A Ramble Around Teotihuacán

Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan. Owen Prior
01
of 42

A Guided Tour of Teotihuacan by Archaeologist Richard A. Diehl

Teotihuacán, from the Pyramid of the Moon to the Pyramid of the Sun
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Teotihuacán, from the Pyramid of the Moon to the Pyramid of the Sun. Laura Rush

Archaeologist Richard A. Diehl takes us on a guided tour to the ancient Mesoamerican archaeological site of Teotihuacán. For those that are interested, the proper pronunciation of the site is Tay-oh-tee-wah-khan, with a slight emphasis on the last syllable.

Teotihuacán is located approximately 30 miles (50 km) northeast of modern Mexico City. Its massive ruins are the remains of the second-largest city of pre-Columbian America and one of the greatest cities of the ancient world. Once home to over 100,000 people, today it attracts almost 3,000,000 visitors annually. Most leave physically exhausted but full of admiration and questions after a day spent wandering through the reconstructed pyramids, temples and apartment buildings. What many visitors fail to realize that Teotihuacán was more than a collection of pyramids, palaces, and temples: for more than five centuries it was a vibrant city filled with industrious adults, squealing children, and barking dogs. Warriors and priests in their stunning feather-bedecked clothing jostled side by side with merchants, farmers, artisans, and probably pickpockets and prostitutes. Exalted or humble, they all knew they were living in what for them was the greatest city in the history of the world, the Birthplace of the Gods.

In 1961 I began my career in Mexican archaeology working in the Teotihuacán valley as a student at the Pennsylvania State University. I have returned to this personal lodestone many times since then. On my most recent two-week visit (November 2008), I spent several days trying to envision how I might lead a tourist who was completely unfamiliar with the site across it. I tried to conjure up the ancient city as a living community, full of people like you and me. The result is this Walking Tour. I hope you enjoy it.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

02
of 42

A Few Words of Advice

Teotihuacán Overview
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Teotihuacán Overview. Hector Garcia

A few words of advice:

It is almost impossible to see everything at Teotihuacán in one day. The site simply is too big and the points of interest too far apart to see all of them traveling at less than the speed of light. I suggest you either take two days, spending a night at one of the several comfortable hotels nearby, or curtail your itinerary. This Walking Tour is conceived of as a one day visit.

  1. Wear comfortable, sturdy shoes. Avoid sandals unless you enjoy sore ankles, fire ant bites, and cactus spines in your feet.
  2. Wear a hat. If you do not have one, buy a goofy-looking sombrero in one of the vendor areas at each site entrance. The sun can be fierce at this altitude (7,200' AMSL). Also, bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and a large bottle of drinking water.
  3. Be careful to avoid over-exertion. Once again, the altitude and the sun take their toll, especially on us mature folks and anyone less fit than a professional athlete.
  4. Be prepared for hordes of vendors. If you are not interested in purchasing a flute, a bow and arrow set, or a recently-manufactured "original" object, a polite "No, gracias" works much better than a growl.
  5. Obey the signs that say No Pase or No Hay Paso (No Entrance). They are there to protect you as well as the ruins.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

03
of 42

The Boundaries Of Ancient Teotihuacán

Boundaries of Ancient Teotihuacán, Major Avenues and Excavated Buildings
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Boundaries of Ancient Teotihuacán, Major Avenues and Excavated Buildings. Modified from Sempowski and Spence 1994

The Route

Visitors may enter the Archeological Zone through any one of five entrances (Puertas). I have organized this Walking Tour to enter at Puerta 1, located at the southern edge of the ancient ceremonial/civic precinct. I suspect this was where most ancient visitors entered the city. From there we go to the Ciudadela (Citadel) and then walk north along the Street of the Dead.

After crossing the Rio San Juan we visit the Complex of the Superimposed Buildings; next we cross the Street of the Dead and follow the dirt road that goes directly to the Site Museum, following the sign that says Museo. No, we are not lost as we stroll over the open fields. Just stay on the road. After the Site Museum, we walk around the Sun Pyramid. Then we amble up the Street of the Dead to the Moon Plaza, the Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl and the Moon Pyramid. Finally, we head west to the Museum of the Murals.

