MADRID.- For eight hundred years (from the 2nd century BC to the 7th AD), Teotihuacan was the cultural, political and religious centre of a powerful civilisation. Lying 45 kilometres from Mexico City, the city, which rose to become the sixth-largest in the world in its day, is now an archaeological wonder of the world, catalogued as World Heritage by UNESCO. The exhibition that la Caixa Foundation now presents at CaixaForum Madrid, entitled Teotihuacan, City of the Gods, is the most complete ever devoted to Teotihuacan culture. The show features some 400 pieces, including many masterpieces unearthed in this pre-Hispanic city over a century of archaeological excavations. The objects featured, which include some very large pieces, show extraordinary refinement and a cosmopolitan spirit that was open to the most important cultures in Central America at the time. Visitors will discover this great city through exhibits illustrating the most outstanding facets of Teotihuacan culture: ideology, power, art, society, religion, war, traditions, everyday life and, needless to say, the influence on other pre-Hispanic civilizations. Teotihuacan, City of the Gods, which is organised by the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History, is presented at CaixaForum Madrid as part of a world tour that has taken the show to several other European cities, including Paris, Berlin and Rome, attracting over 350,000 visitors.
The Place of the Gods
The city of Teotihuacan, located 45 kilometres from Mexico City, is one of the archaeological wonders of the world and was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1987. The principal monuments in the city the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, which are connected by the Avenue of the Dead, the beautiful Palace of the Jaguars and the Temple of Quetzalcóalt are references in universal culture.
In the Nahuatl language, Teotihuacan means place of the gods or place where men become gods. Considered the most important city to be built on the American continent in pre-Hispanic times, Teotihuacan was an important cultural, political and religious centre. So much so that, over an 800-year period, one of the most important societies in pre-Cortes Mexico developed here.
As a great metropolis, Teotihuacan led the way in politics, trade and ideology throughout much of Mesoamerica over the period from 150 BC to 650 AD. Such was the citys magnificence and importance that, centuries after its collapse, it was still considered a holy place by many communities that migrated to Central Mexico. Even today, Teotihuacan continues to form an essential element in Mexican identity, whose roots are sought in the complex fabric of beliefs and customs woven by its ancient cultures.
How the City of the Gods fell into complete decline continues to be a mystery. The archaeological evidence thick layers of ash found at sites would appear to indicate that, in around the mid-7th century AD, a huge fire razed the entire metropolitan area to the ground.
However, there also exist indications of internal rebellion: sculptures were mutilated and their fragments scattered around different parts of the city, and statues of chiefs and priests were destroyed in a bid to rid the city of the elite and their representatives. Walls were even built before the pyramid steps to make it clear that access to them for ceremonies and to worship the gods was forbidden.
Various possible explanations have been suggested for the collapse of Teotihuacan: internal revolt against the established power; crises caused by excessive population increase; blockage of trade routes; invasions by neighbouring peoples; and so on. Nor should we forget the fatalism that was inherent to pre-Hispanic indigenous thought: if the universe was created by the gods, then the gods will also determine the end of their creation. The Disc of Death, which was damaged in the destruction meted out on the city, conclusively evokes the terrible end of a great civilisation.
400 objects, seen together for the first time
Teotihuacan, City of the Gods presents more than four hundred archaeological pieces brought together here for the first time that form a complete vision of Teotihuacan culture. These works come from the principal museums managed by the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History, which include the Mexican National Museum of Anthropology and History, the Teotihuacan Archaeological Zone and the Museum of the Great Temple. These pieces are complemented by others from private collections, such as that built up by the painter Diego Rivera at the House of Anahuac.
The works that feature in the exhibition include mural paintings, stone sculptures, statuettes carved from obsidian, fine pottery recipients, sumptuous pre-Hispanic jewellery and ritual masks (some covered in turquoise), as well as figurines depicting important animals in Mesoamerican mythology, such as jaguars and snakes, made from different materials.
The works featured in the exhibition show extraordinary refinement and a cosmopolitan spirit, open to the most important cultures in Central America. They range from objects found in the early-20th century to recent discoveries in the Palace of Xalla, north of the Pyramid of the Sun. The most outstanding include the Great Jaguar of Xalla, an architectural sculpture (discovered just a few years ago) that conserves much of its polychrome finish; and the so-called Disc of Death, a stone sculpture that alludes to the mysterious end of that ancient civilization.
What was life like in Teotihuacan? Who were the men and women who lived there? How was their society organised? What were their beliefs? What caused the citys decline? The exhibition Teotihuacan, City of the Gods suggests some answers to these questions, focusing on Teotihuacan culture from all viewpoints: architecture and town planning; politics, war and economics; beliefs and rituals; life in the citys palaces and streets; and relations with neighbouring cultures.
Teotihuacan, City of the Gods is organised according to the structure designed by the archaeologist Felipe Solís, the exhibition curator and a leading authority on the pre-Hispanic world, who died before the show first opened in Monterrey. In order to give visitors a complete vision of Teotihuacan culture, the six sections feature not only artworks but also everyday objects.
The construction of the city. A 22.5 km2 metropolis
This section illustrates the urban development of the city and the construction methods and tools used to build such monuments as the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, which form the ceremonial centre of the city.
Even during the earliest years of the citys development (the Tzacualli or Teotihuacan I phase, 1-150 AD), Teotihuacan was already becoming a great metropolis. The main street, known as the Avenue of the Dead, crossed the city from north to south, communicating the Pyramid of the Moon with the Citadel and the Great Compound, an open space thought to have served as the citys marketplace.
