The valley of the Mexico River, surrounded by mountains, has long been the cradle of Native American civilizations. It is known that people first appeared here about 25,000 to 20,000 years ago. Archeological excavations have shown that in the valley of the Mexico River three large civilizations succeeded each other: the Teotihuacan civilization, which had its heyday in the 1st millennium A.D., the Toltec civilization, dated X-XIII centuries, and the Aztec civilization that existed in the XIII-XVI centuries.
In the valley of the Mexico River there are monuments of these three eras. It should be noted that this created additional difficulties for researchers. For a long time nothing was known about the Teotihuacan culture, since written sources have not preserved any information about it. The Indian chronicles describe the past of Mexico since the X century AD. so for a long time science knew only about the Toltec and Aztec civilizations, to which all finds discovered during archaeological works were attributed.
Gradually, scientists came to the conclusion that the two known civilizations that existed in the valley of Mexico had a predecessor. Since the second half of the XIX century in Central Mexico began to find rough clay figurines – nude women, apparently dancing. Scientists began to call these finds Tlatilco dancers. In the early twentieth century they were often found in the lava field of El Pedregal, located on the outskirts of modern Mexico City. The layer of lava under which these figurines were buried indicated that these items were quite ancient.
In 1910, an archaeological expedition led by the Mexican scientist M. Gamio began excavations at the lava field of El Pedregal. Under the 6-8-meter layer of lava the researchers found the ruins of buildings and tombs, which were much older than the Toltec and Aztec civilizations.
In 1922, the American archaeologist B. Cammings continued the excavations in the valley of Mexico City. He turned his attention to the hill of Cuicuilco, located south of Mexico City. The hill had a surprisingly regular round shape, which allowed the scientist to assume that some ancient structure was hidden inside. However, the excavation progressed extremely slowly because the slopes were covered with a thick layer of frozen lava. With usual tools it was impossible to penetrate a lava crust, therefore it was necessary to blow up layers of a lava with dynamite.
The Pyramid of Cuicuilco, the largest in America
Eventually archaeologists managed to free a strange shaped structure from the lava. It was a four-stage pyramid 24 meters high. Diameter of its base reached about 135 meters. They were amazed not only by the huge sizes, but also by the atypical for similar constructions form – the pyramid was round and represented an embankment from clay and sand, covered with lava pieces, cobblestones and raw bricks. The altar at the top of the pyramid was accessed by a wide stone staircase. The architectural features of the pyramid, especially the absence of stonework, testified to the antiquity of the structure. Research on the lava covering the pyramid determined that the volcano may have erupted between 2000 and 7000 years ago. But only with the advent of modern technology was it possible to establish precisely the period to which the pyramid was built. According to the latest researches pyramid erection in Cuicuilco concerns the end of I millennium B.C.
Pyramid in Cuicuilco is one of the most ancient monumental constructions comparable unless with Egyptian Djoser’s pyramid. It has been erected in the center of a cemetery and burial places were not chaotically located, and beams diverged from the pyramid. Obviously, it is a cult structure, which shows the great importance of religious beliefs in the life of the ancient inhabitants of the valley of Mexico.
The pyramid was buried under a layer of volcanic ash and lava as a result of the eruption of the Chitli volcano, which is now extinct. At the same time, a nearby settlement, whose inhabitants were engaged in agriculture and achieved considerable success in many crafts, especially in pottery and construction, was destroyed. Due to a natural cataclysm, much of the population of the southern Mexico Valley migrated to the north and northeast. Scholars suggest that it was this influx of refugees that played a positive role in the development of the Teotihuacan civilization, which really began to blossom soon after the volcanic eruption in the southern Mexico Valley and falls in the early first millennium CE.
Researchers do not yet have accurate data as to which people may have created the Teotihuacan culture. It is believed that Teotihuacan was built by the ancestors of the Nahua Indian tribes, whose totem was the jaguar and whose supreme deity was the rain god Tlaloc. The Toltec tribe, who established a state in Central Mexico in the 10th and 11th centuries, also belonged to the Nahua group. However, when the Aztecs appeared in the valley of Mexico, only two pyramids remained of Teotihuacan. According to ancient legends, they were erected on the spot where the Sun and the Moon were born.
“Teotihuacan” in translation from the Nahua language, spoken by the Aztecs, means “the place where a man becomes a god”. The real name of the city, as well as many other details about it and its builders, are unknown. The monumentality of the structures contributed to the Aztec legend that Teotihuacan was built by the gods.
