Trip to Teotihuacan
October 1999

First stop was the pyramid at Tenayuca, on the northern outskirts of Mexico City. This is one of the most well-preserved temple pyramids of the Aztec era, and belonged to the Chichimec culture.

Later that morning we traveled to Tula in the state of Hidalgo. Tula was once known as Tollan, and was the capital of the Toltec empire, which the later Aztecs held in high regard. In the foreground is the "Burnt Palace" (with its semi-restored columns), and in the background is Pyramid B, topped by the Atlante statues that are the trademark of the site. The few Atlantes that remain used to be the brightly painted interior pillars to a temple that once stood on top of the pyramid. The stones that stick out of the sides of the pyramid were used to hold a smooth painted stucco covering in place on the exterior of the pyramid.

A closeup of an Atlante. Despite the name, they are probably not related to the story of Atlantis. Nor are they representations of ancient astronauts, despite the claims of Eric Van Daniken. The "life support system" on their chest is a quetzal butterfly breastplate, and the "holstered gun" in their right hand is actually an atlantl, which was a weapon used to hurl small throwing spears. These statues stand about 15 feet tall, and are made from volcanic rock. I bought a foot high stone statue of one for a souvenir, which cost me about a dollar.

Tula's version of a "chacmool". Most of the meso-American cultures (Toltec, Aztec, Mayan) had chacmools, in various forms. These reclining statues were about the size of a man. The plate on the stomach was used to accept a sacrificial gift, such as a human heart. I picked up a small 6" plaster chacmool souvenir for about 11 cents.

The most important part of the trip was the day and a half spent at Teotihuacan, about 40 miles northeast of Mexico City. Teotihuacan was an abandoned ghost city by the time the Aztecs found it, and gave it its name, which means "the place where men become gods". No one knows the true name of the city or the people who lived there (who once numbered 200,000). The huge site is laid out on both sides of the "Avenue of the Dead", which was perfectly aligned on a north/south axis. At one end of the avenue was the Plaza of the Moon, surrounded by several flat-topped step pyramids shown in the foreground above. In the background is the large Pyramid of the Moon, which I enjoyed climbing, especially because that end of the site was relatively deserted early in the morning.

The pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan. It is as large at the base as the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt, but not as tall. Like the Pyramid of the Moon, the temple that once stood at the top is gone. This one was a more arduous climb, and more crowded. The Avenue of the Dead is the dark gray area in the very bottom right of the photo, running diagonally (from this point of view) towards the Pyramid of the Moon, which would be down and to the left.

One of the giant quetzal ("feathered serpent") heads jutting out from the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl in the Citadel area of Teotihuacan. Other carvings, such as seashells, are on the wall behind it. This is interesting, as Teotihuacan is in the middle of Mexico, far from any coastline. The iron bar under the quetzal's head is a modern addition to help support its weight. The quetzals used to be painted bright green, with white teeth and red details. Traces of paint still remain on some of them. I also bought a four inch plaster quetzal head for my collection.

This is the La Gruta restaurant, on the eastern perimeter road around Teotihuacan. The whole restaurant is inside of a cave, and can seat 800 people. Sunlight illuminates the interior through two large holes in the cave roof. Finding this restaurant was quite a surprise. If you're looking for traditional Mexican food in a unique setting, I highly recommend this place.

Back in Mexico City, the world famous Museum of Anthropology was the next stop on the trip. The statue shown above is Coatlique (kwat-lee-quay), the Aztec earth mother goddess. It is huge (maybe eight feet high), made of one solid piece of stone. The head is formed by two snakes protruding from the neck, coming back together as if to kiss. The breastplate is decorated front and back with severed hands and hearts. A skull is in the middle of the belt, which holds up a skirt made of writhing serpents. Talk about your bizarre symbology. This statue is so unique and has such an interesting story behind it, that I had to buy a small (6") stone replica from the museum gift shop. It is one of the better quality pieces that I acquired on my trip.

One of the six foot high Olmec heads on display at the museum (yea, I got a small one of these, too). The best place to see the Olmec heads is at La Venta park, in the Mexican state of Villahermosa. There they are displayed in a jungle-like setting similar to how they were originally found in Veracruz. See the Travel Journal section of my Mayan trip website for details and a photo from La Venta.

The Templo Mayor in the heart of Mexico City. Half a block from the Zocalo (main city square), the Templo Mayor was the main pyramid for the Aztec capital of Tenochitlan, which Mexico City was built on top of. This area was only unearthed twenty years ago, and shows successive layers of the pyramid, which was rebuilt on top of itself in successively larger versions. With the top sliced off, it's like looking at a halved onion, with all the layers visible at once. Not a grand site visually, it does have a very nice museum full of artifacts retrieved from the site.

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