The best-known buildings in Teotihuacan are the Pyramids of the Moon and the Sun, with their structure of enormous leaning stone walls: the slopes. Over each slope is a platform, or panel. This slope-and-panel construction style spread from Teotihuacan down to the south of Mesoamerica.
It was during the Miccaotli or Teotihuacan II phase (150-250 AD) that the city reached its maximum size (22.5 km2). The central area was devoted to economic and political activity, and housed both the market and the Citadel. The most outstanding monument in this zone was the colossal Temple of the Plumed Serpent.
Mural painting was one of the main art forms in Teotihuacan. The many murals, both complete and partial, that have been unearthed during excavation work indicate that the citys buildings were once completely covered in painted plaster-work.
Politics, hierarchy and trade. Ruler or rulers?
How was Teotihuacan ruled? The debate on this subject has yet to be finally settled. Some suggest that the city was governed by a social and political system based on the decisions made by several chiefs, whilst others believe that one person alone held power. However this may be, it seems that the rulers of the city remained anonymous. Priests, merchants, ambassadors and soldiers are all represented in mural paintings and on pottery, but these representations emphasise their tasks and trades, and pay no attention whatsoever to individual features.
In the Teotihuacan world, war and trade were closely linked. Caravans of merchants, ambassadors and warriors travelled hundreds of kilometres to buy and sell materials for everyday use: pottery, fabrics and obsidian stones. Luxury materials, such as quetzal feathers, mica and jade, were used to seal strategic alliances.
Teotihuacan society was divided into four classes: the dominant class, which enjoyed great privilege and controlled religion, education and justice; warriors, trained in the use of weapons and the art of strategy; merchants and craftsmen, who were crucial to the citys economic activity; and the ordinary people, engaged in farming or heavy construction work.
The Teotihuacan pantheon and religious worship. Priests and princes
The religious hierarchy played a key role in life in the City of the Gods. There were places devoted to worship in all built areas, from house courtyards to large squares with capacity for thousands of people.
The Teotihuacan pantheon of deities was similar to those found amongst other cultures in Mesoamerica. In fact, even centuries after the decline of the city, many of the gods worshipped in Teotihuacan were still venerated in different areas of ancient Mexico.
This section illustrates rites, divinities and funeral cults. The two main deities were Quetzalcóatl, the plumed serpent, and Tláloc, the god of rain and fertility. They are both represented with their characteristic attributes on earthenware pots, pottery, sculptures and murals. Other deities, such as Huehuetéotl, the fire god, and Xipe Totec, our lord the flayed one, were usually found in houses in the form of stone and pottery sculptures.
The role of the priests was so important that, for many years, researchers believed that they formed the highest class in Teotihuacan society. Today, however, the priests are thought to have served a much more complex political body.
The chiefs. Palace life
Excavation work which first began in the early-20th century enabled experts to identify the rooms in a palace which lay to the south of the Pyramid of the Plumed Serpent.
Palaces in Teotihuacan were multi-family constructions with rooms grouped around courtyards of different sizes. Each palace was surrounded by a perimeter wall that served as protection and to restrict access. Inside lived the family with their retinues of guards, craftsmen and merchants. The rooms were distributed according to social rank and to how closely related the incumbent was to the head of the family.
Rooms with ceilings were decorated by murals depicting the activities that went on in them. Courtyards served to allow daylight into the palace rooms, and also to collect rainwater, which was stored in cisterns by a system of pipes and channels. Roofs were crowned by towers and other architectural elements, and decorated by geometric or animal motifs that gave identity to the whole.
The art of Teotihuacan workshops. The canon of power
Teotihuacan became a leading centre for art, and dozens of specialist activities went on in the City of the Gods, each revolving around an elaborate symbolic system. The Teotihuacan State established the canon that governed each art form: carving in stone, bone and shell; pottery; and mural painting.
Sculptures of human figures followed a single stylistic pattern that was reflected in the way body and face were shaped and proportioned. Over time, the design of mural paintings underwent slight variations as regards colour, tone and lines of expression, but the same constants were always observed, as well as the very similar materials employed, such as, for example, the use of plaster mixed with mica.
The arrival of immigrants from different places in Mesoamerica, drawn here by Teotihuacans splendour, led to the introduction of new styles and techniques. In the Oaxaca quarter of the city, we find elements characteristic of art from the central valleys of Oaxaca, such as funeral urns and greyware.
Relations with Mesoamerica. Warriors and merchants
The Teotihuacan State was the first complex political organisation in ancient Mexico. Teotihuacan dominated the central high plateau (Altiplano) region and established trade, diplomatic, political and military links with many other regions in Mesoamerica. Archaeological studies have demonstrated the importance of this network of relations.
With the exception of Cholula, the entire central Altiplano region obeyed the architectural and ritual canons dictated by Teotihuacan. Around Matacapan on the Atlantic coast, the Teotihuacan armies established a military colony, whilst contacts with the Pacific coast and Guerrero State were restricted to trade exchanges.
During the period when Teotihuacan culture reached its point of maximum splendour (350-550 AD), diplomatic relations were established with Monte Albán, in what is now Oaxaca. As a result, immigrants from the south established their own barrio (quarter) in the City of the Gods.
In Kaminaljuyú, Tikal and other Mayan cities, warrior groups from Teotihuacan influenced political life to the point of imposing new dynasties. This influence was also cultural, as can be seen in the steles, funeral chambers and mural paintings in the city of Petén, near the border with Guatemala-