After visiting this fascinating repository of Teotihuacán's unique mural art, I would call it a day. If you want to get back to the Puerta through which you entered the Archaeological Zone, you may either walk back down the Street of the Dead, or hire a taxi on the ring road (the Periférico) that circumnavigates the Archaeological Zone.

This map is modified from Martha L. Sempowski and Michael W. Spence, Mortuary Practices and Skeletal Remains at Teotihuacán, University of Utah Press, 1994

Written by Richard A. Diehl

04
of 42

Downtown Teotihuacán

Downtown Teotihuacán Showing the Walking Tour Suggested Route
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Downtown Teotihuacán Showing the Walking Tour Suggested Route. Modified from Rene Millon, Urbanization at Teotihuacán, Mexico 1973, copyright Rene Millon

The Ancient City

Teotihuacán covered eight square miles (20 square km) and housed 125,000—200,000 people at its height (AD 300-550). The population was densest in the center where temples, pyramids and large rectangular apartment compounds were laid out on a vast grid oriented to 15.5 degrees east of north ("Teotihuacán North"). The irregular city limits were determined by archaeologist Rene Millon and his University of Rochester team in the epochal Teotihuacán Mapping Project of the 1960s. Today, as has been true ever since the city was largely abandoned 1500 years, most of the ancient city is covered with agricultural fields and villages, although increasing urbanization is obliterating many of the formerly open fields.

Downtown Teotihuacán forms the heart of the modern Archaeological Zone and is the area open to visitors today. It contains the major buildings of the Classic period city, including the Sun and Moon Pyramids, the Ciudadela (Citadel), and scores of temples, "palaces" and other residences. Only a tiny portion of these have been excavated and even fewer are partially or fully restored. The empty rectangular blocks on the map are unexcavated structures Millon and his colleagues identified on the ground. Most were probably large masonry apartment compounds that sheltered scores or even hundreds of residents.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

05
of 42

Retail Stalls at Teotihuacán

The Retail Stalls outside the Visitor's Center, Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl The Retail Stalls outside the Visitor's Center, Teotihuacán. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

The Great Compound

I have chosen to bring visitors through the Great Compound because I suspect that it was the entry point for many ancient visitors. Located at the geographical center of the metropolis, the Great Compound was a set of low-lying platforms that encompassed a large open area. That open area may have served as the city's primary public market and also as a staging area for crowds moving across the Street of the Dead into the Ciudadela. Thus it is appropriate that today it holds a Visitor's Center, the Archaeological Zones' only restaurant and two lines of tourist shops that provide the visitor with ample spending opportunities.

The young woman in the T-shirt that says "Osos" ("Bears") is a student at the Toluca City High School, a typical participant in one of the many school groups that visit Teotihuacán every day.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

06
of 42

Visitors Center and Restaurant

Visitors Center and Restaurant at Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Visitors Center and Restaurant at Teotihuacan. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

Here one can hire guides, purchase beverages and use the rest rooms before setting off on the day’s journey. The Restaurant offers magnificent views of the city and the region, better-than-average food, a bar, and blissful quiet after a day of listening to the shrill flutes that far too many young visitors purchase.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

07
of 42

Model of the Citadel at Teotihuacán, Teotihuacán Site Museum

Model of the Cuidadela, Museum of Teotihuacan
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Model of the Cuidadela, Museum of Teotihuacan. (c) Rosa Almeida used by permission

The Great Compound and the Ciudadela formed a mega-architectural complex at the heart of the ancient city whose functions remain a matter of considerable dispute. The Great Compound seems to have a more commercial role, while the Ciudadela and the Feathered Serpent Pyramid within it may have functioned as the residential palace for Teotihuacán's rulers at some point in the history of the city. A monumental staircase leads you from the Street of the Dead to the top of the east platform which you cross and then descend into the giant interior plaza. The four immense platforms that enclose the Ciudadela supported temples of unknown functions. I have often suspected that each was the seat of the leaders of the city’s most important social and/or ethnic groups but that is no more than an unscientific guess. The giant space inside the platforms was large enough to contain the entire urban population of the city at one time.

