Spanish bid to unravel Teotihuacan City of Gods mystery

A MAJOR exhibition into the Teotihuacan civilisation is being held in Spain.

The  exhibition which runs until  November 13 provides a unique insight into the culture, ideology, traditions and social and economic organisation of this remarkable yet relatively little known City of the Gods civilization which has intrigued international scholars for centuries.

Now further focus has been turned onto the subject in a major exhibition displaying 400 objects recovered during a century of excavations in and around the site and on loan from Mexican museums at the Caixa Forum Cultural Centre in Madrid.

Teotihuacan means  ‘City of the Gods’ and  this is the name that the CaixaForum  has given to this exhibition.

The objects on display range from every day household items to smooth stone masks and exquisite jewellery and sculptures; none more so than the Mask of Malinaltepec dating from 700AD with its encrusted,  mosaic stones and beaded necklace.

Many of the sculptures depict religious and military symbols. The stone sculpture known as the Disk of Death is believed to have marked the beginning of the decline of the civilization. 


Mention ancient civilisations of Mexico and the 15th century Aztec culture springs to mind. Yet over 1000 years earlier at the beginning of our era, an equally important civilisation existed in central Mexico.

The Teotihuacan civilisation spanned eight hundred years from about 100BC until it collapsed around 800AD.

At the height of its power around 450AD Teotihuacan was the most powerful cultural, political and religious centre of the pre-Hispanic era.

The site of the city of Teotihuacan, which lies forty five kilometres north of Mexico City is one of the archaeological wonders of the world that became a world heritage site in 1987.

Built between 150 and 250 AD, the city was the largest built in the Americas extending to over 22 square kilometres with a population estimated at about 200,000. It was a well planned and designed complex divided into four separate areas; political, economic, cultural and residential. Each sector comprised massive stone built monuments separated by vast open central squares.

The main avenue, built on a north south axis, known as the avenue of the dead links the northern Pyramid of the Moon and Pyramid of the Sun with the southern Citadel, which included the most important building in the city known as the Temple of the Feathered Serpent.

This temple testifies to the importance of religion in the Teotihuacan society where two main beliefs cohabitated;  the Quetzalcoatl with the Feathered Serpent and Tlaloc God of rain and fertility.

Teotihuacan society was based on a pyramid hierarchy with political leaders, priests, ambassadors, traders, soldiers and workers. However, although playing leading roles, religious leaders are not believed to have been rulers. Teotihuacan’s influence extended to the north of Mexico and south to Guatemala with an integrated political and economic structure enabling it to establish diplomatic and trade links with other regions in Mesoamerica often at a considerable distance.

The area was a source of mineral wealth with jade, mica, marble serpentine and travertine stone, used by craftsmen who become specialists in the production of murals, ceramics pottery, stone carvings, masks, bone shells, sculptures and jewellery often used to trade and negotiate strategic alliances. The feathers of the sacred bird, the Quetzal, are depicted in many objects and murals.

Why the Teotihuacan civilisation collapsed remains a mystery.

Although there is some evidence that some of the residential and ceremonial sectors of the city were destroyed by fire, perhaps an earthquake, there are conflicting explanations over its demise.

Like many ancient civilisations there was a strong belief in fatalism. It was said that if the universe was created by Gods then Gods could determine the end of their creation.

However there are several opinions that link the cause of its disappearance to internal revolt against the established ruling power, social difficulties caused by the excessive growth in population and the consequent ignoring of the plight of the people by the elite. Interestingly these reasons could well apply to our own democracies today. We should take note of what history teaches us.

Caixa Forum Social and Cultural centre
Paseo del Prado 36 Madrid
Daily 10am to 8pm until November 13. Free admission



1: Malinaltepec Mask700 AD

3: Mural depicting flowers stucco and pigments 600-700AD

4: Disc of death: stone around 600AD

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