The Rome of America: What Lies Under Teotihuacan? – The Real City of the Gods

The Rome of America: What Lies Under Teotihuacan? – The Real City of the Gods

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At its peak, around 200 AD, Teotihuacan counted a population of well over 125,000, boasted hundreds of temples and palaces, and three massive pyramids named after the Sun, the Moon, and the Feathered Serpent (itself a symbol of the planet Venus). The ruins of what is often called the Rome of America , Teotihuacan, lie a mere 50 km (31 miles) North-East of modern day Mexico City.

A view of Teotihuacan, Mexico. ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

City of the Gods

By the time the Aztecs came onto the scene, at the beginning of the 14th century AD, the ancient metropolis already lay in ruins, its great pyramids covered in shrubs and vegetation. No doubt the Aztecs were left with the same questions that every modern visitor to the site is confronted with today. Who were the mysterious builders of Teotihuacan, and where had they come from? To the Aztecs, the answer to this question could be no other than the Gods themselves.

A mural showing what has been identified as the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan.

A mural showing what has been identified as the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan. ( CC BY 2.0 )

Their legends told of the arrival of wise men from a land beyond the Sea: “ They say they came to this land to rule over it ”; wrote Spanish chronicler Bernardino of Sahagún:

“They came from the sea on ships, a multitude of them, and landed on the shore of the sea, to the North…from there they went on, seeking the white mountains, the smoky mountains…led by their priests and by the voice of their gods. Finally they came to the place that they called Tamoanchan…and there they settled for some time…but it was not for long, for their wise masters left, took again to their boats…bringing back with them all their holy books and their sacred images.”

The identity of Teotihuacan with the Tamoanchan, Tollan, or Tlapallan of the Aztec and Nahua legends, has been a source of constant debate among historians: The great city of Teotihuacan literally emerged from the mists of the Mesoamerican pre-classic period as a perfectly planned city, with a fully developed architecture, and an advanced astronomy, mathematics, and calendar.

The ruins that survive today make it abundantly clear, however, that in the long sequence of construction of the site, the earliest layers almost invariably show the greatest complexity and sophistication.

Megalithic Builders and the Avenue of the Dead

The modern visitor to Teotihuacan will hardly find any evidence of the original “ City of the Gods ”, as it would have stood, according to Aztec myths, at the beginning of the present World Age, in 3,114 BC. (This is the date of the beginning of the Fifth Sun according to the Codex Vaticanus 3739, Codex Ríos). It lies buried under layers upon layers of subsequent occupations, and rather imaginative modern reconstructions (a large part of which resulting from the early 1900s restorations of Leopoldo Batres). Yet, one needs to walk not much further than the tourist-beaten path along the 4-km (2.5-mile) -long Avenue of the Dead to find evidence of a much more mysterious and still largely unexplored past: Almost all the construction that is visible in Teotihuacan today consists of loose lava stones, roughly cemented together, mixed with adobe and a filling of rubble.

Megalithic stone blocks scattered in the vicinity of the pyramid of the Feathered Serpents at Teotihuacan.

Megalithic stone blocks scattered in the vicinity of the pyramid of the Feathered Serpents at Teotihuacan. (Photos by Author Marco M. Vigato)

Megalithic stone blocks scattered in the vicinity of the pyramid of the Feathered Serpents at Teotihuacan.
Megalithic stone blocks scattered in the vicinity of the pyramid of the Feathered Serpents at Teotihuacan.

Megalithic stone blocks scattered in the vicinity of the pyramid of the Feathered Serpents at Teotihuacan. (Photos by Author Marco M. Vigato)

It is true that some of the façades were originally stuccoed and painted, but these have mostly faded or disappeared, so that the impression of monumentality of even the largest pyramids immediately disappears once one examines these structures from a closer distance.

Example of super-imposed buildings at complex situated along the Avenue of the Dead

Example of super-imposed buildings at complex situated along the Avenue of the Dead (Photo by Author Marco M. Vigato)

Megalithic stone head from the earlier layer of construction.

Megalithic stone head from the earlier layer of construction. (Photo by Author Marco M. Vigato)

It is therefore even more surprising to find evidence among the earliest layers of construction of an entirely different style of architecture employing enormous, finely cut and polished blocks of stone, which could very well be called megalithic.

A portion of these earlier megalithic structures can be appreciated on the western face of the pyramid of the Feathered Serpents. Here, a monumental façade of finely sculptured stone was uncovered under a later period “ adosada” platform, which was added to the pyramid at some point during the 4th century AD. Even more puzzling are a number of enormous blocks of stone that lie scattered in a small esplanade towards the back of the pyramid. These stones appear to be of an entirely different kind, even relative to the ones that cover the western façade of the pyramid.

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Ancient Technology

Left side view of the Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan.
Teotihuacan’s Lost Kings, a television special, took an hour long look at the great city, its inhabitants, and the excavation of the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, (also known as the Feathered Serpent Pyramid.) The program revealed evidence of advanced engineering built into a tunnel system, and placed directly underneath the Pyramid.

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