The Feathered Serpent Pyramid, named after the repetitive serpents carved on all four side of its façade, lies near the back of the plaza, surrounded by house remains on the north and south. If you look closely you can identify remnants of the white stucco and red paint that covered the buildings, and indeed all the major buildings of the city. Before you climb every stairway that you can, remember, you have a long way to go by the end of the day and climbing down is more challenging, both physically and visually, than climbing up!

Written by Richard A. Diehl

08
of 42

Interior of the Cuidadela

Interior of the Ciudadela at Teotihuacan
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Interior of the Ciudadela at Teotihuacan. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

The single-stage "Dance Platform" in the plaza center (not shown in the model on the [link url=http://archaeology.about.com/od/mesoamerica/ig/Teotihuacan/Model-of-the-Citadel-at-Teotih.htm]previous page[/link] but occupying the foreground of the photograph above) surely served some ceremonial or public functions meant to be seen by large audiences but we have no idea what they may have been. One might suggest they included regularly scheduled ritual enactments, occasional sacrifices of foreign captives, or even priestly investitures. When I was there, it provided shade for vendors who, like savvy hunters, wait for their quarry to come to them. One mural painting found elsewhere in the city depicts a warrior dancing on what may a platform of this type.

The four-tiered building behind the "Dance Platform" is the Plataforma Adosada, an apron added on to the front of the Feathered Serpent Pyramid (seen as a featureless mound in the background). The apron covered up much but not all of the front façade of the Pyramid, including its sculptures. Why was this done? Nobody knows.

By the way, if you decide to wander around the Citadel plaza, watch out for gopher holes. Gophers seem to love the area and the holes they dig can be deep and wide. One could easily twist an ankle if not careful. Bad way to start a day at Teotihuacán.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

09
of 42

Feathered Serpent Façade

Feathered Serpent Façade at Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Feathered Serpent Façade at Teotihuacán. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, 1980s

Nowhere in Teotihuacán was stone sculpture used as extensively for façade adornments as at the Feathered Serpent Pyramid. The basic scene, repeated around all side of the pyramid, depicts a rattlesnake whose head emerges from a feathered, flower-like ruff or collar. He carries a dragonesque helmet on his body that some consider a symbol of Teotihuacán's royalty. Sea shells strike a decidedly aquatic note and the entire tableau may be related to water, the earth and agricultural fertility. Or perhaps not. That is the fascinating thing about archaeological interpretations, they are never as cut-and-dried as E=MC2.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

10
of 42

Drawing of the Feathered Serpent Facade by Linda Schele

Feathered Serpent Façade at Teotihuacán, Drawing by Linda Schele
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Feathered Serpent Façade at Teotihuacán, Drawing by Linda Schele. Linda Schele, Courtesy FAMSI

Written by Richard A. Diehl

11
of 42

Teotihuacán Warrior Burial

Teotihuacán Warrior Who Was Buried in the Fill of the Feathered Serpent Pyramid.
A Ramble Around Teotihuacan with Dick Diehl Teotihuacán Warrior Who Was Buried in the Fill of the Feathered Serpent Pyramid. © 2008 Robin Nystrom Used with permission

People used to consider Teotihuacán the home of a peaceful theocracy run by a bunch of Buddhist-like priests who sat around gazing at the sky while allowing adoring followers to feed them three squares a day. That was before Buddhist monks took to the streets in Cambodia. It was also before depictions of Teotihuacán warriors and human hearts impaled on knives began to appear in the mural art. Then in the late 1980s, archaeologists George Cowgill, Ruben Cabrera Castro and Saburo Sugiyama decided to dig a tunnel into the center of the Feathered Serpent Pyramid looking for the tomb of the Teotihuacán king. The found a tomb; but unfortunately Teotihuacán looters had preceded them by many centuries.

