The Temple of the Feathered Serpent

After the explosive volcanic eruption of Mt. Popocatépetl located deep southern Mexico, people hurriedly raced for refuge to escape the ash cloud plumed across their skies. When having traveled so far as the Valley of Mexico, an Eden to be settled, it’s here believed the beginnings of Teotihuacán. Teotihuacán, around 100 B.C.E. to mid-Classic era 600 A.D., was at the height of its glory populated by over 200,000 residents. Within its first 200 years, three impressive structures were built and one of these is the Temple of the Feathered Serpent.

The Temple of the Feathered Serpent is located at the south end of the three kilometers long Avenue of the Dead. Upon its construction a ceremony of consecration was entailed involving the sacrificial burial of 200 warriors based on evidence found. Supported by the 260 feathered-serpent heads representative of Quetzalcoatl, the god linked to life and fertility, calendric qualities are associated with this structure as believed each head equating one of the 260-days divinatory calendar. Though now only four of the seven talud-tablero styled tiers remain, the carvings of the sculptures remain what can be described as in fine detail seen. Impressive as the structure is outwardly, such one may find unparalleled to what this temple replicates in idea of the Teotihuacános’ cosmovision.

Aired May 24th, 2016 by Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) this film titled, Secrets of the Dead: Teotihuacán’s Lost Kings documents a discovery made by Sergio Gómez and his workers at the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. What was initially presumed to be a hole developed in the ground by heavy rainfall transformed quickly into discovery when realization came that there was a shaft. Sixty feet below lied a tunnel and its walls were clearly evidenced being man-made when finding a preservation of one worker’s handprint. Using a three-beam laser scanner, this tunnel maps directly to the vertical axis point of the Temple. Wooden tools, chisels and hammers dating 150 A.D., matching the time of its construction, have been excavated in addition to 4,000 jade pieces and unused obsidian blades. Though initially puzzling why three chambers at the end of the tunnel contained fertility statues and not a tomb (provided the grandeur of), a mural in one apartment complex provided a lead to its mystery when illustrating a mountain from which a river flowed out and creation begins. Refining the search for possible clues overlooked was a discovery proving to astound by water lines detected in the lower chambers. Not only did the water lines suggest chambers having been filled as to become an underground lake but sections of the walls still had a coating of pyrite.

The tunnel in essence is a tangible manifestation of their belief how life begins. Pyrite glittering as stars to the slightest light reflected their vision of the cosmos birthed from the underworld. An edition to the temple above, the tunnel allowed the elite to commune with the gods. While entry to the tunnel isn’t open for public as excavations continue from 2013, one can still imagine and appreciate the profoundness of.

Even after Teotihuacán’s collapse the city became the place of legend concerning the cosmos. The Mexica (known as the Aztecs), who encountered the abandoned ruins were in “awe of it” as author, David Stuart, notes in’ Order of Days, believing it was “…where the gods themselves…first manifested” (Stuart, 41). Concerning birth and creation, where men and gods meet, to the Mexica it marked the creation of their world and thus, the beginning of the present era, namely the Fifth Sun.


This painted replica sample of the Temple of the Feathered Serpent located at the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Mexico City, offers an idea of how the temple would have originally appeared during Teotihuacan™s reign. The temple with its talud-tablero architectural profile unique to Teotihuacan, where rectangle shaped panels were accented by slopes, would have been covered with plaster and painted in vibrant shades of green and red. To what would be the once 7-tiered structure, in total the temple would have 365 head sculptures installed between both the feathered-serpent, Quetzalcoatl and of another god linked to fertility and water, Tlaloc; 260 of representing Quetzalcoatl. View File Details Page

Across Mesoamerica the red dye called cochineal has always been of great value and more strongly placed it is rather an established tradition weighing of importance for use in religious murals and paintings. The Temple of the Feathered Serpent when designed was painted green and red made by the cochineal dye. Cochineal dye, though referred from the cacti and may be confused as a direct product from a plant, is instead the product of microscopic insects that feed off the nopal cactus pad. The people of Mesoamerica developed the techniques of the cochineal husbandry and whenever seeing red paint, bright red fabrics and textiles, it™s essential to understand the tradition behind as to why the color red is commonly seen and prized, like that in itself, the symbol of the feathered serpent. View File Details Page

This picture is a photograph taken of one of two main plazas or citadels constructed at Teotihuacan. The center street depicted is the Avenue of the Dead heading directly south to where three kilometers away is the Temple of the Feathered Serpent located. Teotihuacan, despite little historical texts to speak of, was a city and empire excelling far ahead of its time. In just over 200 years the Pyramid of the Sun, the world™s third largest in size, the Pyramid of the Moon and the Temple of the Feathered Serpent were built by the people of Teotihuacan without the use of the wheel indicated or metal tools. Teotihuacan achieved a population of over 200,000 comparing to London for which it would take until the 16th century. Their city was designed on a grid based layout, similar to modern day blueprinting, and having consisted of multi-ethnic neighborhoods or barrios preserving their language, culture and customs of each particular group of people. The people of Teotihuacan introduced the unique style of talud-tablero architecture. The talud is the rectangular panel placed on the tablero, which is sloped and this architectural profile later adopted by other societies. View File Details Page

What begun as thinking heavy rainfall having caused a hole in the ground became rather a rush of excitement as Sergio Gomez and his workers found there existing a few feet below the dirt a shaft. The robot titled Tlaloc II was employed during the excavation of the tunnel as well in order to map, a three beam laser scanner. Over 200 tons of dirt were removed as part of this undertaking discovery and proving as a benefit to the preservation of items found was the surprising level of humidity below. The tunnel measures 60 feet below ground, over 100 feet inwards until the center axis of the temple, and consists of three chambers dug deeper down than the tunnel walkway. View File Details Page

This statue is one of several that have been recently excavated from the chambers at the end of the tunnel below the Temple of the Feathered Serpent. Representing fertility, it was positioned strategically where its visual axis aligns with the vertical axis of the temple above ground. Each chamber was filled with water as indicated by water lines in the stone walls and this statue as one of several is purposed as to sanctify the water or otherwise known, the underground lake. By suggestion of various offerings found inclusive of over 40,000 green stones, jade pieces, precious shells and obsidian, it is believed leaders of Teotihuacan frequented visits to the lake in presenting gifts to their god, Quetzalcoatl. View File Details Page

This mural, explained by David Carballo in the film, Secrets of the Dead: Teotihuacan™s Lost Kings, depicts a mountain and “emerging from inside water” which flowed from an underground lake representative of the underworld and that being a “place of fertility and abundance,” Carballo related. Only so few historical records exist to offer knowledge in understanding the people who lived at Teotihuacan. From what does remain of the ruins, such as for instance the apartment complexes where this mural on a wall was found, proves invaluable shedding light on their beliefs and of the tunnel which sought to create as a physical place to enter, understanding its importance to the people. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Michelle N. Balliet, “The Temple of the Feathered Serpent,” HistoricalMX, accessed June 22, 2018,
Tour navigation:  Tour Info | Next

Share this Story