In 1955-1966 years at the ruins of Teotihuacan worked archaeological expedition led by L. Cejournes. Scientists have found that the first settlements on this site appeared in the V century BC, and the city of Teotihuacan was founded at the end of the I century AD. The researchers suggest that in the V century AD the population of the city was about 200 thousand people.
The city was laid out according to a well-thought-out plan. The Western and Eastern Avenues, two straight, wide streets that intersect at right angles, run through Teotihuacan. All the streets of the city are parallel to these avenues and form regular shaped quarters, built up with palaces of about the same size. The inner rooms of the palaces are often decorated with frescoes and carvings.
From north to south runs the so-called “Road of the Dead”, on the northern end of which stands a huge five-tier pyramid – the Temple of the Moon. At the eastern end of the city is the famous Temple of the Sun, which is shaped like a truncated pyramid. The Temple of the Sun in Teotihuacan, which was built from earth, stones and bricks, is one of the benchmarks of the world architecture. Scientists have concluded that the construction of this structure lasted about 20 years.
Archaeologists found several burial chambers inside the pyramid and a cave at the base of the structure, divided into separate rooms, probably used for cult purposes.
The temple of the Sun gradually grew into the ground: at present its height is 65 meters instead of the former 75. At the top of the pyramid there is a platform where the sanctuary of the sun was located, topped by a statue of the god with a golden disk symbolizing the daylight. However, the temple was destroyed at the insistence of the Catholic Church. The first explorers also did considerable damage to the pyramid.
In the center of the city there is a complex of buildings, usually called the Citadel. This complex comprises a huge quadrangular platform with a broad staircase on the west side and four smaller platforms arranged on the four sides of the world. Four pyramids stand on each of them. The Citadel complex also includes the Temple of Quetzalcoatl which is a six-level stone pyramid decorated with statues of the deity.
Some scholars, particularly R. Millon, have hypothesized that the Citadel included the palace of the ruler and the so-called “Great Complex”, located to the west of the Citadel and surrounded by platforms and a variety of buildings, was the city marketplace.
The Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl (Feathered Serpent) and a fragment of the sculptural decoration of the Pyramid. Teotihuacan (Mexico)
On the frescoes in the palaces of Teotihuacan, in addition to images of the gods and their priests, you can often see images of warriors. Archaeologists have repeatedly found statuettes of warriors wearing helmets that repeat the shape of an eagle’s head. These findings suggest that the military aristocracy constituted a significant part of the population. Apparently, it was these people who owned most of the luxurious palaces located in the center of the city.
Beyond the aristocratic quarters were districts where merchants, artisans, and farmers lived. According to expert calculations, the farmers made up the vast majority of the population of Teotihuacan.
Scientists have no doubt that Teotihuacan in the first millennium AD had a tremendous cultural and political influence on the neighboring peoples of South America. However, many things remain unclear, such as what was the structure of the Teotihuacan state.
According to archaeological data, the death of Teotihuacan dates back to about 450-650 years AD. It is believed that the city was destroyed during the Toltec invasion. The Toltecs founded a new state and made the city of Tollan their capital.
Pyramid of the Moon (above) and Pyramid of the Sun
Later, when the Aztec Empire was founded, the capital was Tenochtitlan, on the ruins of which in the 16th century the Spanish conquistadors erected the city of Mexico City, now the capital of Mexico. And of the once-mighty Teotihuacan long reminded only two pyramids, indicating the birthplace of the Sun and the Moon.
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Mexico is a tourist’s dream. Homeland of cacti, tequila and sombrero attracts with exotic nature, world’s best resorts, delicious national cuisine. And of course, the amazing monuments of ancient civilizations. Here you can plunge into the depths of time: visit the ruins of Maya and Aztec cities. Charged with positive energy in the places of power and perhaps find clues to the mysteries of the Indians. Historical sites are scattered throughout the country. It is impossible to cover them all in one trip. Our guide will tell you what to see first.
Teotihuacan rightfully tops the list of must-see sites. A mysterious ghost town, the oldest in the entire Western Hemisphere of the Earth. Its age is about two thousand years, and the mystery of its demise is still unsolved. When the Aztecs arrived in the 12th century, all that was left were majestic ruins, as if created by giant gods. That’s when the name was coined, which literally translates to “City of the Gods”.
The main and oldest buildings are the pyramids of the Moon and the Sun with a height of 42 and 64 meters respectively. The Pyramid of the Sun is the third largest in the world. These majestic structures are part of the temple ensemble.
In the central part of the complex is the Citadel, a vast space around which there are 4 walls, 390 meters each. It is believed that this was the residence of the ruler of Teotihuacan. In the center is the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. On the walls of the Citadel are 15 small pyramids. North of the main buildings are two palaces decorated with frescoes.
