Teotihuacan was a religious city center located in the Mexican Highlands which saw mass construction and development from AD1 – 200. In the two preceding centuries, very little was known about this place yet during the mass growth phase in the Tzacualli and Miccaotli era the city expanded to a radius of 20sq km with around 60,000-80,000 people calling it home. Teotihuacan was the sixth largest city in the world during its period of greatest prosperity, according to an estimated population of 125,000.
Developments were said to be due to population movements between regions, increase in agricultural and technological inventions and belief systems that were very appealing to residents at the time. By the 4th century AD, Teotihuacan influences were said to have spread across the whole of Mesoamerica. During its most prosperous time Teotihuacan was said to have been the 6th largest city in the world and boasted a population of around 125,000 people. An interesting part of the topography of Teotihuacan was the fact that it had no outer city walls like many other towns and cities of this era.
The Avenue of the dead (see below) was the main road of Teotihuacan, extending for over 2km in the heart of the city. Over 2,000 high walled compounds were said to be built in there, according to the Teotihuacan Mapping Project. The primary pyramid of the city, the Sun Pyramid, lies in the northern section of the Avenue of the Dead and faces West (where the sun sets) and the Moon Pyramid is situated at the very north of the avenue.
The southern section for the Avenue was home to the Great Compound and Ciudadela, a large closed off area which was said to be used for the performance of rituals. It is where the Feathered Serpent Pyramid is located (the third largest pyramid in Teotihuacan).
Despite its huge prosperity and size, suddenly, at some point during the 7th century, the empire appeared to completely crumble and Teotihuacan was no more…
Avenue of the Dead
As we mentioned before, the Avenue of the Dead was the heart of the city, kind of an ancient Las Ramblas type street. It begins in the North at the Pyramid of the Moon and extends all the way past the Ciudadela in the southern part of the city. Some researchers believed it actually extended even further. All the way up to the mountains that bordered this once booming metropolis.
When you visit the city, you can definitely appreciate the planning that went into the city layout, as with any Mesoamerican complex. The Avenue of the dead splits the city exactly in half with several pyramids and other complexes on each side. The complexes are usually symmetrical on each side of the avenue and face the same way for continuity. The width of the avenue changes throughout the length of the road and ranges from 40 meters to 95 meters at different points along the way.
The densest part of the avenue is the north section from the Pyramid of the Moon to the point where the San Juan River perpendicularly crosses. The avenue is lined on either side with talud-tablero style platforms. The residential areas on either side of these are accessed by stairs with balustrades. There’s even a channel located underneath the avenue too, which gathered rainwater from the buildings and drained it back into the river.
The Ciudadela is a huge enclosure measuring in at 160,000m² and was at the heart of the city. In the city’s most prosperous point it is expected that 100,000 people would descend on this plaza at any given time to watch ritual performances.
The interior has 4 large platforms each mounted with its own pyramid; the Feathered Serpent Pyramid being the main highlight. Though it was once the most iconic pyramid in the area, it later was partially obstructed by the Adodasa platform, and people standing in the main plaza could no longer see it.
The Sun Pyramid
On the East side of the Northern part of the Avenue of the Dead lies the Sun Pyramid. You can climb the 200 stairs to the top of this for some great views over the Teotihuacan.
The pyramid was originally built with a base of 215m x 215m and a height of 63m, but the sides were later extended on two occasions to 225m. It is geographically placed in the center of the main constructed area between the San Juan River and the Pyramid of the Moon and even has a cave located underneath it; a signal of its importance.
Pyramid of the Moon
The Moon Pyramid is located at the far north of the Avenue of the Dead, it faces south and was the primary monument of the whole complex. It is perfectly aligned with the mountain behind it, Cerro Gordo, meaning that when standing in a specific spot on the central axis of the avenue, the tip of the mountain and the tip of the pyramid meet perfectly.
Though you can only climb ¼ of this huge monolith, it still offers incredible views of the entire Avenue of the Dead and the temples that surround it.
Top Tips for Visiting Teotihuacan
Teotihuacan is an easy bus ride from Mexico City, so you can choose to either go on an arranged tour or do it yourself. A half day is the perfect amount of time to really take in everything it has to offer, at a leisurely pace.
A roundtrip ticket on the bus from the main station costs $5 USD return and they depart every 20 minutes. If you go with this option, we recommend getting the 8am bus so you arrive with plenty of time for the 9am opening. Also, the tour buses don’t show up until around 10:30am, so it gives you a bit of time to roam the ruins with less of a crowd.
Entry to the site costs $3.50 USD per person and there are guides there that are available to show you around if you wish as most of the signs at the site are in Spanish. Depending on your bartering skills, you won’t pay more than $40 USD for your private guide. Food stalls are also available on site in case you get peckish.