Pyramid of the Sun

Pre-Columbian Gallery
Pyramid of the Sun, 2nd-3rd c. Teotihuacan, Mexico.
Photograph by Barbara E. Mundy.

This great pyramid, one of the largest pre-Hispanic structures in the Americas, looms over the grid-plan city of Teotihuacan. This city dominated central Mexico from the first to the ninth centuries, when the city was burned and slowly abandoned. But the city was never forgotten. Although a ruin, it was well known to the Aztecs, who built their capital city of Tenochtitlan only about 40 kilometers away. It was they who gave the name Teotihuacan to the site, “City of the Gods,” believing that their present world had been created by self-sacrificing deities in the ancient city. Like the earlier urban behemoth, Tenochtitlan also had a grid plan, and Aztec city planners may have been inspired by Teotihuacan.

Thus, the reinterpretation of the pre-Columbian past is not just a phenomenon exclusive to viceregal Spanish America. Rather, pre-Columbian peoples themselves reinscribed and reinterpreted the past, often for their own purposes. The Aztecs seem to have understood the ancient city of Teotihuacan as a foreshadowing of their own imperial capital, and the Huey Tlatoani Moctecuzoma was said to make a pilgrimage there every 20 days.



Berrin, Kathleen and Esther Pasztory. 1993. Teotihuacan: Art from the City of the Gods. New York: Thames and Hudson; San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Cabrera Castro, Rubén, Ignacio Rodríguez García, y Noel Morelos García. 1991. Teotihuacán 1980-1982: nuevas interpretaciones. México: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.

Matos Moctezuma, Eduardo, ed. 1995. La Pirámide del Sol, Teotihuacán: antología. Mexico: Artes de México para el Instituto Cultural Domecq.

Matos Moctezuma, Eduardo. 1990. Teotihuacán, the city of the gods. Translated by Andrew Ellis. New York: Rizzoli.

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