A big day out today – Teotihuacán! (Am still learning how to pronounce it properly – Tayo-tee-wa-kaan, but will get it eventually!). We began early so as to get a head start on all the tour buses heading in the same direction! Our driver for the day was Mario, such a sweet and funny man. His knowledge about Mexico was extensive and his English really was excellent (he lived in Canada for a while, which obviously accounted for his fluency).
The archaeological site of the pyramids of pre-Columbian Teotihuacán is about an hour’s drive north east of Mexico City. When we arrived there was a definite haze in the sky and significant cloud cover, but we still armed ourselves with long sleeve shirts, hats and sunglasses against the sun that would be revealed at some point during our visit; and with not a tree on the entire site to provide shade, those things are imperatives.
Teotihuacán means “the place where men become gods,” and there is certainly a sense of the grandeur and sacredness of the place when exploring this vast and impressive city of the ancient world.
We arrived early enough to avoid the big crowds, and only really encountered the occasional school group that hastened our moving on to the next part of the visit. It also helped that Mario knew his stuff, and had us begin at the southern end of the site to allow the accumulating impressiveness to maximise the ‘wow’ factor.
The Citadel is at the southern most point of the site, a wide-open sunken space that once would’ve been the administrative heart of the city, surrounded by the houses of the priests and nobles. At the eastern side of the square stands a tall pyramid structure that contains the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, with detailed carvings of the plumed serpent of its namesake and of Tlaloc, the rain god.
From the Citadel stretches a long causeway called Calzada de los Muertos (Causeway of the Dead), named by the Aztecs who thought that the buildings that lined it (then only earth-covered mounds) were the burial places of kings. Although this isn’t the case, there is still no exact understanding of what these buildings were used for.
Instead of walking the Avenue of the Dead from the very south to the next important section of Teotihuacán, Mario insisted that he collect us and drive us to the next entrance. At first, I was a bit disappointed at this suggestion, but his prediction about the rate of crowd increase by the time we left was spot on!
Pyramid of the Sun
Mario slipped us round the back to entrance number 5, which meant a much shorter walk to lead us to the magnificent Pyramid of the Sun. Its base is nearly the same size of the Great Pyramid of in Egypt, but standing at 70m is only about half the height. Although its adobe bricks and gravel are now revealed, in 2nd century AD when it was completed, it would’ve been covered in brightly painted stucco. As awe-inspiring as it is, one can only imagine how striking it would’ve been painted up!
The climb to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun is not for the faint-hearted…or for those in inappropriate shoes! The steps themselves are very high in the riser and extremely narrow in the tread, so there was much straining of thighs by the time the top was reached, and a whole new burn in the descent as we had to opt for a sideways gait so as not to miss-step and tumble. The exhilaration from being up there was definitely worth the climb in exertion and scariness!
Quetzalpapalotl Palace & Pyramid of the Moon
Entrance number 3 brought us in near the Quetzalpapalotl Palace Complex, a maze of residential and temple structures that were slowly built over several centuries. What has been uncovered and reconstructed includes virtually the only example of a pre-Hispanic roofed building in central Mexico. It presents a revelation as to how the elite lived in Teotihuacán – luxury and beauty all the way, from the elaborately carved pillars in the central patios to the colourful frescos decorating the walls. The rich have always lived surrounded by beauty.
By exploring Teotihuacán as we did, we saved the best till last. The Pyramid of the Moon stands at the northern most end of the site, and the climb to the top of this smaller edifice provides a superb view of Teotihuacán in its entirety (built on higher ground, it is nearly on level with the Temple of the Sun). From up there, perspective is a complete mind-bend; tiny human figures walking the Avenue of the Dead are diminished by the flanking significant and imposing structures, which in turn are dwarfed by the enormity of the Pyramid of the Sun. Sitting on the top step, gazing at the expanse below I mused on two truths: we are mortal, but without mere mortals, such places as this where “men become gods” would never have existed.
Central de Abastos
Driving back into the capital in the early afternoon, Mario decided to swing by the Central de Abastos – the biggest produce market in the country. If I lived in my new fantasy suburb of Condesa I swear I would be at that market once a week for the bargains that were to be had – 100 pesos ($16AUD) for SIX DOZEN roses! Ridiculous! Half a kilo of limes – 5 pesos (40cents!!!). Mario introduced us to a weird little red-skinned banana that, when peeled, had a slight pinkish hue to the flesh – delicious! So we bought a few of those to tide us over until a proper meal – it had been a long time since breakfast and we had climbed some serious stone steps throughout the morning.
If our stomachs had not been calling us elsewhere, we would’ve stayed longer at the markets. But as the appetites became more insistent, we headed for Ojo de Agua for a 4:30pm lunch! This little gem of an organic sandwich shop is around the corner from our Red Tree House, and there were numerous items I could’ve happily ordered. But the big temptation for me was the gorgeous adolescent dog that was tied up in front of our alfresco table with a sign around his neck that read ‘adopt me’. He was an absolute sweetie. We resisted that temptation, but did relish in the delicious and healthy food that was excellent value in Aussie money.
And, here, our Mexico CIty story ends…
Read our full Mexico City story here:
Part 2: Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
Part 3: San Angel to Coyoacan
Part 4: Centro Historico
Part 5 (current): Teotihuacan
Mexico City Accommodation: The Red Tree House