Dan and I took advantage of some meetings I had to attend in Teotihuacan to visit the pre-Aztec pyramids located there. This archaeological site was remarkable to see, and left us very curious about the civilization that lived there.
The Citadel area, which includes the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, is directly across the Avenue of the Dead from the main entrance to the site. To reach the temple, you must climb up the first ‘slope and panel’ structure to where the railings are, then down again to view the temple.
This face of the temple shows figures of Quetzalcoatl (meaning ‘feathered serpent’), and Tlaloc, who is believed to be a rain god.
Representations of the feathered serpent alternate with those of Tlaloc across the facade of the temple. Here you can also see the repetition of shell motifs.
Bas-relief sculptures of the serpents’ bodies run below the rows of heads. These also contain shells and other water symbolism, though there does not seem to be a consensus on what their significance is.
Tlaloc is thought to be one of the primary deities of the civilization at Teotihuacan, and is associated with rain, water, and thunder and lightning. He is often depicted with ‘goggle’ eyes and fangs.
The placement of the feathered serpent heads around this temple may be related to the calendar. Each one has an open space for its mouth, and the people of Teotihuacan may have moved some type of place marker from one to another to signify events on the ritual calendar.
A row of these stone heads flanks the steps that run up the center of the temple.
Here you can see the central staircase along with the larger step levels that the sculptures are on.
On top of one of the platforms along the Avenue of the Dead, between the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramid of the Sun.
The pyramids and other structures on the site are constructed from stones and mortar. I was really struck by the small stones decorating the mortar lines.
Another, more delicate, example of the small stones dotted in the mortar between the larger stones.
A built-up structure on top of one of the platforms along the Avenue of the Dead. The platform was probably topped by a temple when this site was inhabited.
Each morning, hot air balloons float over the site at Teotihuacan, giving tourists an aerial perspective.
Looking down the Avenue of the Dead, from the edge of one of the sunken plazas. The Pyramid of the Sun is on the right, and the Pyramid of the Moon is straight ahead.
Visitors are allowed to climb to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun.
Jaguars were an important symbol in this civilization, and they were featured in many of the murals. They were also featured in the offerings of the ubiquitous souvenir sellers, in the form of whistles that made a jaguar sound. These were a great favorite among young boys visiting the Pyramids.
The Pyramid of the Moon sits at the end of the Avenue of the Dead, and has one of the largest plazas in the complex in front of it. It is believed that this plaza was used for gatherings that involved the entire community.
Visitors can climb the Pyramid of the Moon, though only to the platform that is halfway up. The steps in the center are incredibly steep, and very tall. Climbing on all fours seemed to be the best way for Dan and me to get up them.
After huffing and puffing up the steps, we were rewarded with a great panoramic view of the whole complex.
Teotihuacan, Mexico, March 2014
This is about the closest we got to any of the balloons. Even from a reasonable distance, they make a lot of noise!
The steps throughout this complex were rather vertigo-inducing if you looked all the way down to the ground. It was much less intimidating when you stayed focused on the next step you had to take.
This structure is just to the west of the Pyramid of the Moon, and probably served as a residence for elite members of the community.
The pillars in this palace are carved with images of Quetzalpapalotl, a mythical combination of a bird and a butterfly.
Here’s a wider shot of the other side of the column. You can see Quetzalpapalotl as well as the other carved symbols around it.
Dan handily provides a sense of scale for the carvings on the column. If you run into us on a trip, the odds are very high that we will either be doing this or eating.
This building is just behind the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl, and houses a number of surviving murals depicting jaguars.
The jaguar is shown wearing an elaborate headdress, and with a ‘speech glyph’ extending from its mouth.
These murals are also in the Palace of the Jaguars, but are in a very different visual style.
The color palette is much richer in these murals, and the symbolism is more elaborate, including snails, concha shells, raindrops, and spiral floral ornaments.
This is part of a long series of green birds along the base of an interior wall in the Palace of the Jaguars.
This section depicts water streaming from the bird’s mouth into the golden flower.
Just outside the main site, on the northwest corner, there is a is a museum housing a selection of murals from the site. This beautiful agave with its flowering stalk was just outside the entrance.
I recently learned that agave is related to asparagus. You can really see the family resemblance when you look at this giant flowering stalk.
The mural museum was a real highlight of our visit to the Pyramids. Relatively few murals remain in situ in the archaeological site, but the pieces in the museum help you get a sense of what the complex must have looked like with murals on most of the interior and exterior walls.
The long scrolls emerging from the bird’s mouth are described as ‘speech glyphs.’
A very stylized representation of a butterfly, with a hand in the center. This figure has ‘goggle’ eyes, like those on the depictions of Tlaloc on the Temple of Quetzalcaoatl.
Symbols in this mural include shells and feathers on the body of the serpent, and the ‘mat’ in the border that may be an allusion to lineage.
The raptor in this fragment is grasping a plant with a cob, which may be cacao.
I really loved the graphic quality and whimsy of this fragment. The ‘multilobed’ structures around the stars are thought to represent a mountain with a cave within it.
This is among the most graphically elaborate of the mural fragments we saw. The interlaced design on the central shield reminds me of patterns we saw on temples in Northern Thailand.