Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Teotihuacan - Unfortunately, Less Than I Had Expected

Let me say, first off, that when it comes to Mezoamerican ruins my standards are high. This is due to my time exploring the ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula. Yes, I know, the ruins at Teotihuacan are Aztec whereas the ones in the Yucatan are Mayan, however, the cultures and their monuments and structures bear many similarities. I hope, if I am ever fortunate enough to see the ruins in Guatemala or other Central American sites I will not be innured to their beauty, age and grandeur. Unfortunately,  the ruins at Teotihuacan left me cold, both literally and figuratively.

To get to the ruins you take a bus. The bus station is in an area most generously described as "rough". The station itself, however, is safe. The Metro goes directly to it so there is no need to deal with the neighborhood that surrounds it. The bus travels through a seemingly endless sea of cinder block structures before depositing you at the entrance to the ruins.

The ruins left me cold, literally, due to excessively strong winds that day. Trips to the tops of the towering pyramids were undergone at great risk of being blown off them after your ascent. Figuratively, I was left cold due to my prior experiences with ruins of this type. Before being abandoned by it's residents, the city of Teotihuacan was burned. None knows why or exactly when. The after effect of this is the almost complete destruction of the murals and carvings which once adorned the buildings and public spaces of the city. A small fragment of one of the murals, a Jaguar, remains on a charred wall. The carvings on the pillars of the inner court of the palace also remain. A sanctuary of beauty among the blackened ruins. The muraled fronts of two residential buildings, oddly underground, can also be seen.

The ruins in the Yucatan, by contrast, retain much of their detail and beauty. The carvings and buildings at Chichen Itza, reclaimed from the jungle, are extraordinary in their state of preservation and restoration. As well as what they have allowed us to learn, by the history depicted in them, about the ancient Mayans, the ruins in the Yucatan are surrounded by, and occasionally buried in, lush jungle. In Teotihuacan the ruins are set in a barren, almost desert like enviorment. Finally, in the ruins of the Yucatan we were able to explore them by ourselves, or with only a couple of other people around. Chichen Itza did swarm with tourists, but the area is vast enough so that there is not a feeling of a crowd. Teotihuacan is a mass of humanity, even on a frigid, windswept weekday.

Aside from the street lined with shops selling standard souvenir items at the entrance, there is a market selling crafts off to one side of the ruins. Added to this are the multitudes of vendors, carrying standard Mexican fare, that accost you every step of the way during your visit. They are even bold enough to follow you up the pyramids as you climb them. I spent much of my time that afternoon fending them off, holding up my hand and saying "No!". After saying this to one he actually cursed at me. The only word I understood was "gringo", but I got the basic gist of what was said.

Being somewhat unprepossed by the situation, and the place, I had lunch at the restaurant near the front of the ruins. With large windows affording a panoramic view of the ruins I was able to contemplate them in serenity as I ate.

There is a small museum located on the grounds. To get a short respite from the cold and wind I stepped inside. It was the most interesting part of my visit. It contained artifacts gathered from the site which showed the complexity of the society and the advanced state of civilization of the ancient people that built and inhabited the city.

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