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    Is This the Isthmus? Tour – Mexico Part 25

    Sunday, October 22, 2017
    Mexico City, Mexico

    The Tlatelolco archaeological excavation site on the Plaza de las Tres Culturasin in Mexico City, Mexico.
    The Tlatelolco archaeological excavation site on the Plaza de las Tres Culturasin in Mexico City, Mexico.

    Sunday, October 22 was my last day in Mexico, as well as the final day of the Is This the Isthmus? Tour, so I had to make it count. At 8:30 am, I boarded a shuttle van with several other tourists from Europe, New Zealand and Peru, bound for the ancient city of Teotihuacán, about an hour north of Mexico City. On the way there, we briefly stopped at a couple of different places. The first was Tlatelolco, “an archaeological excavation site in Mexico City, Mexico where remains of the pre-Columbian city-state of the same name have been found. It is centered on the Plaza de las Tres Culturas.

    Alcoholic drinks for sale at a souvenir shop near the Teotihuacán pyramids in Mexico.
    Alcoholic drinks for sale at a souvenir shop near the Teotihuacán pyramids in Mexico.

    “On one side of the square is an excavated Aztec site, on a second is a 17th-century church called the Templo de Santiago, and on the third stands a mid-20th-century modern office complex, formerly housing the Mexican Foreign Ministry, and since 2005 used as the Centro Cultural Universitario of UNAM. At the main temple of Tlatelolco, archeologists recently discovered a pyramid more than 700 years old within the visible temple. Because this pyramid has design features similar to pyramids found in Tenayuca and Tenochtitlan, this site may prove to be the first mixed Aztec and Tlatelolca construction found in Mexico.

    “On February 10, 2009, INAH archaeologists announced the discovery of a mass grave containing 49 human skeletons, laid out in neat lines on their backs, with their arms crossed and wrapped in maguey leaves. The grave was determined to be from the period of the Spanish conquest. The remains found include those of 45 young adults, two children, a teenager, and an elderly person wearing a ring that potentially signifies a higher status. Most of the young men were tall, and several had broken bones that had healed, characteristics of warriors. The team expects to locate at least 50 additional bodies. The grave contained evidence both of Aztec rituals, such as offerings of incense and animal sacrifice, and Spanish elements, such as buttons and a bit of glass.

    The Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacán, Mexico.
    The Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacán, Mexico.

    “Salvador Guilliem, head of the site for the governmental archaeology institute, expressed his astonishment at the find: ‘We were completely taken by surprise. We didn’t expect to find this massive funeral complex.’ He said that it was likely that the indigenous people buried in this grave died while fighting the invading Spanish. They may also have died due to infectious diseases, such as the hemorrhagic fever epidemics in 1545 and 1576, which caused the deaths of a large proportion of the native population.

    The Avenue of the Dead with the Pyramid of the Moon in the distance at Teotihuacán, Mexico.
    The Avenue of the Dead with the Pyramid of the Moon in the distance at Teotihuacán, Mexico.

    “Susan Gillespie of the University of Florida suggested an alternative theory: that the men may have been held as prisoners by the Spanish for some time and executed later. The site differs from most other Spanish conquest-era graves in the area, because of the manner in which the bodies were buried. The burial was similar to those according to Christian customs of the time. This is in contrast to the thousands of graves found in other Aztec cities, where bodies were found en masse without ritual arrangement.”–Wikipedia

    Our guide, a hyper, middle-aged guy named Jorge with a beard and a raspy voice provided us with some info in Spanish and English about each spot that we visited. Sometimes he did this in the van en route, and other times on location. The bi-lingual translations made it take more time, but that’s the way it goes when you have a group made up of people from different countries and cultures. At this point in the day, the sunlight was really harsh, making it nearly impossible to take any decent photos. After a half hour at Tlatelolco, we piled back into the van and headed out of Mexico City into the countryside.

    The Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacán, Mexico.
    The Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacán, Mexico.

    Our first stop was at a souvenir store near the pyramids of Teotihuacán. This place was completely loaded down with all kids of items made by hand by local artisans–blankets, carvings, cloths, jewelry, paintings, sculptures, etc. A lot of it looked like high-quality stuff, and was priced accordingly. After a half hour or so, we drove over to the pyramids, where Jorge gathered us under a tiny shade tree–supposedly the only one around–and gave us a 10-minute primer. Then he cut us loose for 90 minutes to visit the pyramids on our own.

