Relatively little is known of pre-Columbian America, but when you visit the Mesoamerican city of Teotihuacan which is located about 40 kilometres northeast of Mexico City, you do get to understand that complex and sophisticated civilisations have existed in the Americas for a very long time.
As far as archaeologists can determine construction of this enormous city began about 150BC and building continued until about the 7th century AD. The whole complex is very impressive, and includes some of the largest pyramids built in the Americas.
The cities origins remain somewhat of a mystery but during its peak, occupying and area of 21 square kilometres (8 square miles) it was undoubtedly the largest city in the Western Hemisphere.
Most of the greatest buildings line an avenue that was called “the Street of the Dead”, which was two kilometres long and 40 metres wide. With such a dour name you might expect that avenue to be somewhat banal, but it is massively impressive with sacred monuments that include the Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon and the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent.
The largest of the monuments is the Pyramid of the Sun was calculated to occupy the position of the Sun at its zenith and is, together with the Pyramid of the Moon a building that has religious significance.
When visiting the site be prepared for a lot of walking as inside the perimeter of the complex is a car free zone, and to see it properly does require visitors to do it on foot. There is also a bit of climbing if you wish to reach the top of the pyramids, but that is something you need to do to enjoy the full experience of Teotihuacan.
The city wasn’t just filled with monumental buildings as Teotihuacan was even home to multi-storeyed apartment compounds that were built to accommodate a large population that was estimated to number at least 125,000 and possibly even 250,000 at times.
For some reason occupation ceased in about the 8th century AD, although historians aren’t entirely sure why. What is known is that the city had immense power and may have controlled virtually all of modern Mexico and beyond.
Certainly, the people who built Teotihuacan were great mathematicians and engineers as the layout of the city was very precise with great consideration given to the exact position of each monumental building.
As you walk the almost empty streets of Teotihuacan it is difficult to imagine just what a busy, thriving city it must have been and how alien the religious practices of the time would seem if they were still being performed today.