Teotihuacan Pyramid of the Sun and Moon

Teotihuacan: definition and location

Teotihuacan is one of the archaeological sites with the longest history of exploration in Mexico, and it was declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1997, its name in the Nahuatl language, the language of the Aztecs, Teotihuacan definition is the “place where men become gods”, “place where gods were made” or “city of gods”. Teotihuacan is the name that the Mexican people gave to this city. We do not know the name that their own inhabitants gave it.

The holy city of Teotihuacan is situated about 50 km north-east of Mexico City, and its valley bear unique testimony to the pre-urban structures of ancient Mexico. Human occupation of the valley of Teotihuacan began before the Christian era, but it was only between the 1st and the 7th centuries A.D. that the settlement developed into one of the largest ancient cities in America, with at least 25,000 inhabitants.

The origin of their monuments

Teotihuacan is characterized by the vast size of their monuments, in particular, the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl laid out on geometric and symbolic principles. As one of the most powerful cultural centers in Mesoamerica, Teotihuacan extended its cultural and artistic influence throughout the region, and even beyond.

The ceremonial ensemble of Teotihuacan represents a unique artistic achievement as much by the enormous size of the monuments (the Pyramid of the Sun, built on a 350 m² terrace, measures 225 x 222 meters at the base, and is 75 meters high, for a total volume of 1 million m³) as by the strictness of a layout based on cosmic harmony.

The art of Teotihuacans was the most developed among the pre-hispanic mexican civilizations, and was expressed in successive and complementary aspects, for example the dry and obsessive geometry of the pyramids of the Sun and the Moon contrasts with the sculpted and the painted decor of an exceptional richness of the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent.

Pyramid of the Moon and the Pyramid of the Sun

Teotihuacan was a planned city, it was presented as a kind of earthly paradise, with its own sacred geography. The rectangular outline of the city is both grand and exact. The architecture shows a harmonic order and precise planning, both rooted in the Mesoamerican worldview. The Pyramid of the Sun, for example, mimics the surrounding mountains and its volume is balanced by the shape of four concave sides of the Citadel.

A line, parallel to the main north-south axis of Teotihuacan (called Causeway of the Dead by the Mexicas), starts from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun and crosses exactly through the geometric center of the Citadel. Other smaller buildings, aligned in this same ceremonial manner, perfectly fit the reticular trace. Crowning the north end of that trace, and framed by the Gordo hill, the great mountain of water, is the Pyramid of the Moon. Recent excavations indicate that could be one of the oldest buildings in Teotihuacan. In addition, the two great pyramids line up near the real north-south.

The Pyramid of the Sun

The Pyramid of the Sun was built almost 2,000 years ago and is the most important structure within the Archaeological Ensemble of Teotihuacan, being located in the center of the Causeway of the Dead, between the Pyramid of the Moon to the north and The Citadel in the south.

An interesting aspect related to the Pyramid of the Sun is that their orientation really indicates the movement of the sun, from dawn to dusk and the equinoxes, as well as the point of the celestial vault where the Pleiades leave.

Is the largest construction in Teotihuacan: measures 225 meters per side and reaches about 65 meters in height. Knowing these dimensions, is surprising that unlike other buildings, whose volumes are the product of the accumulation of different constructions, the Pyramid of the Sun was built in a single stage, during the Tzacualli phase (1-150 AD).

The Mexicas called it tonatiuh itzacual, “Sun lock”, and it’s a commonly thought that the pyramid was dedicated to the worship of that star. However, some authors argue that it was actually dedicated to the god of rain. During their exploration they were located, in the four corners of each of the bodies, burials of sacrificed children, practice associated with the worship of the gods of rain. In addition, the fact that the pyramid was surrounded by a canal and a large platform has led to the whole as a representation of a sacred mountain, container of water and universal wealth.

The cusp can be accessed through a staircase made up of about 260 steps, 52 for each sun or era. Numerous Mesoamerican peoples explained the creation of the world in its cosmogony through the myth of the Five Suns. These correspond to five periods in which a specific deity reigned. However, at the end of the first four suns there was a cataclysm arising from the struggles between the different deities, and men and the world disappeared. For these civilizations we find ourselves in the Fifth Sun that will be destroyed by an earthquake.

This began in the city of Teotihuacan. Hence the number of steps of the Pyramid of the Sun. The body of the pyramid consists of stone blocks joined by a special mud and later decorated with stucco.

How long did it take to build the pyramid of the Sun?

According to studies, a total of six million work days were required or, what is the same, six thousand workers over a period of ten years.

Once the basic structure of the pyramid was built, the 50,000 m2 that the total surface of the complex occupies was plastered, first with adobe and volcanic gravel, and then with limestone plaster extracted from the adjacent valleys.

This last step was a real drain on the inhabitants of Teotihuacán, since all the forests in the area were cut down to treat this stone, which meant an irreversible alteration of the ecological balance of the region, the consequences of which are still visible today.

The authorities crowned the Pyramid of the Sun with one or several temples on top of the broad summit, and redesigned the entrance to the platform located above the grotto, which resulted in the inclusion of the most characteristic architectural feature of Teotihuacan, the so-called “Table slope” style, exclusive to the Pyramid of the Sun, consisting of a series of platform-like walls arranged on each of the stepped levels of the structure.

The original function is a mystery

While the Mayan writing was deciphered, or at least in part, the glyphs of the Teotihuacan people still contain many unknowns. This historical monument of Mexico, has been related to fire and water, two apparently opposite but essential elements for life.

