I had read about and even seen photos of Teotihuacan. Still I was awestruck when, as I approached the site by bus, a huge pyramid of perfect symmetry emerged in the distance. Imagine then the surprise of the first Aztecs who stumbled upon the remains of this unknown city in 1272 AD! As they neared it, they were surely startled as they began to appreciate the monumental size of this mysterious city of massive pyramids, gargantuan squares, and living quarters for tens of thousands of inhabitants. This was a city built to a scale so large that the Aztecs dubbed it Teotihuacan, ³City of the Gods².
Indeed, at its fullest flowering, Teotihuacan had a population of more than 200,000 people and at 21 square kilometers was larger than imperial Rome. For the greater part of a millennium it stood as the unquestioned political, military, commercial, religious, and cultural center of the Western Hemisphere. Yet, we have yet to discover the name or the nature of the civilization that built it.
The city¹s symmetry and architectural unity make it obvious that this was a well-planned city. The beautiful carvings and architectural style are evidence of a people with a keen aesthetic sense and ample craftsmanship. Yet, it was also a city of many engineering marvels including running water, flush toilets and paved streets.
There are several speculations as to why this great and powerful civilization, which began in 600 BC and culminated with the birth of the city of Teotihuacan in 200 BC, rather suddenly collapsed in about 750 AD. One theory, which is gaining momentum, is that Teotihuacan may have been the victim of its own success. At its founding Teotihuacan was surrounded by several lakes (one of salt water), forests teeming with game, and fertile soil. Yet as the city grew, it over-taxed its environment. The forests were stripped of their trees, causing the topsoil to run off and the wildlife to disappear. When the local ecology was changed, the climate began to shift. The lakes began to dry up. Soon the land could not meet the huge demands of the city¹s population. The mass of residents were forced to abandon Teotihuacan, leaving only a few caretakers, who were easy targets for marauding barbaric tribes. The city was repeatedly occupied and looted until the culture was lost, leaving behind only the empty shell of its buildings.
Even today the remains of the great city of Teotihuacan sit on a dry, barren plane--a powerful lesson to our present world which values profit, ³progress² and population growth at the expense of environmental stewardship. I wonder, will the empty, crumbling monuments of Washington, D.C. one day be visited by a new civilization lamenting that such a once-powerful, nameless culture died of its own arrogance and ignorance.
Side note: We are leaving Mexico City just as the Pope arrives. As we wait to board the bus for Palenque we watch the Pope-mobile carry the Pontiff from the airport through the crowds lining the streets to greet him. Many people I talked with are excited about the Pope¹s visit; others not much interested, having seen the Pope the last time he was here or not enamored by his policies. In any case, reminders of the Pontiff¹s visit are everywhere. Billboards and extensive TV coverage display his image. Small Volkswagon Beetle taxicabs fly giant Papal flags. Collectible cards with his photo are even found in bags of potato chips.
Jamilia - Mayan Mummies were Calling Me
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