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Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Click to enlarge.

You gotta love these people: no one really knows where they came from, no one really knows what happened to them (even though they built what was the largest city in the Americas at the time), their primary deity was a woman, and they built the coolest pyramids around.

The Great Goddess of Teotihuacan, the primary deity

The Great Goddess of Teotihuacan. Credit Wikimedia Commons.

I’m talking about the people who lived in Teotihuacan (tay-oh-tee-WHAH-cahn), which is near Mexico City, the subject of the exceptional tour we’ve been describing lately on these pages. The tour lasted five days and four nights, exposed me to a Mexico I could never have imagined, and is one I recommend to anyone who is skeptical about a country that’s often described as a respite for banditos and a killing field of innocents. ‘Tain’t so. There’s great beauty here, not only in the land but in the culture, past and present. (Tour info here.)

Louise stands in the foreground with the Pyramid of the Sun behind

Louise wears her exceptionally cool Expat Almanac hat as the Pyramid of the Sun looms behind.

The third day of the tour found me standing at the base of the impossibly steep stairs ascending the Pyramid of the Sun (733 feet, 32-degree slope), breathing impossibly thin air (elevation 7400 feet), having a conversation with an impossibly obdurate heart (four heart attacks and counting):

Heart: “You are not going up there.”

Tom: “Gotta go! Just look at that thing! Look how high it is! Think of the view! Think of the pictures I can take! What red-blooded boy can resist?”

Heart: “It’s precisely the blood that worries me. Yours clots.”

Okay. Heart won. I didn’t go. (I came home and downloaded a panorama taken from the top instead. It appears at the top of this post. Be sure to click it to enlarge.) I did go to the top of the smaller Pyramid of the Moon. Heart kept his opinion about that endeavor to himself.

Looking down the stairs from the Pyramid of the Moon.  The long street is the Avenue of the Dead.

Looking down the stairs from the Pyramid of the Moon. The long, straight street is the Avenue of the Dead.

As our guide Vicky explained it, Teotihuacan was founded some 100 years before Christ by the Toltec, or the Maya, or the Zapotec, or the Mixtec. I think it was aliens. She said nothing about aliens but really, antigravity had to be a factor back in the days of monster pyramids. There were no Caterpillars or John Deeres, after all. None of those Mesoamerican guys had antigravity. Cudda been Martians.

Whomever they were, there were a lot of them (estimates range from 125,000 to 250,000), and to house that many people they built multi-story apartment houses, wide, straight streets (compare with the labyrinthine streets of Rome or Istanbul), and even roundabouts. Twentieth-Century stuff. Coolest of all: nothing military. No guns. No fortifications. Not even a little death ray.

Then, one not-so-fine day circa 536 A.D., the largest city in the New World collapsed. There is evidence that things were burned, which points to either an invading force or some kind of struggle between the rich and the poor, since it appears to have been the spoils of the rich that were destroyed. Vicky thinks water became too scarce for survival, sort of a pre-Columbian global warming. But where did they go?

 The Pyramid of the Moon (left) and the pyramid of the Sun photographed from the Temple at Quetcalcóatl, about two miles distant.

The Pyramid of the Moon (left) and the pyramid of the Sun photographed from the Temple at Quetcalcóatl, about two miles distant.

And that, for a dreamer like me, is Teotihuacan’s appeal. Nobody really knows. Nobody knows where they came from, how they lived, or what took them away.

What we do know is that they left a wondrous pile of rocks and a conundrum of mystery that even the best archaeological minds of the day can’t explain.

Where is Dan Brown when we need him?

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