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This was one of the largest cities in the world, and the civilization of Teotihuacan was the mightiest in the Americas before the Spanish conquest. In AD 50 it was laid out in a rectangular grid and the Pyramid of the Sun was built. This was the largest building in the Americas until the arrival of the Europeans. The city reached its greatest extent in the period c250-c650. It was vast, covering some 21 sq km. Teotihuacan was made up of 600 pyramids, 500 workshop areas, a marketplace, 2000 apartment compounds, and numerous squares, all laid out on the rectangular grid plan. In the centre an 8 km long ceremonial avenue lined with shrines and tombs, called the Street of the Dead, led to the Citadel, where the temple of Quetzalcoatl stood. By AD 450 Teotihuacan was one of the biggest cities in the world, and some 250,000 people lived there. No-one really knows who these people were, or even where they came from. Much of their city was painted, and many temples adorned with gold. Situated close to a source of obsidian, Teotihuacan was able to trade the stone to the Mayas, who used it to make sacrificial knives. Agriculture in nearby swamplands provided huge quantities of maize and beans.
Paintings on the walls of shrines and houses in Teotihuacan show evidence of quite complicated hieroglyphics. The two natural assets of maize and water, which were important to the farmers of the dry highlands, are major themes in this writing. Other pictures illustrate religious beliefs, showing, for example, Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent. He was the earliest known god of Mexico. He was known as the civilizing god and was opposed to human sacrifice. The jaguar, symbolizing the fertility of the soil, also appears often in Teotihuacan art. It takes its inspiration from real-life jaguars that prowled around central America at that time. By AD 600 it had reached the height of its power, but by AD 750 both Teotihuacan and the Mayan states began to decline. By 900 this great city-state had been destroyed and Mexico was overrun by barbarian tribes from the north.
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