Highlights of Mexico (6): Teotihuacan

There is virtually nothing to be seen these days of the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlan because the Spanish invaders destroyed the city and then built a new metropolis on top of it which is present-day Mexico City. But fortunately one does not have to travel far to see the site of another great pre-Hispanic city and it was to this site that we went on Day 3 (Good Friday) of our holiday.

Teotihuacan, located 40 kms (25 miles) north-east of Mexico City, was the largest known pre-Columbian city in the Americas. Nobody knows who built or inhabited it. It is believed that occupation began about 500 BC and that the population eventually reached a peak currently estimated at around 175,000, making it the largest city in the world at that time. The name of the site is the one given to the ruins by the Aztecs and it means ‘the place of origin or creation’. Following its modern-day excavation, it is commonly called ‘the city of the gods’.

It was only after 100 BC that the building of the pyramids began and the magnificent pyramids and palaces once covered 31 sq kms (12 square miles). Only around 7% of the site has been excavated so far, so much remains to be discovered. The city was abandoned in about 700 AD, probably because of climatic changes, but the fate of its civilisation remains unclear.

The most imposing structure on the site is the Pyramid of the Sun which was completed around 300 AD. This is the third largest pyramid in the world (after the two at Giza in Egypt), stretching 210 metres (690 feet) on each side and standing 67 metres (220 feet) high. Just as Vee was wondering whether to climb the pyramid, she felt her legs collapse and had to be taken by medical staff to a first aid tent. It was probably a combination of several poor nights sleep and the high altitude of the location but, after sitting and resting, she was fine. Roger climbed the 231 steep steeps in less than 15 minutes.

We next walked the so-called Avenue of The Dead. The original excavators gave the route this name because they assumed that the mounds lining the road were burial sites, but no tombs have ever been found there. At the end of the avenue is the other great structure of the site: the Pyramid of the Moon which is 140 metres (460 feet) on each side and 47 metres (154 feet) high.

After looking at some domestic living quarters, the final structure that we viewed is called the Citadel but again the name is misleading. The original excavators thought it was a military fort but current thinking is that it was a religious building and possibly might contain a royal tomb.

After about three and a half hours at Teotihuacan, we went to a nearby restaurant called ” Gran Teocallin” where we were treated to a brief display of Aztec dancing in full feathered gear before we had a buffet lunch.

Once we were back in Mexico City, we had one more visit: the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe which is a national symbol for the deeply Catholic Mexicans. The story goes that, 15 years after the arrival of the Spanish and Catholicism, an indigenous Mexican boy saw a vision of the Virgin Mary in the form of a beautiful lady in a blue mantel trimmed with gold. He only persuaded the authorities of the truth of his vision when he collected roses in a cloak and these flowers formed the image of the Virgin Mary.

In fact, the present site is three churches : a chapel on a hill where before the Spanish Conquest there was a temple, a large basilica built between 1695-1709, and a new circular church completed in 1976 which can accommodate up to 10,000 worshippers.

In the old basilica, we saw a queue of the Good Friday faithful lining up to kiss the wound on the lower ribs of Jesus on a near-lifesize crucifix. In the new church, a moving walkway carried visitors past what looked like a relatively modern and very detailed painting of the Virgin Mary which is claimed to be the original impression from that indigenous boy. Apparently miracles do sometimes happen – after all, Roger and Vee have been married for 34 years.

We were back at our hotel at 4.20 pm. This evening, Vee joined Roger for dinner out. We found a nearby Argentinean restaurant called oddly “Blah Blah” where Vee had chicken with ham & cheese, while Roger had a mixed grill with chicken, beef & Argentinean sausage.


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