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It was among the largest cities of its time with almost 200,000 people. When the Aztecs found their capital city, they gave it the name 'Teotihuacan,' which means 'The City of the Gods.' Such was their awe when they found the city that they thought it was built by a race of giants. Even today, it remains a mystery as no written records were left and their culture ended before the Spaniards arrived.


The city of Teotihuacan can be found thirty miles northeast of Mexico City. It is located in the Central Highlands, at around 20°N Latitude. The city is in a fertile valley with moutains around it. Thanks to the abundance of water in the area, agriculture thrived and allowed the city to grow to its great size.


The origins of the Teotihuacans come from the city of Cuicuilco. Cuicuilco was an organized city that was under the threat of an active volcano called the Citle. Due to the importance of the volcano, their most important god was Huehueteotl, the old god, the God of Fire. One day, the Citle did erupt, destroying the city. The people fled towards Teotihuacan, a nearby farming community. With them, they brought ideas of astronomy, mathematics, cities, pyramids, and many other things.

The city was founded in 500 BC and lasted until 750 AD. Its history is divided into four periods, divided by the different periods that meso-american history is divided into and certain events.

The first period was from 500 to 100 BC. The only part that existed was the northern section. The meso-american period at this time was the Formative, during its last years, right before there was sufficient surplus to allow large cities to be built and sustained.

The second period occured during the Proto Classical period, from the end of the first period until the year 100 AD. At this time, the city reached its maximum territorial expansion of 22.5 kilometers squared. As time went on and there was more population, the city actually decreased its territory. Both the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon were built during this time.

At the third period, from 300 to 600 AD, when the Classical period showed great splendor throughout meso-america. The city was at a size of 20 kilometers squared with over 200, 000 inhabitants. During this time, the Temple of Quetzalcoatl was built.

This last period was from 600 to 750 AD when the city suffered damage. After the destruction of the city by mysterious causes1, most of the people moved to the nearby city of Cholula.

The City

The City of Teotihuacan was very advanced. There were many palaces and pyramids built. The three most important pyramids in the city were the Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon, and the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl. Another important thing that the city had was water all year.

The most important road in Teotihuacan was the Avenue of the Dead, which is the longest in Teotihuacan. At its southern extreme is the Ciudadela, which is where the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl is located. More to the north of the Avenue are the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon.

Throughout the city there are many palaces where the nobles resided. Their homes contained many great gardens and were decorated with frescoes. One of the most important frescoes was one that depicted Tlaocan2. Most houses of the poorer people cannot be seen, since most have been destroyed by now. It is known, however, that they were dark and cramped.


As with all of the Mesoamerican civilizations, the Teotihuacans were extremely religous. Many religious artifacts and buildings have been found in and around the city. The most important of these were the three pyramids that were mentioned before: the Sun, Moon, and Quetzalcoatl pyramids. These were all dedicated to one god and were really just elevated temples. This pyramids were originally for protection against animals, plants, and the elements. After that, they became more majestic and as a way to honor the gods.

Priest were very important for the Teotihuacans. They were the representations of the Gods, the ones in charge of watching the sun and moon movements, in charge of the calendar, the cities, ceremonies and the ones who controlled the society. The priests were also in charge of human sacrifices. Bones of the sacrificed may be found inside of the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl, supposedly sacrificed at the ignauration. The people lived under a theocracy, where the priests had absolute and divine authority.

There were four symbols that were the most important for the Teotihuacans. They were the jaguar, the serpent, the snail, and the bird. The jaguar represented religion and religious cermenonies. The serpent meant rivers and the pathways left by them. The snail was the symbol for fertility. Birds were the representation of clouds.

The Downfall

The city of Teotihuacan declined from one of biggest metropolitan cities in Mexico in the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. to virtual abandonment in the seventh and eighth centuries A.D. Although archaeologists can document the actual abandonment of the city, there is little evidence pointing to why it may have been abandoned. An increase in the amount of militarism in the art and artefacts of that period suggests an increase in warfare which could be a possible explanation. After 750 A.D. there is evidence of ritual-like burning of the monuments and temples of the city which has been associated with loss of power and decline.

1See 'The Downfall' below.2The paradise of the Rain God, Tlaloc.

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