See Inside Scientific American Volume 311, Issue 1

Decoding Mexico's City of Gods

Long cloaked in mystery, the ancient Teotihuacán culture is at last giving up its secrets

More In This Article

Sometime in the 14th century, the first Mexica found their way into the valley of Teotihuacán. The Mexica (often incorrectly called Aztecs in modern times) were new to the region. An aggressive, ambitious people from the north, they were fast becoming the dominant force in highland Mexico, conquering territory and setting up the powerful city of Tenochtitlán, which would soon rule a massive empire from what is now called Mexico City. Imagine that first search party—bold, feeling invincible as a nascent superpower—coming into a lush green expanse surrounded by rolling hills. The warriors are following tales told by the local Toltec tribes of a place in the mountains, just 25 miles from their new home, where the gods once lived. Then, turning a bend, their bravado gives way to awe as the home of the gods looms into view. Ruins of pyramids as high as 20 stories—so big they are initially mistaken for hills—line a huge road. Everywhere the explorers look lie crumbling temples, marketplaces and relics of a long-dead civilization with no name, no writing, no history. Just a vast city, once glorious beyond imagination, now abandoned.

The Mexica eventually patterned Tenochtitlán after this ghost of a city and turned the ruins into a sort of summer retreat for the elite. They named that ancient road the Avenue of the Dead and the two biggest pyramids the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. The old city itself they called Teotihuacán—the place where gods are born.

This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now!

Select an option below:

Customer Sign In

*You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content

It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on
Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access.

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Holiday Sale

Scientific American Mind Digital

Get 6 bi-monthly digital issues
+ 1yr of archive access for just $9.99

Hurry this offer ends soon! >


Email this Article


Next Article