Saturday, December 28, 2013


The Magician’s Pyramid (Temple I) Uxmal 592 AD

The smell of limestone sent his heart thumping like a deer drum as he ascended the steep steps. It was said by the elders that the top of this great structure scraped the sky and sparked the stars.

~Xtoloc as he climbs The Pyramid of the Magician ~The Jaguar Sun

Steep steps indeed, The Pyramid of the Magician in Uxmal, Yucatan rises approximately 115 feet high into the blue. And though, on a recent trip to Mexico, I wasn’t able to travel far enough south to see the pyramid at Uxmal, I did have the good fortune to visit Teotihuacan, just 48 kilometers northeast of Mexico City, and ascend The Pyramid of the Sun which stands nearly 240 feet in height, and is reputedly the largest pyramid in Mesoamerica, and the third largest in the world.

With the assistance of Hilario, our gracious guide, we found ourselves fully immersed in the history of Teotihuacan. At least what is known of this once thriving culture. You see it's still not clear who these people really were that predated the Aztecs by at least nine centuries. This vast civilization which blossomed and peaked by the fifth century, and began its decline in the seventh century, had far reaching influence throughout Mesoamerica, and was known as "the dwelling place of the gods." An integrated metropolis with priests as administrators, architects, artisans, farmers, and military.   

At over 7000 feet above sea level, under a partially clouded azure sky, the air crisp with a breeze whispering over the grounds and weaving through the mystifying structures, this well visited archeological site is nothing short of transcendent. And though our guide would occasionally slip into Spanish while speaking with our son, Hilario’s softly accented English narration kept us spellbound throughout our time at Teotihuacan. 

We began our tour of this ancient urban grid at the southern end, with the Feathered Serpent Pyramid (or the Temple of Quetzalcoatl) most notable for its stone sculpted heads of Quetzalcoatl (otherwise known as the Plumed Serpent) and Tlaloc, the Rain/Storm/Fire god (Chac, in Mayan). At one time, before the temple was partially destroyed and built over, there were seven tiers to this structure, and 365 of those stone heads, which no doubt represented the calendar year. If you look closely you can see the scaled serpents and their coiled tails, as well as fangs, feline eyes, and feathers framing Quetzalcoatl's head. In detailed relief to the right of the sculptures are limestone painted conch shells that (we are told) not only represent marine life and the wind, but the human heart, which served as a sacrificial offering to the mighty gods. In fact, during a 1980s excavation of the pyramid, over a hundred skeletons, with hands tied behind their backs, were found; solidifying evidence of ritual sacrifices.

View of The Citadel from atop of The Feathered Serpent Pyramid (Temple of Quetzalcoatl). The Citadel was believed to be the main gathering area for the population. At it's zenith, around 550 AD, the Teotihuacanans were 150,000 to 200,000 people strong.  

If you look to the right of my husband, you will see The Temple of the Moon rising up in the distance.

After taking several pictures we descended to the base of the temple where a few natives were selling wares to the tourists. I resisted the large obsidian knife, a vendor turned this way and that, telling myself I would return later in the day to buy it. The knife was eerily reminiscent of Chac’s sacrificial knife in The Jaguar Sun. Alas, at the end of the day when I returned to purchase the knife, the man was gone.

Next we meandered down The Avenue of the Dead, originally mis-named because the stone structures on either side of the wide path were thought to be tombs. Later, it was determined that the raised platforms are what is left of residences, most likely that of the richer classes. The lengthy avenue (1.2 miles long) served as a main thoroughfare that divided the east and west residential sprawl, and farther down the avenue a long dry river bed marks where the San Juan River bisected this grand cultural center. 

Along the way Hilario informed us that only a small percentage of the ruins have been excavated to date, and that there is still much to be unearthed to the east and west, but, he added, the country is too poor to finance such an undertaking. Most of the complex relies on outside funding for ongoing restorations, excavations, and further research. 

Avenue of the Dead

The remnant foundations of the bordering residences

Areas are still preserved of the highly polished limestone floors, not unlike today's marble floors

The layout of an apartment, most likely inhabited by a wealthy citizen.

An upper class residence

Puma fresco with residual ochre tint

The Pyramid of the Moon on the horizon

On the left is the Palacio de los Jaguares and adjacent to The Pyramid of the Moon is the Palacio de Quetzal-Mariposa (the Palace of the Quetzal Bird-Butterfly) where the priests were thought to reside.

The restoration project

Plumbed Jaguar, Palacio de los Jaguares

Restored sections

Plaza of the Moon, where large gatherings also took place

Stairs leading up to The Pyramid of the Moon
(138 feet in height)

Ascending The Pyramid of the Sun

Happy New Year

For more information on Teotihuacan and Mesoamerican History ~



Lin said...

I looked at your pictures and read your accounting with awe. The Mesoamerican pyramids have always held me more spellbound than the Egyptians. I am also drawn to the American mounds , the Anasazi, and the Nazca drawings. It must have been breathtaking and a little eerie to walk the path those ancients walked and climbed the steps on a construction we cannot duplicate today.

Thank you for sharing Sara.

S. Durham Writer ~ Author said...

Hey Lin,

Thanks for stopping by and taking a look. It was an amazing experience! The Anasazi is also of interest to me but I've yet to see them. And I admit I haven't heard of the American Mounds and the Nazca drawings, but now I'm intrigued:)

Thanks you for sharing as well,