Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pyramid of the Sun

Teotihuacan is probably the most amazing place I've ever been. It's the stone ruin of a city's central plaza dating from before Aztec/Nahuatl civilization just outside the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan that is today Mexico City. That makes it at least a thousand years old. While dominated by two huge pyramids, so-called the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, the plaza is surrounded by dozens of smaller pyramids, temples, and galleries.

Having been born in Mexico I was curious as an adult to return: I did so in 1985, when I visited Teotihuacan and took this photo. I don't remember what time of year it was, but it was dry and hot. There were these dried plants all over the place that had tiny seed pods hanging from them: walking through them sounded like walking through a field of tiny bells as the brittle seed pods shook and rattled. It was almost like hearing the echo of the place's ancient sounds while walking on the broad avenues below the pyramids. The pyramids themselves are steep, but accessible. There were plenty of tourists there but the place was not overwhelmed; in any case it would be hard to imagine that the scale of the place wouldn't dwarf even the largest tourist invasion.

It's sort of remarkable that these man-made mountains are just there. They're simultaneously symbols of both permanence and impermanence. The nation that made them is long gone, but the world that inherited them is left to confront their meaning. Visiting Teotihuacan is a little bit like visiting a cemetery in that the place itself is sort of other-worldly and hallowed. Nobody's likely to build a skyscraper next door, and McDonald's isn't likely to build a concession stand on the top of one of the pyramids.

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