Built between the 1st and 7th Centuries A.D., the ancient archaeological site of Teotihuacan (City of Gods) is located in the Valley of Mexico at a distance of about 48 kilometers northeast of the Mexico City. The site is famous for its archaeological treasures, especially the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl. The Teotihuacan in its peak period was one of the largest cities of pre-Aztec Mexico, occupying an area of around 20 square kilometers and hosting nearly 125,000 to 200,000 people. Recognizing the outstanding universal value of the historical site, UNESCO declared Teotihuacan as a World Heritage Site in 1987.
The early history of Teotihuacan is completely shrouded in mystery. It is believed that Teotihuacan was inhabited by humans as far back as 400 BC. After the destruction of the city of Cuicuilco by the eruption of the Xitle volcano, mass migration of residents from this city to Teotihuacan possibly triggered the large-scale urban growth of the latter. Some scholars, however, believe that the Totonac people were the original founders of the Teotihuacan city. The city is believed to have reached its zenith at about AD 450 and the culture of the Teotihuacanos soon spread far and wide, influencing cultures of the entire Mesoamerica region. Agriculture, trade, and ceramic work were the primary sources of livelihood of these ancient people. The religious heads or priests of Teotihuacan were also the rulers of the city and they often performed elaborate rituals and religious pageants. Human sacrifices also formed an important part of such rituals. The fall of the city of Teotihuacan occurred between the 7th and 8th Century with two prevailing theories explaining the fall. A section of historians claims that invaders attacking the city during this time burnt its buildings and structures and forced the people to flee. On the contrary, the fact that most of the burnt structures at this archaeological site appear to belong to the ruling and wealthy class of people, suggests an internal uprising as the reason of demise of Teotihuacan. There is also evidence that drought and famine grasped the city during this period which possibly triggered an unrest among its citizens and the consequent revolt against the ruling class.
Today, the ancient city of Teotihuacan is a major tourist destination in Mexico, attracting tourists with its unique history, mystery, archaeological ruins and cultural significance. Some of the most famous ruins of this ancient site include the Street of the Dead, a 2.4-kilometer road that connected the important buildings of Teotihuacan, the Pyramid of the Moon and other smaller pyramids, Temple of Quetzalcóatl located within the Ciudadela, and the Pyramid of the Sun. The Temple of Quetzalcóatl is designed in the form of a truncated pyramid and is endowed with stone sculptures and ornately designed walls. The Pyramid of the Sun is an impressive structure with an imposing height of 216 feet from the ground level with a maze of tunnels and caves at its bottom reaching out to other parts of the ancient city.
Habitat and Biodiversity
The archaeological site of Teotihuacan is part of the landscape of the Valley of Mexico, a valley located at an altitude of 7,200 feet above sea level. The valley is highly susceptible to volcanic eruptions, being surrounded by volcanoes with elevations as high as 16,000 feet. Earthquakes are also common here as the valley is located in a seismically active zone. The valley being enclosed by mountains on all sides except for a narrow opening in the north and being located at a high altitude with low oxygen levels, is easily susceptible to high levels of air pollution and is regarded as one of the most polluted places in the planet.
Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes
Presently, there is a great need to monitor tourism in Teotihuacan. The increased tourist footfall at the site and the large simultaneous gatherings of people at certain times of the year like those during the Spring Equinox, threaten to damage the vulnerable structures of the historic city. Litter left behind by the tourists also threaten to mar the beauty and aesthetic quality of the place. There are also claims from critics that in the attempt to start a light and sound show at Teotihuacan, perforations had to be made in the structures of the site which resulted in fractures threatening the integrity of these buildings.