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On the Canal
On the Canal
Walking to the Pyramids
The Pyramids

Mexico Pyramids

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Sorrel unravels the ancient cultures and Mexican mysteries as she heads to the Pyramids at the City of Gods.

Once you have explored the delights of Mexico City, there are a couple of places out of town which are well worth visiting.

Twenty kilometres south of Mexico City is Xochimilco, an interesting and tranquil daytrip. Xochimilco, meaning "place where flowers grow", is where fertile pre-Hispanic gardens became one of the economic bases of the Aztec empire. As they proliferated, much of the lake was transformed into a series of canals. One hundred and eighty kilometres of them remain. Some run between gardens and homes with pretty patches of lawn, others border on surviving fertile gardens.

Xochimilco boasts a beautiful church, busy market and an archaeological museum. The Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum is set in a peaceful 16th-century hacienda, with extensive gardens. The very rich Señora Olmedo lives in part of the mansion. She was a leading patron of Mexico's most influential 20th-century painter, Diego Rivera. She amassed a huge collection of Diego's works. The museum displays 137 examples, in oils, watercolours, drawings and lithographs from various periods of his life. There is a room of Frida Kahlo paintings, Emperor Maximilian's 365-piece silverware set and a most impressive and colourful collection of Mexican folk art.

The town has a fiesta feeling and it's fun to board one of the many brightly-painted trajinera (a Mexican version of the gondola) and be tempted by hawkers, photographers, mariachi and marimba bands.

Just 50km north-east of Mexico City is Teotihuacán, which is a must to visit. It has some of the world's most spectacular ruins and amazingly, not a lot is known about their origins.

Teotihuacán arose as a new religious centre around the time of Christ. Archaeological data shows that the next two centuries were characterised by monumental construction, quickly making Teotihuacán the largest and most populous urban centre in the New World. At its peak, most of Teotihuacán was plastered and its pyramids were painted bright red.

It appears the city expanded to around 20 square kilometres, with up to 80,000 inhabitants. It is believed to have been the sixth-largest city in the world during its period of greatest prosperity. It appears to have functioned as a successful urban centre until its rather sudden collapse in the seventh century. After its fall, the place was called Teotihuacán by Náhuatl speakers for several centuries, but its original name, languages and ethnic groups remain unknown.

The Avenue of the Dead was the main street and stretched 2.5km, beginning at the Moon Plaza to the north and extending beyond the Ciudadela and the Great Compound complexes to the south. Ranging from 40 to 95 metres wide, the avenue continued further south, ending close to the edge of the mountains. A long underground channel gathered rainwater and drained it into Rio San Juan.

The avenue divided Teotihuacán into two, with apartment compounds arranged on both sides, often symmetrically. Access to residential zones was by masonry stairways with balustrades. It was a highly planned city layout.

The Pyramid of the Sun, built in the second century AD, is the largest in the Teotihuacán complex and dominates the landscape. It is more than 200 metres long and 60 metres high and is actually a succession of pyramids built one on top of the other over many centuries. Unlike the pyramids and statues of Egypt, Easter Island and South America's Nasca Lines, the Teotihuacán structures are stepped, rather than smooth-sided, and built from smaller pieces.

The Pyramid of the Moon, at the extreme northern end of the Avenue of the Dead, is thought to have been completed in around 25AD. Recent excavations at the base of the stairs have uncovered the tomb of a male skeleton with goods of obsidian and greenstone, as well as sacrificial animals. There are indications that more tombs lie buried at the heart of the structure.

The Feathered Serpent Pyramid is Teotihuacán's third largest and though significantly smaller than the pyramids of the sun and moon, was one of the city's most elaborate monuments.

Early 20th-century excavations revealed that the principal façade had been covered with carved blocks, including impressive three-dimensional sculptures. Those excavations and others carried out later in the century proved that remarkably high energy was required for quarrying, transporting, carving and arranging heavy stone blocks.

The Ciudadela is an enormous enclosure at the geographic centre of the city. Priests and government officials lived there and well-documented evidence showed it had royal residences as well. The large plaza resembles a military complex and there are four small pyramids at its northern end.


One hour north of Mexico City


World Expeditions has three-night packages in Mexico City, including twin-share accommodation at the Best Western Hotel Majestic, breakfast daily and sightseeing tours starting at $449 per person. Extended itineraries throughout Central America are available.
Qantas flies daily to Los Angeles, with Mexicana connections to Mexico City, starting at $3003 from Sydney, $3087 from Melbourne, $3089 from Brisbane, $3356 from Adelaide, $3792 from Darwin and $3909 from Perth, per person.
Please note prices are valid at time of filming.

More information

World Expeditions
Level 5/71 York Street
Sydney 2000
Ph: 1300 720 000
Fax: 02 9279 0566

Qantas: 13 13 13

MEXICO: It is recommended travellers to Mexico see their doctor at least six weeks before departure. Prior to travel, travellers should be up-to-date with vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid Fever, Tetanus and Diphtheria. Depending upon time of year of travel and exact destination, other health precautions and preventions are recommended and are best discussed with your doctor.

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