However, they DID find the burials of over 230 individuals who had been sacrificed as offerings to the gods during construction of the building. Many were warriors, or at least decked out in warrior attire. Some evidence suggests that many were foreigners who have served in the Teotihuacán military but one day ended up on the wrong end of the sacrificial knife. Many died with their hands tied behind their backs. All were placed in groups arranged by sacred numbers in the Teotihuacán calendar such as 4, 8, 9, 18, and 20. Tourists are not allowed into the tunnels leading to the burial spots but knowing about them does lead one to think dark thoughts. Before becoming too critical of the Teotihuacános however, give some thought to our expectations of the young men and women who lay their lives on the line for whatever country we are citizens of.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

12
of 42

Street of the Dead at Teotihuacán

Street of the Dead at Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Street of the Dead at Teotihuacán. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

The Street of the Dead is the north-south artery that connected the Ciudadela / Great Compound Complex with the Moon Pyramid to the north. The Aztecs gave the name Miccaotli (Street of the Dead or Calzada de los Muertos in Spanish) to the broad, street-like series of connected plazas because of the human burials they frequently encountered while digging through the ruined buildings along it in search of treasure. Several portions of the avenue are actually large closed-off plazas and it almost certainly never functioned as a public thoroughfare. The buildings lining it include temples and the Street of the Dead Complex, one of the several possible ruler’s palaces actually straddle it to the north of stream known today as the Rio San Juan.

Teotihuacános considered the prominent mountain behind the Moon Pyramid with the inelegant but very descriptive name Cerro Gordo (Fat Mountain) as an especially sacred landmark, the abode of the gods and the source of life-giving water. A tip for my fellow Seniors/Geezers: if you decide to proceed directly up the Street of the Dead rather than cutting west to the Site Museum as I suggest, try walking along platform tops that line the avenue. That approach involves much less climbing up and down than remaining on the Street itself while allowing you to observe interesting architectural details. Just remember, No Pase means just that.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

13
of 42

Rio San Juan, Teotihuacán

Rio San Juan, Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Rio San Juan, Teotihuacán. Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

As you walk north towards the Moon Pyramid you cross a small bridge that spans a verdant streambed. This little stream is the remains of one of the most audacious engineering feats Teotihuacános ever attempted: the re-channeling of local streams into a new river that ran through the city on the new master grid pattern they imposed on the entire city after AD 200.

Water must have been a constant concern for people living in the city. Heavy summer rains led to flooding while five-month-long annual winter droughts turned the region into near desert. Farmers depended on irrigation for regular, abundant harvests but annual variations in rainfall must have led to frequent poor crops and famine.

The Apartment Compounds had sub-floor drains for removing rain water and archaeologists suspect that these drains ultimately entered into Rio San Juan. The river probably dried up during the rainless winter season when deep wells in the Apartment Compounds provided household water for daily use.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

14
of 42

Museo del Sitio Entrance

Entrance to the Museo del Sitio
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Entrance to the Museo del Sitio. Photograph by George and Audrey de Lange

The artistic production of ancient Teotihuacános was so rich and varied that Mexican authorities decided to house it in two on-site museums, this general museum and a more specialized one devoted to the city’s unique painted mural tradition. Together with the Teotihuacán hall at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, they provide an unprecedented overview of the ancient city and its role in Mexican history. The Museo Manuel Gamio, named after the pioneering excavator of the Ciudadela and the Founder of Mexican Anthropology, contains all the kinds of objects and information that one expects: synopses of the history and cultures of the city, fine examples of its many crafts, explanations of Teotihuacán religion and politics, etc.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

15
of 42

Model of the Ancient City of Teotihuacán Under Glass

Model of the ancient city of Teotihuacan under glass
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Model of the ancient city of Teotihuacan under glass. Photograph by George and Audrey De Lange

A unique model of the city under a glass floor fronts a full glass wall looking out on the Sun Pyramid, providing a truly unusual viewer experience. The museum compound includes rest rooms, a beverage station and an excellent gift shop and book store, as well as a small Sculpture Park. My only complaint is that the lighting in the museum is too dim.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

16
of 42

Large Storage Jar from Teotihuacán

Large Storage Jar, Teotihuacan
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Large Storage Jar, Teotihuacan. Photograph Sue Scott November 2008

I cannot begin to show even a sample of the items displayed in the museum but for me this plain, large jar is one of the most intriguing objects in the exhibit. Large ceramic jars like this were very important elements in the economy and daily life of the city. They could have served for storing water or pulque, a mildly alcoholic beverage fermented from the sap of the maguey (agave or century plant) so common in the Teotihuacán region. They also may have served for storing maize and other grains. The loops held straps used to carry the jar on a person's back or perhaps slung beneath a carrying pole sustained by two people.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