In Aztec times, Teotihuacan was a sacred place. Now many people also come here on the day of the vernal equinox to draw sacred energy.
After a long walk, rest and eat at La Gruta, a traditional Mexican restaurant at entrance number 5 of the archaeological complex. It is located in a real cave – it has a special atmosphere.
Where to stay?
The best starting point for a trip to Mexico is Mexico City, the capital of the country. To Teotihuacan only 40 km – there are buses and rental cars. A good accommodation option is the ibis México Alameda. The hotel is located on Juarez Avenue, the main street of the city. It is convenient to get to the main cultural sites and the airport. There is a private parking lot.
Yucatan Peninsula – the cradle of the Mayan civilization
Chichen Itza is the largest of the Mayan cities on the peninsula. One of the favorite tourist attractions in Mexico. Its most famous building is El Castillo, a 24-meter high pyramid temple. On each of its sides is a staircase of 91 steps. There are 365 steps in total, according to the number of days in the year. The pyramid preserves the Indians’ knowledge of astrology and astronomy. It is designed so that on summer and winter solstice days only two of its walls are illuminated by the sun. On March 21, the day of the vernal equinox, the change in the angle of the sun’s rays creates the illusion of a snake crawling along the wall.
Another mystery of Mexico is the Palenque or Lacam-Ha, which means “Great Water”. It existed from the VI to the X century A.D. It was also abandoned by the population for unknown reasons. Architectural scale Palenque surpasses all other surviving Mayan cities. On the territory of 15 sq km there are more than a thousand different structures.
The pyramids-temples of the Sun, Cross and Leafy Cross form a single complex. In their decoration there are images of the seiba tree. The Indians believed that this plant served as a support for the universe. Another pyramid is the Temple of Inscriptions. It got its name after scientists discovered the Lakam-Ha story hollowed out on a slab in it. Also inside the temple was found the tomb of Pacal, a famous local ruler.
El Palacio is a magnificent palace ensemble. It is a grandiose structure decorated with numerous sculptures, moldings, and paintings. The central theme of the decor is the image of the ruler. Inside the palace is an intricate interweaving of rooms and corridors. In the center of the tower rises an observatory. The northern side is reserved for a ball game.
Ushmal (“Built three times”) is the ruins of a Mayan city in the northwestern Yucatan, in the tropical jungle. The period of prosperity came in the VII-X centuries.
At a height of 38 m above the complex towers the Pyramid of the Magician or the House of the Dwarf. According to the legend it was created by a dwarf wizard in one night. It is a religious building, consisting of five temples, erected one on top of the other. The images of the god of rain decorate the pyramid, as well as many buildings of Ushmal. There were no springs or rivers here so the water was collected in the special reservoirs during the rains.
In the evening in Ushmal you will be surprised by a spectacular light and music show. The perfect ending to a trip to this extraordinary place!
Where to stay?
Traveling to the main historical sites of the Yucatan is convenient from Merida, the capital of the peninsula. It is easy to travel from Mexico City by domestic flight. Mérida is a beautiful ancient city with many picturesque gardens and parks, historical and cultural sites. The ibis Mérida is 5 minutes from the center and 20 minutes from the airport. It’s the ideal way to get to Chichen Itza, Palenque, and Ushmal. For you – comfortable modern rooms, 24-hour restaurant, parking.
Resort on the Caribbean Sea
Make Cancun, a renowned resort with all the necessary ingredients for an unforgettable vacation, the end point of your trip. White sand beaches, turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea and palm trees. Fishing, diving, swimming with sea turtles. Jungle walks, relaxation in spas and shopping. Cancun is also preserved traces of ancient civilizations. For example, the ruins of San Miguelo, Pok-Ta-Poc, Del Rey.
Just an hour away from Cancun is Tulum (translated as “The Wall”). It is the former main Mayan port on the east coast of the Yucatan, surrounded by a fortified wall. Formerly called “Sama” – “City of Dawn”. It emerged in 1200 AD and existed until the 16th century. In the old part of Tulum you can still see the ruins of houses, watchtowers, and the Castillo. Of the buildings, the Temple of Frescoes, which is richly decorated with paintings and sculptures, stands out in particular.
In addition to antiquities, Tulum has a large number of jewelry stores with reasonable prices and good quality goods.
Where to stay?
The ibis Cancun Centro hotel is conveniently located within walking distance of the major Las Americas shopping center, 15 minutes from the airport and 10 minutes from the sea. It offers modern and comfortable rooms, a bar with 24-hour service and parking for those who prefer to travel by car.