Sunday, May 20: This morning, our study-abroad group meets in the hotel lobby for orientation and a review of our schedule for the week. We then listen to a talk about Current Events given by Charles Goff, Director of the Cemanahauc Educational Community, an immersion Spanish language school in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. The mission of this community, which has been in existence since 1974, is to provide an understanding of the language, culture and history of Mexico and Latin America. (Facebook: Cemanahuac Educational Community)
At 10:00, we depart from the hotel for field trip to Teotihuacan, stopping first to visit the Plaza of Three Cultures.
The Plaza de las Tres Culturas (“Square of the Three Cultures”) is the main square within the Tlatelolco neighborhood of Mexico City. The name “Three Cultures” denotes the three periods of Mexican history reflected by buildings of pre-Columbian and Spanish colonial origin, along with buildings from the independent “mestizo” nation. The plaza, designed by Mexican architect Mario Pani, was completed in 1966.
The square contains the remains of Aztec temples and is flanked by the Santiago de Tlatelolco Catholic Church, built in the 16th century, along with a massive housing complex built in 1964 (Wikipedia: Plaza de las Tres Culturas).
When we arrive at Teotihuacan, we have lunch near the ruin site at the restaurant owned by Emma Ortega, “the Angel of Teotihuacan,” who led the fight against Wal-Mart. She gives a brief talk on The Power of One. (New York Times: The Bribery Aisle: How Wal-Mart Got Its Way in Mexico)
Teotihuacán was a pre-Columbian Mesoamerican city located 30 miles (48 km) northeast of modern-day Mexico City. Today it is known as the site of many of the most architecturally significant Mesoamerican pyramids built in the pre-Columbian Americas. The name means “the place where men become gods.” 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.
The city is thought to have been established around 100 BC and continued to be built until about 250 AD. The city may have lasted until sometime between the 7th and 8th centuries AD. At its zenith, perhaps in the first half of the 1st millennium AD, Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas, with a population of perhaps 125,000 or more, placing it among the largest cities of the world in this period. Teotihuacan was even home to multi-floor apartment compounds built to accommodate this large population. (Wikipedia: Teotihuacan)
The holy city is characterized by the vast size of its monuments – in particular, the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, laid out on geometric and symbolic principles. As one of the most powerful cultural centers in Mesoamerica, Teotihuacan extended its cultural and artistic influence throughout the region, and even beyond.
Teotihuacan and its valley bear unique testimony to the pre-urban structures of ancient Mexico. The first of the great Mesoamerican Classic civilizations exerted influence over the whole of the central region of Mexico, in Yucatan and as far away as Guatemala (the site of Kaminaljuvu) between AD 300 and 600.
Lining the immense Avenue of the Dead, the unique group of sacred monuments and places of worship at Teotihuacan (Pyramids of the Sun, the Moon and Quetzalcoatl and Palaces of Quetzalmariposa, Jaguars, Yayahuala and others) constitutes an outstanding example of a pre-Columbian ceremonial center.
This ensemble represents a unique artistic achievement as much for the enormous size as for the strictness of a layout based on cosmic harmony. The art of the Teotihuacanos was the most developed among the Classic civilizations of Mexico. Here it is expressed in its successive and complementary aspects: the dry and obsessive geometry of the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon contrasts with the sculpted and painted decor of exceptional richness of the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl, the Plumed Serpent.
The city was razed by fire and subsequently abandoned during the 7th century.
The location of the first sanctuary, the Pyramid of the Sun (built on a cave discovered in 1971), was calculated on the Sun’s position at its zenith, and applied astronomical logic determined the space’s organization: the Avenue of the Dead was drawn out perpendicularly to the principal axis of the solar temple. The Pyramid of the Moon, to the north the ‘Citadel’ and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl to the south-east became one by one the borders of a processional avenue 40 m wide and 2 km long.
At the peak of its development (the archaeologists’ period of Teotihuacan III, from c. AD 300-600), the city stretched out over 36 square kilometers. Outside the ceremonial center, which, despite its imposing size, represents only 10% of the total surface, excavations have revealed palaces and residential quarters that are of great interest at Tetitla, Atetelco, Yayahuala and Zacuala to the west, and Xolalpan, Tepantitla and others to the east (UNESCO: Pre-Hispanic City of Teotihuacan).
After our day going back in time to visit the Aztecs, we find a Mexican restaurant where we have a fabulous dinner and listen to some Mexican musicians. Several of us join the group at various times for photo shoots.
What a fabulous day of exploring Mexico city and its surrounds on the first official day of our Mexico Study Abroad trip. 🙂