Why did they disappear? The Authors Collection.


It might be the most interesting pyramid in the world.

We stood gazing up at the third largest pyramid in the world, thirty miles from the center of the third largest city in the world.  The Pyramid of the Sun, on the outskirts of Mexico City, is much younger than the two larger pyramids of Giza.  It was constructed between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D., but today, the archeologists are not certain who actually built this behemoth of over 44 million cubic feet in volume. The Totonacs claimed credit, but researchers have not been able to verify that.

IMG_0417The Pyramid of the Sun is the largest structure in Teotihuacan (and is often referred to as the Teotihuacan Pyramid).  It stands 246 feet high, much shorter than Khufu or Khafre, the two giants of Egypt.  But standing at the bottom and looking up, you cannot fail to be impressed.

What makes this such an architecturally significant area is not just the pyramids, but the town that was built around them.  Teotihuacan (it’s original name is unknown, but the Mayans gave it that name a century after the demise of the town) was an multi-ethnic town occupied by Otomi, Zapotec, Mixtec, Maya, and Nahua peoples.  Archeologists believe the town was divided into sections for the various ethnic groups. It is likely that many languages were spoken in the city.

Much of the upper class dwellings were centered around a very wide grassy area known as the Avenue of the Dead which ran from the Pyramid of the Sun to the lesser (but still impressive) Pyramid of the Moon. These dwellings, only now being uncovered, included compounds capable of housing multiple families, as well as multi-story structures probably serving as homes for the priests and governing officials.   Among these, literally tens of thousands of murals have been found, many of which are compared to those in Renaissance Florence. In many of the residences, every wall would be decorated with a mural.

IMG_0422The workers lived outside the central area and in much less elaborate structures.

At its zenith, Teotihuacan covered twelve square miles and had a population of around 150,000.  It contained no military or defensive structures, but its influence extended as far as Honduras and Guatemala.

Most puzzling to archeologists is why, after eight or nine centuries of prosperity, Teotihuacan disappeared. Attack by outside forces does not seem to be the cause.  Theories center around two main causes, perhaps working together: a very long and severe drought and the unrest of the poorer inhabitants.  But by the seventh or eighth century A.D., Teotihuacan ceased to exist as a occupied, thriving city.

We visited the museum on the site. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of artifacts were on display. Even today, robots are being used to explore newly discovered passageways in the pyramids, recovering more artifacts and learning more about these ancient structures.

Visitors are allowed to climb to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, but it is a difficult journey as the steps are quite tall and exceedingly narrow.  And as difficult as the ascent is, the decent is much worse.  Climbing the Pyramid of the Moon is limited to about half way to the top, where a wide plateau provides ample room for many people to stand and admire the ancient ruins.

I climbed the Pyramid of the Moon, but thought better of attempting the Sun.


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