Teotihuacan.Avenue of the Dead.
TEOTIHUACAN Anonymous (Early Classic c. 1 - 600)
2nd c BCE-7th c CE Pre-Columbian: Mesoamerican Teotihuacan (Classic) Architectur
(c. 1 - 600)
150 BCE-700 CE
2nd c BCE-7th c CE
So far in this lesson we have considered the various sources of our knowledge of Pre-Columbian sites, which come from Spanish Colonial writers, ancient myths and practices of living peoples studied by anthropologists, distribution of plants studied by ethnobotanists, scientific tools used by archeologists, the decoding of ancient numerical systems and textual glyphs coming from cryptographers and linguists, and speculations coming from all sorts of people. We have looked at a number of objects that help us understand the social structures of various groups. All of these sources have helped to open Pre-Columbian artifacts to the consideration of art historians who are concerned both with their aesthetic quality and with setting the works in the religious and historical contexts.
Two excellent examples of the art historical approach are The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art by Linda Schele and Mary Ellen Miller, and The Ancient Americas: Art from the Sacred Landscapes which contains a group of essays edited by Richard Townsend which was published in connection with an exhibition at the Chicago Art Institute. Catalogs of other exhibitions, like Teotihuacan: Art from the City of the Gods from the San Franciso Museum of Art help in the effort to synthesize what is known about particular sites and to present it in the context of fine art. In the remainder of the lesson we will trace some of the themes considered in these and other works, particularly the themes of sacrifice and the sacred landscape.
The mighty Pre-Columbian structures were intimately linked to the land which Native American peoples have considered to be sacred. This photograph of the main avenue of the mysterious ancient city of TEOTIHUACAN in the Valley of Mexico illustrates the intimate connection between the pyramid, which has been called the Pyramid of the Moon, and Cerro Gordo, the mountain that frames it.
There is much that we still do not know about this vast city that covered some eight square miles, which is large than Imperial Rome. Its population has been estimated to have been between 100,000 and 200,000 people, numbers based on the many residential compounds identified throughout the city. More than 500 workshops of potters, weavers, sculptors and obsidian workers have been identified, as well as quarters that were apparently reserved by colonies of merchants from other parts of Mesoamerica. Teotihucan served both as an important religious site and as the center of an extensive trade network. The city flourished from approximately 150 BCE until 750 CE when it was essentially destroyed; we do not know why. However, even after the fall of the city it was revered, and more than 700 years after its destruction the Aztecs rulers made pilgrimages to this impressive site, which they called "the place of the gods."
An Aztec informant told the Spanish friar, Bernardino de Sahagún: "It is called Teotihuacan. And when the rulers died, they buried them there. Then they built a pyramid over them...And the built the pyramids of the sun and moon very large, just like mountains. It is unbelievable when it is said that they are made by hands, but giants still lived there then."
Teotihuacan was laid out on a rigid grid pattern, something very rare in Pre-Columbian America as well as in Europe, although the Aztecs later adopted the design. The North South axis, or Ritual Way, which ended at the Pyramid of the Moon seen here, was crossed by another avenue linked the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and a great open plaza, which perhaps served as a market. Halfway between this group and the Pyramid of the Moon was the Pyramid of the Son, which was over 200 feet high and was constructed of more than 30 million cubic feet of earth and mud brick. Both monumental pyramids were faced with stone, and stone was used to construct the many stepped platforms that line the Ritual Way. Everything is very geometric and regular, including the San Juan River which bisects the city and which has been carefully channeled.
The area is rich with caves and with natural springs, which scholars speculate may be why the city was built where it is. The careful alignment of the central avenue and the Pyramid of the Moon with the mountain behind is no accident. From Mesoamerican legends we know that mountains, where clouds collect in the rainy season, symbolized both water and fertility. In 1971 a large cave was discovered under the Pyramid of the Sun, and we know that caves were considered as entrances to the underworld and were also associated with hidden sources of water. Clearly an adequate supply of water was vital to a community which depended upon productive agriculture. We will see that much of the art found at Teotihuacan depicts gods and goddesses associated with water.
In her essay on Teotihuacan in The Ancient Americas, Art from Sacred Landscapes, Ester Pasztory argues that the orientation to the mountain and the numerous springs and caves indicate that the city was purposefully built on a sacred place and functioned as the equivalent to a cathedral. She points out that Anthony Aveni's discoveries of circle crosses found both within Teotihuacan and in the surrounding hills, refer to the world directions, linking the city to the sky as well as to the earth. The cross-circles, which were pecked out of the stone, frequently consist of 260 dots, which probably refers to the 260 day Mesoamerican ritual calendar.
TEOTIHUACáN | Teotihuacan. Avenue of the Dead. | 150 BCE-700 CE | Pre-Columbian: Mesoamerican | Teotihuacan Classic