    The steep stairs on the front of the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacán, Mexico.
    The steep stairs on the front of the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacán, Mexico.

    “Teotihuacan is an ancient Mesoamerican city that is known today as the site of many of the most architecturally significant Mesoamerican pyramids built in the pre-Columbian Americas. At its zenith, perhaps in the first half of the first millennium AD, Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas, with a population estimated at 125,000 or more, making it at least the sixth largest city in the world during its epoch.

    “Apart from the pyramids, Teotihuacan is also anthropologically significant for its complex, multi-family residential compounds, the Avenue of the Dead and the small portion of its vibrant murals that have been exceptionally well-preserved. Additionally, Teotihuacan exported fine obsidian tools that garnered high prestige and widespread usage throughout Mesoamerica. The city is thought to have been established around 100 BC, with major monuments continuously under construction until about 250 AD. The city may have lasted until sometime between the 7th and 8th centuries AD, but its major monuments were sacked and systematically burned around 550 AD.

    The steep stairs on the front of the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacán, Mexico.
    The steep stairs on the front of the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacán, Mexico.

    “The ethnicity of the inhabitants of Teotihuacan is also a subject of debate. Possible candidates are the Nahua, Otomi or Totonac ethnic groups. Scholars have also suggested that Teotihuacan was a multi-ethnic state. The city and the archaeological site are located in what is now the San Juan Teotihuacán municipality in the State of México, approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of Mexico City. The site covers a total surface area of 83 square kilometers (32 sqaure miles) and in 1987 was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the most visited archaeological site in Mexico.”–Wikipedia

    The Pyramid of the Sun off in the distance at Teotihuacán, Mexico.
    The Pyramid of the Sun off in the distance at Teotihuacán, Mexico.

    A Vietnamese lady living in New Zealand named Dieu and I walked off together over to the Pyramid of the Sun, where, surprisingly enough, visitors are actually allowed to climb all the way to the top. The only problem was, this was Sunday, which is by far the most crowded day of the week. You know what that means: The line to climb the pyramid extended all the way around a corner and down another side. Considering that it would have taken hours to make it through the line, we just climbed up on a nearby platform, snapped a few photos, marveled at the whole spectacle unfolding in front of us, and slowly made our way down the extremely wide Avenue of the Dead toward the Pyramid of the Moon.

    “The Pyramid of the Sun is the largest building in Teotihuacan, believed to have been constructed about 200 BC, and one of the largest in Mesoamerica. Found along the Avenue of the Dead, in between the Pyramid of the Moon and the Ciudadela, and in the shadow of the massive mountain Cerro Gordo, the pyramid is part of a large complex in the heart of the city. The name Pyramid of the Sun comes from the Aztecs, who visited the city of Teotihuacan centuries after it was abandoned; the name given to the pyramid by the Teotihuacanos is unknown.

    The Avenue of the Dead at Teotihuacán, Mexico.
    The Avenue of the Dead at Teotihuacán, Mexico.

    “The pyramid was constructed in two phases. The first construction stage, around 100 BC, brought the pyramid to nearly the size it is today. The second round of construction resulted in its completed size of 224.942 meters (738 feet) across and 75 meters (246 feet) high, making it the third largest pyramid in the world, though still just over half the height of the Great Pyramid of Giza (146 meters). The second phase also saw the construction of an altar atop of the pyramid which has not survived into modern times.

    Smaller pyramids at Teotihuacán, Mexico.
    Smaller pyramids at Teotihuacán, Mexico.

    “Over the structure, the ancient Teotihuacanos finished their pyramid with lime plaster imported from surrounding areas, on which they painted brilliantly colored murals. While the pyramid has endured for centuries, the paint and plaster have not and are no longer visible. It is thought that the pyramid venerated a deity within Teotihuacan society, however, little evidence exists to support this hypothesis. The destruction of the temple on top of the pyramid, by both deliberate and natural forces prior to the archaeological study of the site, has so far prevented identification of the pyramid with any particular deity.”–Wikipedia

    Arriving at the Pyramid of the Moon, Dieu and I started to climb up the steep stairs when I noticed she was having a really hard time, struggling up one step at a time and stopping to rest frequently. Yeah, the steps were really big and tall, but I was still surprised, because her petite frame looked to be in really good shape. The view from the top out over the plaza, the wide Avenue of the Dead and the Pyramid of the Sun off in the distance was stunning. Funnily enough, climbing back down may have taken Dieu even longer than going up, but she finally made it. The fact that she’s right handed and only felt comfortable climbing down the left or “up” side of the rope “bannister” probably annoyed more than a few of those climbing up.

