The handicrafts are based on precious, semi-precious stones: alpaca, quartz, onyx, silver, clay, and obsidian; also noteworthy are pieces carved in wood and pyrotechnics.


1 h from Pachuca; 1:20 h from CDMX; 1.30 h from Tlaxcala; 2 h from Puebla or San Juan del Río; 2:15 h from Toluca; and 2:30 h from Cuernavaca or Querétaro. It borders to the north with the State of Hidalgo and Axapusco and Temascalapa; to the east with Axapusco and Otumba; to the south with Tecámac, and Tepetlaoxtoc; to the west with Axapusco, Tecámac, Temascalapa, and the State of Hidalgo.