Mexico City, Day 7: Teotihuacan
On my last full day in Mexico city, my friends from Baja and I took the metro to the northern end of the city and boarded a bus for Teotihuacan. Once the largest city in the Americas (with a population estimated in excess of 150,000 at its peak), relatively little is known about the place or its inhabitants. It was settled around 200 BCE and thrived until about 500 CE, when much of the city was sacked and burned, possibly the result of an internal uprising.
The bus ride lasts about an hour, but it goes by quickly thanks to an onboard mariachi, who serenades us as we travel out of the city. The site itself is centred around the Avenue of the Dead, Teotihuacan’s main street, lined with remnants of the temples that once formed the city’s core.
In a way, there’s not much to the place: a dusty stretch street surrounded by crumbling stone steps leading up to dusty plateaus. Nopales and shrubby trees grow beyond them. There’s very little indication (signed or otherwise) as to what these buildings were or how they looked in their prime. It’s thought they were temples, and excavations over the years have revealed pieces of richly coloured murals and ornately carved heads of jaguars, birds and serpents. I try to imagine this, to picture it as it once was, verdant and alive, but my imagination fails. The contrast is too much. If not for the towering pyramids in the distance, it would be hard to imagine this was ever a city at all.
As soon as we exit the bus we’re met by men in wide-brimmed straw hats selling trinkets. Silver jewelry, masks adorned with jade and obsidian, carvings of animals. Many of them sell noisemakers that impersonate the calls of jaguars, eagles and owls, their calls reverberating off the stone walls. The men are stationed every few steps throughout the Avenue of the Dead and along the base of the pyramids.
The air is thin in Mexico City, and the climb to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, the largest of the two, is arduous. The steps are narrow and steep, so that when you reach a plateau and turn back, it appears as though the edge drops off to nothingness.