Teotihuacán, Mexico – ‘Where Men Become Gods’

Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacán

Teotihuacan, pronounced teh-oh-tee-wa-KHAN (it took me days to learn how to pronounce it!) and meaning “The Place Where Men Become Gods” or “Birthplace of the Gods”, is a name given to it by the Nahuatl speaking Aztecs when they discovered the ruins centuries after the city fell. (Yup, it’s older than the Aztecs, it’s believed the city was abandoned around 600 CE.) The original name is unknown, but is mentioned in Mayan hieroglyphs as “The Place of Reeds”.

Some of the buildings in Teotihucán may date as far back as 450 BCE, and not much is known about how it was built, or even who lived there. Some possibilities are the Nahua, Otomi or Totonac groups, although some have suggested that Teotihuacan was a multi-ethnic state and home to farmers, potters, craftspeople and jewellers.

This might explain why the murals there don’t show violence, war and ritual sacrifice (although there’s evidence that happened here as well), but instead show a society interested in astronomy and Quetzalcoatl, a benevolent God. In fact, it has a notable lack of military structures and fortifications.

What is mostly agreed on is that it grew in power around the same time as the Roman Empire and had around 200,000 people living within the city making it one of the largest in the world at the time. It’s located about 30 miles / 48 km northeast of Mexico City and has one of the largest pyramids in the world, the Pyramid of the Sun (Piramide del Sol), completed around 100 CE.

Teotihuacan – The Creation Place of our Era

The legend goes that the Gods gathered at Teotihuacan at the end of the last age to recreate the universe as they had done before. With each cycle a God was to serve as the sun, eventually though each God had become dissatisfied with the humans that were created, throwing the world into darkness.

This fifth time, as before, the Gods gathered at Teotihuacan to decide who would sacrifice themselves in the fire to become the sun and moon. Two Gods were chosen, Tecciztecatl, a very wealthy and powerful God would become the sun and Nanauatl a poor, frail God who would serve as the moon.

As the time grew closer for the ceremony the Gods went through purification rituals. Tecciztecatl offered expensive gifts, Nanauatl having nothing of value to offer gave his blood and acts of penance.

As the massive bonfire grew and became ready for the final offering Tecciztecatl strode up to throw himself in. As he got closer he felt the intense heat and became afraid. After 4 attempts his courage failed him. The rest of the Gods, disgusted at Tecciztecatl’s cowardice called Nanauatl. He quietly stood up, walked to the platform and without hesitation threw himself in. Tecciztecatl, embarrassed that this lowly weak God could show such courage ran up and threw himself in as well.

At first the world remained in darkness, eventually 2 small points of light showed up in the sky, growing in intensity faster and faster. The remaining Gods became worried, what would happen to the world with 2 suns burning brightly?

Eventually one of the Gods became angry with Tecciztecatl for showing such lack of thought and courage, so he grabbed a rabbit and threw it directly in Tecciztecatl’s face, dimming his light forever and turning him into the moon… doomed to forever follow the sun, but never burn as bright. That is why, if you look really closely, you can see a rabbit in the moon.

The guide didn’t mention the rest of the story, but later I heard a further ending to the myth… The sun still stood stood still in the sky, lacking the power to move by itself, the wind God realized what was needed and sacrificed the rest of the Gods along with himself to forever create enough wind to blow them around the world. Perhaps this is why the Aztecs (who often considered themselves God-like) gave Teotihuacan the name that we still use today, with the old Gods dead, they themselves became Gods.

Photos From the Ancient Ruins of Teotihuacan, Mexico

Pyramid Of The Sun
Pyramid of the Sun

One of the world’s most famous and largest pyramids. The base is only 10 feet shorter than the Great Pyramid of Cheops.

Pyramid Of The Sun Front
Pyramid of the Sun – Front View

Even though the Sun Pyramid was (literally) crawling with tourists, I knew I had to climb to the top! Here’s a photo I took before I began the (much easier than I though) ascent.

View From Sun Pyramid
View from the Sun Pyramid

Here’s the view down from about half way up the Pyramid of the Sun. Sadly once I got to the top I forgot to take another picture from this angle because I was so in awe of the view. I did however remember to get a photo of the Moon Pyramid…

Pyramid Of The Moon
Pyramid of the Moon

While we didn’t get the chance to climb the Moon Pyramid, I did get this nice shot of it!

Jaguar Fresco
Jaguar Mural

I can’t remember if this is a jaguar, cougar or puma, but I was amazed that the paint was relatively unharmed in this section of the mural, despite being hundreds (thousands?) of years old!

Teotihuacan Mural

Another of the fabulously intact murals of Teotihuacan, if you look closely you can see that there’s still some of the original wax covering the fresco bringing out the brightness of the colors.

Teotihuacan vs. The Modern World

Unfortunately the modern world is pressing in on this ancient wonder. In 2004, Wal-Mart was given permission to build a large store in the third archaeological zone. Quoted from CounterPunch, “Priceless artifacts uncovered during store construction were reportedly trucked off to a local dump and workers fired when they revealed the carnage to the press.”

Which leads me to thinking about whether tourism is hurting or could help save ancient sites… Would Wal-Mart have felt the need to build a crap pedalling store if there were fewer tourists? Could tourism income help protect national treasures since we wouldn’t have gone to those places without them? …. So many questions, but that will have to become the topic for another blog post.


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