In 2013, the discovery of a sculpture at the top of the pyramid by Huehueteotl, the god of fire, was announced, which adds to other previous findings also related to the cult of fire and the completion of cycles in the Teotihuacan calendar. On the other hand, archaeologist Alejandro Sarabia argues that the original building was dedicated to a rain deity, a very old version of the god Tlaloc.

In the decade of the 70s archaeologists made a formidable finding: under the pyramid was a cave that entered just in front of the pyramid. The 102-meter-long cave ended in what appeared to be a four-petal flower, each petal being a kind of chamber. It is assumed that there is a link between these caves and the mythical place of origin of the Aztecs, called Chicomotzoc or “the place of the seven caverns”, but it has not been able to be established clearly.

Recent excavations carried out by a team of archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico (INAH-Conaculta) have found a sculpture of the old god or the Huehuetéotl fire, two complete stelae and the fragment of another on the cusp of the pyramid. This 58-centimeter-high sculpture is the largest one discovered in the archaeological complex, and together with the two green stones stelae and the fragment of the other, it seems that they decorated the temple that crowned the pyramid 1500 years ago and that has not arrived us, since it was the inhabitants of Teotihuacan themselves who destroyed it.

This discovery, together with the other one in 1906 of a brazier and several sculptural elements dedicated to the New Fire ceremony founded on the adjacent platform, suggest that the Pyramid of the Sun was the object of igneous cults and the end of the calendar cycle.

The Pyramid of the Moon

The Pyramid of the Moon is the second tallest structure in the city (after the Pyramid of the Sun). It’s located in the northern part of the Causeway of the Dead. It has a rectangular base, it’is 150 meters long from east to west and 130 meters from north to south, and is currently 42 meters high.

At the front of the pyramid is an outgoing body, larger than the structure attached to the Pyramid of the Sun and that does not appear to be an overlap, but is part of the pyramid’s structure and has four stepped bodies with walls in slope-board. On the sides of this superimposed body there are two large drainage channels limited by alfarda type walls. At the top of the pyramid there appears to have been a temple (as in the Pyramid of the Sun) so it appears that it may originally have been taller than it is today.

Human sacrifices

The Pyramid of the moon is composed with five staggered bodies with high slope walls. Under the pyramid, we can see six old bodies that represent the rulers ordering to build a new pyramid on top of the previous one.

Despite of all this, the excavation was used to discover tunnels not been carried out in the Pyramid of the Moon, as in the years of 1988 and 1989 in the temple of Quetzalcoatl. However, there are already plans to carry out this type of work in the future.

During excavations leaded by archaeologists Rubén Cabrera and Saburo Sugiyama carried out between 1998 and 2004, lavish and atrocious burials have been found in the Pyramid of the Moon. After opening a 43-meter-high tunnel, archaeologists located five burials, revealing scenes of ancient massacres: decapitated heads, foreign warriors and dignitaries remains and, as well, as immolated animals.

The evidence indicates that the burials correspond to victims of ritual sacrifices, performed to consecrate the successive stages of the construction of the pyramid. The oldest sacrifice date from approximately 200 AD.C.: a foreigner was buried alive with his hands tied, surrounded him with animals that represented mythical powers and military supremacy: a wolf, a hawk, pumas, eagles and rattlesnakes, some of them also buried alive inside cages.

There were also finely crafted offerings: obsidian weapons and a jade figurine, perhaps a goddess of war. Later burials are all different, but with the same purpose: The sacrifices were important to control people, to convince them to do what their rulers wanted

In 2018, the INAH, through a statement, confirmed that under the pyramid is a 15-meter-diameter chamber that communicates through a tunnel with the “Plaza de la Luna” and is believed to be used for ritual purposes.

What Is the spring equinox in Teotihuacan?

Hundreds of people celebrate the spring equinox visiting the Teotihuacan archaeological site outside of Mexico City. Tourists visit the Pyramid of the Moon and the Pyramid of the Sun to welcome the beginning of spring, many of them dressed in white and red.

On the equinox, the sun is positioned directly over the equator. The word “equinox” means “equal night” referring to the fact that on this day, there are twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of night. There are two equinoxes during the year: The spring equinox, sometimes called “vernal equinox,” which falls around March 20th, and the autumn equinox which falls around September 23rd. The day of the spring equinox marks the end of winter and beginning of spring.

But what is the meaning of the spring equinox in Teotihuacan? Imagine that the Teotihuacans believed that this astronomical phenomenon, which they turned into archaeo-astronomical, was the beginning of a new cycle of time that represented the first planting of the year.

It is said that at that time energy portals are opened that flow from all points of the universe. People at the top of Pyramid of the Sun receive these energies. It’s like a portal that can connect you with the creation.

Why is the spring equinox in Teotihuacan still in force?

Most people attend with the intention of spending a different day. Many of them believe in the cosmic design that represents the position of the earth on this particular day. However, beyond any belief, mexicans continue to attend this party for the simple reason that they have it tattooed on their skin. The mestizo genes push them to celebrate pre-hispanic events although sometimes they do not know their true meaning.

It is a good excuse to visit and take a private tour to Teotihuacan from Mexico City.

Are you planning to visit Teotihuacan soon?

Prepare well your visit to the Archaeological Zone of Teotihuacan to not miss anything. With an area of 264 hectares, you will need at least a whole day to enjoy the history and mysticism that surrounds all its main monuments such as: The Citadel, the Causeway of the Dead, the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, Quetzalpapaloltl Palace and much more. Read our guide about the best Teotihuacan Tour.