17
of 42

Moon Man Stone

The "Moon Man Stone" at Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl The "Moon Man Stone" at Teotihuacán. Photograph Richard A. Diehl November 2008

Recarved and Reused Sculpture

The city was largely abandoned after civil strife apparently brought down the government in the 6th century AD but people continued to live on top of the ruins from then on until today. These later people often reused older pots, jewels, abandoned buildings, and sculptures. In the Site Museum Sculpture Garden we have an excellent example of a later design carved on to an older monument. The meaning of this mask-like Moon face is unknown but it surely meant something to the person who so very carefully executed it.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

18
of 42

Sun Pyramid, Photograph by Desire Charnay 1880s

The Sun Pyramid, Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl The Sun Pyramid, Teotihuacán. Photograph by Desire Charnay, 1880s

After leaving the Site Museum, your next stop is the Sun Pyramid. I suggest that you stroll north along the back, and then turn west along the north side, and finally south to the front. I do not suggest that you climb it. I have done so many times, and while the view from the top is impressive, so is the amount of pain you will feel in your calves for the next two days. You have been warned!

The Sun Pyramid is Teotihuacán's signature building and a true Mexican icon. The Aztecs named it although we are uncertain what the Teotihuacanos called it and who or what they worshiped at the now-disappeared temple at its summit. Spanish Conquistadors, priests and officials discussed it in their writings and it has attracted the attention of travelers ever since the 16th century. The photograph above was taken by French explorer and writer Desire Charnay in the 1880s and is the earliest such image known.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

19
of 42

Sun Pyramid as Reconstructed by Leopoldo Batres

Sun Pyramid at Teotihuacán as reconstructed by Leopoldo Batres
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Sun Pyramid at Teotihuacán as reconstructed by Leopoldo Batres. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

In the first decade of the 20th century, Mexican engineer and pioneering archaeologist Leopoldo Batres excavated and restored the Sun Pyramid in anticipation of the 1910 Centennial of Mexico’s War of Independence from Spain. His undertaking was truly unprecedented; neither he nor anyone else had ever attempted such a project anywhere in the world. Today we realize that he made numerous mistakes, including the creation of a non-existing fourth stage at such a steep angle that it has left five generations of tourists mistakenly cursing the Teotihuacanos. His mistakes do not surprise me; I have always been amazed that he got as much right as he did.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

20
of 42

Road Cut Through the U-shaped Platform, Teotihuacán

Road cut through the U-shaped Platform, Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacan with Dick Diehl Road cut through the U-shaped Platform, Teotihuacán. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

As you leave the museum grounds, you walk between two cut-back walls of adobe blocks. These are actually the interior fill of a gigantic U-shaped Platform that surrounds the Sun Pyramid on the east, west, and south sides. One hundred years ago the path you are on served as the as the bed for a small railroad constructed by Leopoldo Batres to haul out the excess dirt from his Sun Pyramid excavation!

Written by Richard A. Diehl

21
of 42

Internal Buttresses Now on the Outside of the Sun Pyramid at Teotihuacán

Internal Buttresses now on the Outside of the Sun Pyramid at Teotihuacan
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Internal Buttresses now on the Outside of the Sun Pyramid at Teotihuacán. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

The Odd “Stairways”

I suggest we take the "road less traveled" around the Sun Pyramid, that is, walk around the back by going straight north from the Museum, and then turn left at the north edge of the Pyramid. Along the back of the Pyramid we see numerous stepped constructions ascending the lower stages. These were internal buttresses that Batres exposed when he stripped off a considerable section of the Pyramid face. The iron gate closes off a tunnel excavated into the body of the Pyramid in the 1920s in an attempt to study its history of construction.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

22
of 42

Aztec Steam Bath

Aztec Steam Bath at Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Aztec Steam Bath at Teotihuacán. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

Aztec "Temascal"

This temascal (steam bath) is an Aztec structure erected almost 1,000 years after the Sun Pyramid was abandoned. Steam bathing was an important form of ritual purification amongst the Aztecs and other Mesoamerican Indians and what more sacred place to do than at the base of a pyramid built by the gods?

