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Teotihuacan: The great ancient civilization

Today is a big day because I'm finally able to go to Mexico City's number one attraction: Teotihuacan.

In the afternoon, I got picked up by a reputable tour guide that I found on tripadvisor, Leo from On our way, he explained some of the key history and culture of Mexico.

First, the name Mexico comes from the word Mexica (pronounced as "Mechina"), which refers to the indigenous people of the Aztec Empire. Before the Aztec Empire conquered 3/4 of today's Mexico, they were used to be called Mexica. As a result, when the Spanish conquistadors conquered the Aztec Empire and Tenochtitlan (Mexico city of today), they renamed the place as Mexico.

Interesting enough, Tenochitlan is quite close to Teotihuacan. Back in the 1500s, the entire Mexico City area was a lake called Lake Texoco. People who lived in Teotihuacan comprised of three different tribes and they lived there from 50 B.C to 700 A.D. However, the Aztecs didn't migrate to Tenochtitlan until 1300 A.D., which means the two groups of people never met. When the Aztecs sailed on a boat north to Lake Texoco, they discovered the massive structures of Teotihuacan. They were so impressed about the city that they called it the City of God (Teotihuacan) and named everything that they saw. This means that we technically do not know the original name of the city Teotihuacan.

As you can see from the map above, the entire current Mexico City is reclamation of land. According to my tour guide, the state of Mexico City is built on top of water, and therefore some of the buildings are actually sinking.

Teotihuacan is an area with three major structures: La Ciudadela (First alter), Sun Pyramid and Moon Pyramid. Remember that these names were all named by the Aztecs, and historians can only guess the original names of the structure.

La Ciudadela was an alter for offering purposes to the gods. At that time, they prayed to anything, that they saw, but they prayed to the Female Goddess of River and the Male God of Rain the most, since water itself produces crops, agricultural and life. As mentioned before, Teotihuacan had three different tribes living together, which were the Mayans, the Oaxacans and the people from the Gulf Coast. The Ciudadela alter features architecture and decorations from these people, which includes seashells, serpents and jaguars. When historians dug up the underground of Ciudadela, they discovered the skeletons of nine individuals. It was believed these nine people were slaves and were tied up and burried alive for sacrificial rituals.

The Teotihuacans were pretty smart that they were able to design a drainage system to redirect the overflow of water to the river. All the houses of Teotihuacans were built in an organized way with the big pyramids built on important locations. Some historians said that the location was perfect because the top of the pyramids is aligned with the sun and stars on certain days.

When I walked towards the Sun Pyramid, I was really impressed with the structure because it is massive and the structure is perfectly symmetrical.

The Sun Pyramid is about 200 feet high and you can see the entire city area at the top. Although the Pyramid was buit for offering and rtiual purposes, it was also believed to be a defensive structure where a soldier could see enemies approaching Teotihuacan from far away. Although the pyramid is called the Sun Pyramid, named by the Aztecs, it was believed that the real name of the pyramid was called the Thunder Pyramid.

The view at the top was gorgeous and I was able to see the Moon Pyramid perfectly. Since I came to Teotihuacan on a weekday, there weren't too many people. I was told that if you visit the site on a weekend, especially the Sunday with free entrance, you will have to line up to climb up the Sun Pyramid. I guess I got lucky today!

So why did the people of Teotihuacan leave in 700 A.D.? Remember the Aztecs never met the Teotihuacans because they didn't migrate to Tenochtitlan and discover Teotihuacan until 1300 A.D. Hstorians believed that there was a great drought in 700 A.D. which caused the tribes in Teotihuacan to have a major conflict and fight against each other. As small fights lead to war, the tribes in Teotihuacan had to leave the great city because there was simply no water. As such, the Mayans migrated to the south and built their own civilization and people from the gulf coast moved back to the coast.

When the Spanish conquistadors conquered the Aztecs, they completely destroyed Tenochtitlan and rebuilt Mexico City. However, when they discovered Teotihuacan, they left the ancient ruins alone because there was simply nobody living there. I guess there wasn't a need to waste money and energy to destroy a city when it was empty.

When I walked towards the Moon Pyramid from the Sun Pyramid, I can't help but to notice that there were many merchants at the side selling black rocks. According to my tour guide, these black rocks are called Obsidians, which are natural volcanic glasses that can be found in this area. Back in the Aztec days, these Obsidians were very valuable and precious because it could be used for anything! It was used as a weapon, as a decoration and even used as a mask when carefully carved. The Aztecs got rich because they were trading Obsidians with other tribes for food or other natural resources.

The Aztecs were known in history to be one of the most aggressive indigenous tribes. There was a pretty disturbing story that took place in the 1300s. A lessor known tribe, called the CoxCox had a trade agreement with the Aztecs. When the Aztecs invited the daughter of the CoxCox king to be the queen of the Aztecs, the CoxCox king agreed. After the "marriage", the CoxCox king was invited to an Aztec banquet in his honour. To his surprise, the CoxCox king noticed that one of the dancers was "dressed" in his daughter's skin. It was later discovered that the Aztecs skinned the daughter alive and placed the skin on a dancer. With furious rage, the CoxCox king declared a war against the Aztecs (but probably lost).

Technically, the Aztecs were so powerful that they could conquer the Mayans and unifiy Mexico. Since Aztecs were the aggressive type and the Mayans were only experts at trade and astronomy, Aztecs could have unified Mexico easily. According to my tour guide, the only thing the Aztecs was missing was time. If the Spanish didn't arrive at Mexico early, the Aztecs could be the only ruler of Mexico.

The Moon Pyramid is just as high as the Sun Pyramid but the structure itself is not as impressive. Unlike the Sun Pyramid, the stairs of Moon Pyramid doesn't allow you to reach the top. Due to interest of time, I only took pictures of the Moon Pyramid from the bottom.

I left the ancient ruin in awe and I was really impressed with the deep pre-Hispanic story of Mexico.

However, if you decide to visit the great ancient site, please remember to wear a hat and suncreen, because there is no shade anywhere here.

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Who is Henry Shew?

Henry is an avid traveler and a tax consultant by profession.


Walk In My Shew is started to document the travel stories and culture experienced in different countries.


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