The Temple of the Sun

Teotihuacan, located in the modern day State of Mexico, was originally an empty site prior to the first century AD, but the eruption of the Xitle volcano at the end of century caused a massive migration of indigenous groups to the valley, since their ancient cities were destroyed. The migrant people who settled in the valley from the time frame of 1-150 AD, commonly referred to as the Tzacualli phase, began to build the three main constructs of Teotihuacan. These constructs were the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon and the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. The most imposing structure at the site of Teotihuacan is the Pyramid of the Sun. It is the third largest pyramid in the world at 65 meters in height, 22 meters taller than its twin construction the Pyramid of the Moon. These twin contsructs are built on the same level. It was the first main structure to be made in Teotihuacan and is responsible for the city’s growth into a trade hub and place of religious significance, similar to Cozumel.

The first of these massive edifices was the Pyramid of the Sun. The pyramid was built with the idea of three concepts: to be the physical embodiment of Tonacatepetl, temple of Tlaloc, and the religious significance of the cave beneath the structure. The concept of the Tonacatepetl, which means “mountain of significance,” comes from the Mesoamerican belief in creating massive mountain-like structures to appease the rain god and, as a result, produce rain. Tlaloc, who is the chief god of the sky and fertility, is the god to which the pyramid was constructed. The Sun pyramid is meant to honor him, while the Pyramid of the Moon is built for his wife Chalchiuhtlicue the goddess of flowing water. The cave under the pyramid is seen by the native people as a way to the “center of the universe.” Since caves hold a variety of supernatural meanings to the indigenous groups, the cave underneath the temple has a great amount of religious significance (Linda Manzanilla, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures, Teotihuacan).

The cave located under the Pyramid of the Sun was uncovered in 1971 by a group of archeologists. The cavern was naturally formed around a million years ago due to the flow of lava. The cave was found with a staircase and was a formerly decorated site of religious sacrifice, until the arrival of grave robbers. Since the corpses of victims are no longer available for dating, there are no accurate estimates at the earliest time of ritual sacrifice. The cave is a symbol to the native people of Mesoamerica as a representation of creation. In some stories, the god Quetzalcoatl retrieves the bones of man and the variations of corn from a cavern in the earth. As stated by Doris Heyden in American Antiquity, native groups believed that the god of fire, Xiuhtecuhtli, is housed in the center of the earth in a “turquoise enclosure” (Doris Heyden, American Antiquity, 131-141). In a much more general sense, the caves are also related to the homes of ancestors, a place of revival or origin, oracles, and the supernatural.

Though the structures such as the Pyramid of the Moon and the Temple of the Feathered Serpent are certainly significant, the Pyramid of the Sun and its natural cavern helped to make the city of Teotihuacan a place of religious significance. This spirituality caused the migration of the people to the site, and made the city one of the most important sites in Mesoamerica in terms of trade and pilgrimage.

Images

Calle de los Muertos

Calle de los Muertos

This photo shows the "Street of the Dead" and the Pyramid of the Sun from the viewing area on top of the Pyramid of the Moon. The street and the Moon temple were created soon after the Pyramid of the Sun, and served as the center of the ancient site. The name "Street of the Dead" comes from the tombs that lined the street. The street also had several residential buildings along its mile and a half long path. Calle de los Muertos ultimately connected the entirety of the site's temples and other structures. | Creator: Photo by Andrew Eckhoff View File Details Page

Eruption of the Xitle Volcano

Eruption of the Xitle Volcano

This picture is an exerpt from the mural located in the Tlalpan government building. This scene depicts the eruption that caused the migration of native people to the valley of Teotihuacan in the first century AD. This eruption was so massive that the following flow of lava completely leveled a nearby city, leaving only its uniquely shaped circular pyramid standing. The destroyed city is southwest of modern day Mexico City. This is the only time that this volcano has erupted in recorded history. | Source: Wikimedia Commons View File Details Page

Pyramid of the Sun

Pyramid of the Sun

The pyramid, as pictured, is the third largest pyramid in the world, second in Mesoamerica. This was Teotihuacan's first major construction and caused the site's eventual growth. Construction started for the pyramid during the Tzacuali phase, which lasted from 1-150 AD. It was built for the god Tlaloc alongside the Pyramid of the Moon, meant for his wife Chalchiuhtlicue. These consturcts were designed to mimic the shape of the nearby mountains, since the native people associated the mountain peaks as being sacred sites. The pyramid was the site's main draw for native pilgrimage. | Source: worldfortravel.com View File Details Page

Plaza del Sol

Plaza del Sol

This photo shows the plaza in front of the famous pyramid. This area is referred to as the Plaza del Sol. The Pyramid of the Sun is built along the same level as the Calle de los Muertos and the Pyramid of the Moon. The Pyramid of the Moon also has a simliar shaped plaza in front of its main staircase as well. The Moon Pyramid's plaza is home to many more structures, when compared to the Pyramid of the Sun. Though not necessarily religous, these strucutures flank the majority of the Calle de los Muertos. One of the most notable being the Palacio Quetzalpapalotl, which was built later around 200 AD. | Source: famouswonders.com View File Details Page

Caves of Teotihuacan

Caves of Teotihuacan

This diagram details the layout and structure of the caves that are underneath the Pyramid of the Sun. These caves were formed from the movement of lava in the region over 1 million years ago. The entrance to the caves was not discovered until archeological efforts uncovered it in 1971. The interior of the caves were heavily decorated with sculptures and paintings befitting the cavern's religous significance. Native beliefs held caves to be the home of the supernatural and the underworld. These caves were used for ritual sacrifice and ceremonies. The acts of grave robbers has, however, made dating of these ceremonies inaccurate and incomplete. | Source: csueastbay.edu View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Andrew Eckhoff, “The Temple of the Sun,” HistoricalMX, accessed November 24, 2017, http://historicalmx.org/items/show/36.
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