Written by Richard A. Diehl

23
of 42

Modern Tunnel Entrance

Entrance to a Modern Tunnel at Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Entrance to a Modern Tunnel at Teotihuacán. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

Doorways

In the front of the Sun Pyramid, we see two modern doorways. One leads to a second archeologist’s tunnel that connects in the center of the Pyramid with the one seen on the back. The other, identified by the metal door seen at the far left, is a modern opening into an ancient artificial cave excavated by the Teotihuacanos. The sacred cave probably represented the place from which humanity emerged at Creation, and may once have served as a tomb for an early Teotihuacán ruler.

Unfortunately for modern science, later Teotihuacanos removed whatever the cave once held long before the city came to an end. Visitors are not allowed in either the tunnel or the cave.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

24
of 42

Unexcavated Mound

Unexcavated Mound at Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Unexcavated Mound at Teotihuacán. Photograph Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

Teotihuacán's Hidden Archaeology

Teotihuacán was a densely settled city, not simply a collection of temples and "palaces". The careful observer will note signs of the past all around as she walks over the site. For every excavated structure, thousands of large and small mounds remain untouched. The one shown below covered in the dry grass of winter lies along the Street of the Dead north of the Sun Pyramid. Excavation would surely reveal a multi-staged platform much like those that surround the Moon Plaza.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

25
of 42

Original Stucco and Paint, Mound in the Moon Pyramid Plaza, Teotihuacán

Original Stucco and Paint, Mound in the Moon Pyramid Plaza, Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Original Stucco and Paint, Mound in the Moon Pyramid Plaza, Teotihuacán. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

Frequently the soil that accumulated over collapsed structures helped preserve the lime stucco and red paint Teotihuacanos used to finish their important buildings, as seen at the base of this Mound in the Moon Plaza.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

26
of 42

Old Floors Superimposed On One Another, Teotihuacán

Old Floors Superimposed On One Another, Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacan with Dick Diehl Old Floors Superimposed On One Another, Teotihuacán. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, 1980s

Any hole in the ground may reveal ancient floors, often built and rebuilt, one atop its predecessor, like these south of the Sun Pyramid.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

27
of 42

Wall Exposed by a Trail North of the Sun Pyramid, Teotihuacán

Wall Exposed by a Trail North of the Sun Pyramid, Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacan with Dick Diehl Wall Exposed by a Trail North of the Sun Pyramid, Teotihuacán. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

Ancient walls are often revealed in trails worn by people walking across the top of them. The rock rubble at the top of the picture all comes from collapsed ancient walls. Every stone you see at Teotihuacán has an archaeological tale to tell.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

28
of 42

Potsherds Litter the Ground at Teotihuacán

Potsherds Litter the Ground at Teotihuacan
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Potsherds Litter the Ground at Teotihuacan. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

And finally, millions of broken pieces of pottery, called potsherds by archaeologists, litter the ground, mute testimony to ancient lives and daily activities.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

29
of 42

Partially Restored Temple Platform Facing the Moon Plaza at Teotihuacán

Partially Restored Temple Platform Facing the Moon Plaza at Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacan with Dick Diehl Partially Restored Temple Platform Facing the Moon Plaza at Teotihuacán. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

At times archaeologists only restore portions of an ancient building, on other occasions they restore the entire exterior but do not probe the interior looking for older, smaller structures.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

30
of 42

Fully Restored Temple Platform Exteriors, Moon Plaza

Fully Restored Temple Platform Exteriors, Moon Plaza
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Fully Restored Temple Platform Exteriors, Moon Plaza. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

Written by Richard A. Diehl

31
of 42

Moon Pyramid Steps at Teotihuacán

Moon Pyramid Steps at Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Moon Pyramid Steps at Teotihuacán. If you climb it, please use the chain balustrade on the right. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

How can a visitor know what is original and what has been restored in modern times? Mexican archaeologists who restored the Moon Pyramid stairway used light grey stones for the areas where they found in-situ remains in contrast to darker stones where the originals had been dislodged. The small stones inserted into the mortar always indicate a modern intervention.

