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Teotihuacan is an enormous city of ruins in Mexico. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1987. The site should not be confused with Teotihuacan de Arista, which is a modern city near the ruins, and just northeast of Mexico City.
Who exactly built Teotihuacan is a matter of some modern debate. For a long time it was thought that the Toltec people were responsible for its construction, mostly because of the Florentine Codex, which said the site was built by the Toltec. However, the word Toltec simply means “master builder”, and therefore could have been referring to anyone. Since the Toltec appear to have reached their height some centuries after the construction of Teotihuacan, it is now thought to be unlikely that they were the original builders.
Building was started in the Teotihuacan valley sometime in the 2nd century BCE, although at this point the structures were relatively small. By the end of the 1st century the major building of the site, the Pyramid of the Sun, had been completed. For the next three centuries the site continued to develop apace, reaching its zenith as the power base for a mighty civilization that spread throughout Mesoamerica, including into parts of the Mayan territory.
At its largest, Teotihuacan covered more than 11 square miles (30 sq. km), and had a population base of anywhere from 150,000 to 250,000 people. The civilization of Teotihuacan was quite advanced, and signs of their influence can be found throughout Mesoamerica. The city contained enormous numbers of craft people, and their wares shed a great deal of light on the people that flourished there. Beautiful stone masks, ornate obsidian artifacts, and intricate jewelling are some of the many artifacts uncovered at Teotihuacan.
Quite a bit of what we know about Teotihuacan actually comes from the Maya, who saw the civilization of Teotihuacan as conquerors. Some of the most famous Maya inscriptions about Teotihuacan talk about a ruler from the city, Spearthrower Owl, who ruled for sixty years and conquered Mayan kingdoms, placing his own family as the rulers of the Mayan cities of Uaxactun and Tikal.
In the late-7th or early-8th century Teotihuacan fell. It is likely that the city was conquered by the Toltecs, and burned to the ground. Some people believe, however, that the destruction of Teotihuacan actually came from within. Presented as evidence in support of this is the fact that most of the structures burned were those belonging to the elites of the city, perhaps as a lower-class revolt.
The site itself runs along a major avenue, the Avenue of the Dead. Along the Avenue of the Dead sits the immense Pyramid of the Sun, which is the third largest pyramid in the world at more than 206 feet (63m) tall. Other structures include the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, the Temple of the Moon, and the Palace of the Jaguars. There’s a small fee to enter the site, and once inside visitors can expect to do quite a bit of walking to get around. Busses travel to Teotihuacan from Mexico City every half hour, and tour busses or taxis can be hired for more personal trips.