Teotihuacan was unique

Mysterious civilization built differently than all the other cultures of Central America

The huge city of ruins Teotihuacan remains a mystery to this day - it is unique in Central America. © Carlitos Alonso Caballero Vallejo / CC-by-3.0
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Enigmatic and innovative: The civilization of Teotihuacan not only created one of the first major cities in Central America - its city was also structurally unique, as a US researcher reports. Thus, in Teotihuacan, there were several palatial buildings instead of a single seat of rulers, and the entire city followed a rectangular plan. For the first time in the world, Teotihuacan also had "tenements" - houses with several separate apartments.

About 1, 800 years ago, the still enigmatic kingdom of Teotihuacan dominated in Central America. For 500 years, the huge capital was the largest city in America and one of the largest in the world: up to 125, 000 people lived there. But what their daily life looked like, which people they belonged to, whether they were ruled by a god-king or an oligarchy, and why this high-culture declined around 750, is still only partially clarified.

However, it is known that the huge ruined city with its huge temples even astonished the Aztecs. They worshiped Teotihuacan as the birthplace of the gods and took them as a model for their only ten kilometers away built capital Tenochtitlan. As it turns out, one of the reasons for the awe-inspiring awe of the Aztecs could have been Teotihuacan's unusual and progressive design for Central America.

Cities according to "Scheme F"

The cities of the Maya, Toltecs and other early cultures of Central America followed a fixed pattern for centuries, according to Michael Smith of Arizona State University. Fixed components were temple pyramids, at least a royal palace, ball courts and formal plazas, around which the most important buildings clustered.

Also typical was a clear separation between the articulated city centers and the disorderly, wildly growing residential areas around it. "These features characterized almost all Mesoamerican cities from pre-classical to Spanish conquest - with one exception: Teotihuacan, " says Smith. When it was founded 2, 000 years ago, the city still followed this typical pattern - but not for long. display

Floor plan of a typical apartment complex in Teotihuacan: Several separate apartments are located behind a common wall. Ima Willima Smith / Open Archeology, CC-by-nc-nd

The first "tenements" of history

From the year 100, Teotihuacan underwent a radical transformation: The Dead Road through the city was built and served as a central axis. The sun and moon pyramids were enlarged to their gigantic size and entire residential areas were rebuilt. The entire city now followed a strict, right-angled building plan, which also included the residential district it was already similar to modern major cities.

"This is unique in the time before Tenochtitlan in Central America, " said Smith. "Early buildings and structures were demolished and a whole new kind of residential building was built throughout the city." These multi-family homes included several apartments surrounded by a common wall, and only through a "Haust r" were entered. "These apartment complexes were a unique form of urban living for those times, not only in Central America but throughout the world, " says Smith.

R tsel around the royal palace

And there is another thing Teotihuacan distinguishes from the other cities: There is no salient royal palace: "In other Mesoamerican cities such as the Maya or the Aztecs - archeologists have no problems, the K Unambiguous identification, "explains Smith. "Different in Teotihuacan: Here, three different building complexes are discussed as possible palaces."

Some researchers hold parts of the so-called Ciudela for the King's Palace, a walled building complex around the temple of Quezalcoatl. Others hold a complex of buildings on both sides of the street of the dead for the residence of the ruler, and the so-called Xalla complex between Sun and Moon Pyramid is considered a candidate, as Smith reports.

City model of Teotihuacan: Unusual is the ordered right-angled grid even in residential areas. Sauber Wolfgang Sauber / CC-by-sa 3.0

Oligarchy instead of individual rule?

But why is there no definite ruling seat in Teotihuacan? Smith and other historians suspect that it could be related to the social structure of this culture. "Many researchers suggest that the Teotihuacan government was more collective and less autocratic than elsewhere, " said Smith. But if a small group of oligarchs ruled the city, it could explain the absence of a single, dominant palace.

Unusually, there were no ball courts in Teotihuacan and no central plazas surrounded by public buildings. Although there is a large square in front of the Moon Pyramid, this is not central but in the north of the city and is part of the Road of the Dead, as the explorer explains.

Urban solitaire

Thus, according to Smith, Teotihuacan is the great exception among the civilizations of Central America. The city not only broke with the established scheme of pre-existing cultures, it was also unique in its time and even afterwards. For when the empire of Teotihuacan fell by 750 and the city was abandoned, the surrounding cultures continued to hold on to the traditional "schema F".

Only 600 years later, the Aztecs took over some of Teotihuacan's innovations for their capital Tenochtitlan. So her city also followed an orderly grid of right-angled streets and blocks of buildings, resembling, as did Teotihuacan, the cities of today. (Open Archeology, 2017; doi: 10.1515 / opar-2017-0010)

(De Gruyter, 25.09.2017 - NPO)