If you climb it, please use the chain balustrade on the right.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

32
of 42

Moon Pyramid at Teotihuacán

Moon Pyramid at Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Moon Pyramid at Teotihuacán. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

Written by Richard A. Diehl

33
of 42

Entrance to the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl at Teotihuacán

Entrance to the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl at Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacan with Dick Diehl Entrance to the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl at Teotihuacán. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

The Palace of Quetzalpapalotl

The Palace of Quetzalpapalotl (Quetzal-Butterfly) occupies the southwestern edge of the Moon Plaza. It was excavated and restored in the 1960s as an example of Teotihuacán most elite residences/public buildings. As always happens at Teotihuacán, the excavated building turned out to be much more complex that was assumed or hoped at the beginning. The ancient Teotihuacanos NEVER made it easy for archaeologists. That is the reason I vowed early in my career to never excavate there. I have the utmost admiration for those who do but I am happy to simply lend them a sympathetic ear, not dig in their sandbox.

The term Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl is a completely misleading name. First of all, it was not a palace, in the sense of a place where a ruler and his court lived. A few priests may have hung out there for periods of time but probably had their primary residences somewhere else. Then there is the name Quetzalpapalotl. It was originally applied because the excavator thought he was uncovering depictions of a strange creature with quetzal bird and butterfly characteristics. More recently he and others realized that the creature was none other than the ubiquitous Teotihuacan armed bird I think of as Owl with Attitude. Finally, the building turned out to have a very long history of construction, destruction, reconstruction, and so forth. Thus today the visitor finds the remains of not one but three associated structures: the Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl, the buried earlier structure known as the Subestructura de los Caracoles Enplumados (Substructure of the Feathered Conch Shells), and the adjacent (and contemporary) Patio of the Jaguars.

Entrance to the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl

I took this photograph on a slow tourist day, thus the rather bored looking vendors taking a break. The wooden lintels atop the columns are not original but charred beams were found under roof fragments in positions that allowed this reconstruction.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

34
of 42

Quetzalpapalotl Patio

Patio of the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl at Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Patio of the Palace of Quetzalpapalotl at Teotihuacán. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

Patio of the Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl

The columns were constructed of wooden posts surrounded by stone rubble cores and finished off with carved stone slabs. Sufficient original slabs were recovered in the excavation to allow the archaeologist Jorge R. Acosta to fill in the missing [pieces with replicas. Close inspection will readily identify the original slabs from the replicas. Here is my Owl with Attitude.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

35
of 42

The Substructure of the Feathered Conch Shells at Teotihuacán

The Substructure of the Feathered Conch Shells at Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacan with Dick Diehl The Substructure of the Feathered Conch Shells at Teotihuacán. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

The Substructure of the Feathered Conch Shells

It was a common occurrence for Teotihuacanos to build newer buildings on the razed ruins of older ones but here the older building was actually left standing and filled in before the later Palacio de Quetzalpapalotl was erected on top of it.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

36
of 42

Museo de los Murales Teotihuacanos Beatriz de la Fuente

Museo de los Murales Teotihuacanos Beatriz de la Fuente
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Museo de los Murales Teotihuacanos Beatriz de la Fuente. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

Teotihuacan's Painted Walls

Many ancient Mesoamerican cities had painted buildings and painted murals that depicted deities, mythological scenes and perhaps even historical events, but none have yielded anywhere near the number of murals that have been found at Teotihuacán. Indeed, mural art was so pervasive in the city that Mexican authorities decided to create a special museum dedicated to them. This museum, named for Dr. Beatriz de la Fuente, Mexico's foremost historian of Pre-Columbian art, is located west of the Moon Pyramid and no matter how tired you think you are after walking all the way from the Great Compound, you must not miss it.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

37
of 42

Jaguar Blowing Conch-Shell Trumpet

Jaguar blowing Conch-shell Trumpet
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Jaguar blowing Conch-shell Trumpet. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

A Sampler of Murals

This depiction is pretty straight-forward, right? After all, what is unusual about a jaguar who wears ball-like tufts down its back and a feathered headdress while blowing a feather-decorated conch shell trumpet? The three drops of blood falling from the trumpet indicate that the shell symbolizes a human heart, removed from its former owner as part of a sacrifice.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

