The Pyramids of Mexico


MOST people today know about the pyramids of Egypt. In America too, archaeologists have found many pyramidlike structures, particularly in Mexico. Like their counterparts in Egypt, the Mexican pyramids are many centuries old and are shrouded in mystery.

An Egyptian pyramid is a tomb encased in a huge symmetrical mound of stones. Inner passageways lead to the tomb, the most important part of the pyramid. However, the Mexican pyramid is a large pile of earth with a temple at the very top and an external staircase that provides access to the summit. With few exceptions, the pyramids found in America were not tombs.

Teotihuacán—“The City of the Gods”

One of the most outstanding pyramid sites in Mexico is Teotihuacán. Located about 33 miles [50 km] northeast of Mexico City, Teotihuacán is still a mystery to anthropologists and archaeologists. This ancient metropolis was abandoned by its builders more than 500 years before the Aztec culture emerged. The name Teotihuacán, from the Nahuatl language, means “The City of the Gods” or “Where Men Become Gods.” It is thought that the Aztecs gave the name to the city when they visited it.

One of the editors for National Geographic magazine, George Stuart, explains that “Teotihuacan was the first true urban center in the Western Hemisphere . . . It arose around the beginning of the Christian era, witnessed some seven centuries, then passed into legend. At the height of its prosperity, about A.D. 500, it is estimated to have held between 125,000 and 200,000 people.”

Almost in the center of the city stands the great Pyramid of the Sun. It measures about 720 feet by 740 feet [220 by 225 m] at the base, and its five terraces rise to its present height of about 210 feet [63 m]. To reach the top of the pyramid, one must climb more than 240 steps. To the north of the ancient city is the Pyramid of the Moon, with its top 130 feet [40 m] high. Once there were temples on top of these two main pyramids.

In recent decades much has been learned about these pyramids. However, as Stuart puts it, “we still know next to nothing about the origins of the Teotihuacanos, what language they spoke, how their society was organized, and what caused their decline.”

Other Pyramid Sites

Right in the heart of Mexico City, one can visit the Main Temple of the Aztecs. While there is no pyramid in sight, the remains of a pyramid structure that was the basis for the Main Temple can still be seen. Archaeologists have uncovered two altars where human sacrifices were performed.

Chichén Itzá is one of the most visited pyramid sites in Mexico. There are many ancient ruins in the Maya region, but these are the most accessible because they are close to the city of Mérida in Yucatán. Although built in Maya territory, the structures show that the Toltec were once influential in these regions. Some buildings hint at the sophisticated mathematical and astronomical knowledge of the builders.

In Palenque, visitors will find an impressive  Maya complex surrounded by the Chiapas jungle. Among the many pyramids and buildings are the Palace and the Temple of the Inscriptions. The Temple of the Inscriptions “is one of the most famous temples in the whole of Mesoamerica because it was not simply the base for a temple like all the others, but a funeral monument,” explains the book The Mayas—3000 Years of Civilization. “Inside there is a vaulted staircase leading down to the most magnificent burial chamber ever found in the Maya area.” The tomb was built for a governor who lived in the seventh century—Pacal, or Uoxoc Ahau.

These are only a few of the pyramids in Mexico. Other ruins and pyramids can be found in many places throughout the country. There are also huge pyramids in Guatemala and Honduras. All of these ancient structures show that the inhabitants of Mesoamerica desired higher ground on which to build their places of worship. Walter Krickeberg, author of the book Las Antiguas Culturas Mexicanas, wrote: “The custom of building temples on a stepped base goes back to an ancient worship of heights.” He adds: “While we consider heaven to be like a ‘vault,’ for other peoples it represented a mountain by means of which the sun ascended in the morning and descended in the evening; therefore, its slopes are stepped like those of a gigantic building. Thus, the ‘artificial mountain’ . . . was transformed into a stepped pyramid and, as deduced from legends and customs, was converted into a symbol of heaven among the many peoples of Mesoamerica.”

This concept may remind Bible students of the Bible account about the Tower of Babel, located in a city later known as Babylon. Genesis 11:4 says of the builders of this tower: “They now said: ‘Come on! Let us build ourselves a city and also a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a celebrated name for ourselves.’” Not too far from the ruins of Babylon, archaeologists have found pyramid structures known as ziggurats.

The form of worship that originated in Babylon spread to many parts of the world, likely reaching the region that became known as Mexico. It would not be surprising if the ziggurats of Babylon as well as the religion practiced there were the prototypes for the mysterious and impressive pyramids of Mexico.

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[Credit Line]

CNCA.-INAH.-MEX Reproducción Autorizada por el Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia

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