    A corner of the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacán, Mexico.
    A corner of the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacán, Mexico.

    “The Pyramid of the Moon is the second largest pyramid in modern-day Teotihuacán, Mexico, after the Pyramid of the Sun. It is located in the western part of the ancient city and mimics the contours of the mountain Cerro Gordo, just north of the site. The Pyramid of the Moon covers a structure that existed prior to 200 AD, making it older than the Pyramid of the Sun. The Pyramid of the Moon’s construction between 200 and 250 AD completed the bilateral symmetry of the temple complex. A slope in front of the staircase gives access to the Avenue of the Dead, and a platform atop the pyramid was used to conduct ceremonies in honor of the Great Goddess of Teotihuacan–the goddess of water, fertility, the earth, and even creation itself.

    Heading back down the steep stairs on the front of the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacán, Mexico.
    Heading back down the steep stairs on the front of the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacán, Mexico.

    “Beginning in 1998, archaeologists excavated beneath the Pyramid of the Moon. Tunnels dug into the structure have revealed that the pyramid underwent at least six renovations; each new addition was larger and covered the previous structure. As the archaeologists burrowed through the layers of the pyramid, they discovered artifacts that provide the beginning of a timeline to the history of Teotihuacan. In 1999, a team found a tomb apparently made to dedicate the fifth phase of construction. It contains four human skeletons, animal bones, jewelry, obsidian blades, and a wide variety of other offerings.

    “Archeologists estimated that the burial occurred between 100 and 200 AD. Another tomb dedicated to The Great Goddess was discovered in 1998, dated to the fourth stage of construction. It contained a single human male sacrificial victim, as well as a wolf, jaguar, puma, serpent, bird skeletons, and more than 400 other relics which include a large greenstone and obsidian figurines, ceremonial knives, and spear points.”–Wikipedia

    A Mariachi band near Teotihuacán, Mexico.
    A Mariachi band near Teotihuacán, Mexico.

    By the time Dieu and I reached flat ground, it was already time for us to head back over to the van. Our next stop was at a buffet joint, where we feasted on way too much food and watched some Aztec dancers flail around the buffet tables, followed by a Mariachi band, who, over a short while, serenaded each group of guests with a couple of songs. Our final stop of the day was the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is a “Roman Catholic church, basilica and national shrine of Mexico in the north of Mexico City. The shrine was built near the hill of Tepeyac, where Our Lady of Guadalupe is believed to have appeared to Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin.

    Dieu snaps a selfie in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Mexico.
    Dieu snaps a selfie in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Mexico.

    “This site is also known as La Villa de Guadalupe or, in a more popular sense, simply La Villa, as it has several churches and related buildings. The new Basilica next door, opened in 1976, houses the original tilma (or cloak) of Juan Diego, which holds the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. One of the most important pilgrimage sites of Catholicism, the basilica is visited by several million people every year, especially around December 12, Our Lady of Guadalupe’s Feast Day.”–Wikipedia

    When our guide, Jorge, gave us a run down on the Basillica at the entrance, I noticed that some people who were exiting would stare at him with an annoyed look on their faces. I wonder if–like Dieu and I–they thought he was kind of annoying? Or maybe they were pissed that our group was standing in the middle of the entrance / exit, thereby partially blocking it? I thought about trying to corral our group over to one side, but didn’t because I figured Jorge’s speech would be over in a few minutes anyway.

    A modern clocktower in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Mexico.
    A modern clocktower in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Mexico.

    Once inside the complex, I was astonished by how much the old church was leaning forward. It looked like the slightest earthquake could knock it over. Dieu and I also marveled at the sheer beauty of the old church, which contrasts greatly with the relatively unattractive new church. (The latter bears a strong resemblance to Space Mountain at Disneyland.) After shooting a few photos and exchanging email addresses and a hug, Dieu and I headed to the van to get whisked back to the Zocalo. Finally, after three months and one week, my amazing trip through Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize and Mexico came to an end. I was super stoked to finally see a bit of these countries, and learn a little more about them.

    A tale of two churches at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Mexico.
    A tale of two churches at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Mexico.

    Words and photos ©2017 Arcane Candy.

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