38
of 42

Tetitla Mural Replica Photograph

Tetitla Mural Replica Photograph
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Tetitla Mural Replica Photograph. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

This replica of a full-wall mural from the apartment compound known as Tetitla shows a full-face owl. As usual with Teotihuacán art, nothing can be taken at face value. The owl symbolizes wisdom in our culture but for Teotihuacanos it (and other raptorial birds) had intimate connections with warriors, warfare, and human sacrifice. One look at the beak and talons tells you why.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

39
of 42

Tetitla Mural Fragment

Tetitla Mural Replica
A Ramble Around Teotihuacan with Dick Diehl Tetitla Mural Replica. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

Mural Fragment

This is a small piece of a much larger mural that was looted from a building near the Moon Pyramid. Know by some as the "Chicken Warrior", it shows a raptorial bird (perhaps a hawk but NOT a chicken, which was unknown in ancient Mexico) armed with a shield and a fletched dart or spear. What can the flower in its beak mean? Surely not the Flower Power of the 1960s.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

40
of 42

Tepantitla Mural

Tepantitla Mural at Teotihuacán
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Tepantitla Mural at Teotihuacán. Ilhuicamina

This section of a mural found at the Tepantitla apartment compound shows two elaborately dressed priests facing the Teotihuacan Water Deity, who in turn is seated in front of one incredible flowering tree. Anyone who can provide a really convincing analysis of what is going on will be awarded the Indiana Jones Golden Whip of the Year Award.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

41
of 42

Tetitla Apartment Compound at Teotihuacán

Tetitla
A Ramble Around Teotihuacan with Dick Diehl Tetitla. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

Apartment Compounds

The vast majority of Teotihuacanos lived in large rectangular single story buildings with stone and adobe walls, plaster or packed earth floors, and flat roofs. They were divided up into multiple apartments that opened onto courtyards that were open to the sky. Archaeologists have excavated only a handful of the 2,000+ known apartment compounds and none have excavated in their entirety. Several located in the southwestern part of the city are open to visitors and are well worth the effort for anyone who wants insights into daily life in the city. Here we can only mention one of them, Tetitla.

Tetitla

In Tetitla one can see the surviving wall stubs with remnants of painted stucco as well as a small interior courtyard and the remains of columns that once supported the flat roof. The scar in the center of the courtyard marks an area that probably once supported a small "altar" or shrine that was looted in ancient times (see below).

Written by Richard A. Diehl

42
of 42

Tetitla Courtyard Altar

Tetitla Courtyard Altar
A Ramble Around Teotihuacán with Dick Diehl Tetitla Courtyard Altar. Photograph by Richard A. Diehl, November 2008

This altar or shrine is located in another Tetitla courtyard. Such shrines take the form of a Teotihuacan temple in miniature and are found in many courtyards. Those very few that were not looted in ancient times contain a skeleton, probably that of a revered ancestor who may have been the progenitor of the social group that owned the compound, often accompanied by a rich offering of pottery, jewelry and other items. These offerings have attracted looters from the time the houses were abandoned up to the modern day.

This brings us to the end of the Guided Tour. By now we are tired and slightly overwhelmed by everything we have seen. I am ready to find a cold beer and a sopa azteca or a few tacos while I mull over our tour. If we had been able to use a time machine to go back 1,500 years, what might we have seen, heard, smelled? Imagine the stench towards the end of the dry season when water was scarce. Or the shy inquisitive smiles of children, peeking around a corner. It would be a totally strange but compellingly human experience.

Written by Richard A. Diehl

Format
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Diehl, Richard A. "A Ramble Around Teotihuacán." ThoughtCo, Sep. 30, 2017, thoughtco.com/a-ramble-around-teotihuacan-4122639. Diehl, Richard A. (2017, September 30). A Ramble Around Teotihuacán. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/a-ramble-around-teotihuacan-4122639 Diehl, Richard A. "A Ramble Around Teotihuacán." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/a-ramble-around-teotihuacan-4122639 (accessed April 25, 2018).