Climbing Teotihuacan: Mesoamerica’s Largest City

Teotihuacan, the city where people come from the Gods, was named by the Aztecs during their search for the sacred place where they would spot an eagle holding a snake in its beak.  It was here they found it.

The Aztecs discovered a perfect abandoned site.  The earlier builders of the pyramids created the volume, size and shape that would complement the Aztec’s world view, with structures that mirrored the surrounding mountains. There was a sophisticated draining system, spring water for drinking and an urban design based on the orientation of the moon, sun and stars.  Because of its location and the orientation of the city aligned along the cardinal points fundamental to Aztec belief, they settled here and built the largest city in Mesoamerica.



Teotihuacan is an impressive monument to social, political, and religious  organization.  The people lived in neighborhoods organized according to their skills or craft activities: preparation of agave for pulque and papermaking, corn for tortillas, obsidian for knives and weapons, chocolatl (chocolate), weaving, pottery, etc.  Each neighborhood had its own god and political/social leader.


Diego Rivera captures this in his murals that adorn the Palacio Nacional.  One gets a vivid picture of what pre-conquest life was like through his eyes.


The red-bearded Hernan Cortes brought with him dogs, guns, germs and a will to conquer, subdue and convert the local peoples.  Rivera also captures this vividly in his murals.  A social and political activist, Diego Rivera was a visual voice for the working poor of Mexico throughout his life.

I wasn’t the only one to climb the pyramids.

The Pyramid of the Moon is 65 meters high, and YES, I managed to climb it to the top.  Though, I must confess, my legs were really sore the day after!  The views were magnificent and I could see that the surrounding valley and city could easily accommodate 200,000 people, the number that archeologists say lived here at Teotihuacan’s zenith.  Today, the valley is only ten percent of what it was under the sacred mountain.

Then, back to Mexico, D.F., where the new temples to commerce and 21st century life remind us that civilization is forever fluid and changing.

And, come with us starting January 16 for a one-week Street Photography workshop in Oaxaca.  Capture the ordinary to become the extraordinary.

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