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TEOTIHUACAN: City of Water, City of Fire at the De Young Museum, San Francisco

By Carolinearnoldtravel @CarolineSArnold

TEOTIHUACAN: City of Water, City of Fire at the de Young Museum, San Francisco

At the entrance to the de Young Museum in San Francisco with an image from the Teotihuacan Exhibit

Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, California, is an amazing display of recent discoveries from the ancient city of Teotihuacan, whose ruins lie just outside the modern metropolis of Mexico City. One of the earliest, largest, and most important cities in the ancient Americas, Teotihuacan is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most visited archaeological site in Mexico.

TEOTIHUACAN: City of Water, City of Fire at the de Young Museum, San Francisco

Detail of fresco mural with animal motifs; colors were made from natural dyes applied directly to the wet plaster.

I first visited Teotihuacan in 1991 on a day trip from Mexico City. (See my post of 11/11/13.) I climbed the steep steps of the Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon and toured some of the buildings that once had been workshops and living quarters. I was amazed at the complexity of the sculptures, murals, and other decorative motifs as well as the sheer size of the city. Two years later I returned to research my book, City of the Gods: Mexico’s Ancient City of Teotihuacan. Since my visits in the 1990s many new discoveries have been made. When I heard they were being exhibited at the de Young Museum in San Francisco I made a special point of visiting when I was in the Bay Area in December. (The exhibit goes from September 30, 2017 to February 11, 2018.)

TEOTIHUACAN: City of Water, City of Fire at the de Young Museum, San Francisco

Mosaic figure from Pyramid of the Moon excavations

The exhibition, organized in collaboration with Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), features recent, never-before-seen archaeological discoveries and other major loans from Mexican and US cultural institutions. Monumental and ritual objects from Teotihuacan’s three pyramids are shown alongside mural paintings, ceramics, and stone sculptures from the city’s apartment compounds.

TEOTIHUACAN: City of Water, City of Fire at the de Young Museum, San Francisco

Shell necklace beads

From jewelry, masks, small carved figures to large sections of murals and depictions of various deities, the exhibit is a fascinating look at this ancient city and its thriving culture. Here are just a few of some of my favorite items in the exhibit.

TEOTIHUACAN: City of Water, City of Fire at the de Young Museum, San Francisco

Avian effigy vessel, ceramic, shell, greenstone and stucco 

TEOTIHUACAN: City of Water, City of Fire at the de Young Museum, San Francisco

Section of much longer wall fresco decorated with footprints along the bottom

TEOTIHUACAN: City of Water, City of Fire at the de Young Museum, San Francisco

Thousands of tiny clay figures just a few inches high have been found at Teotihuacan. It is believed that they were used as part of daily household rituals.

TEOTIHUACAN: City of Water, City of Fire at the de Young Museum, San Francisco

Brazier supported by the hunched figure of the Old God; it is believed the brazier was used to burn incense and that the eyes carved on the side are symbols of fire.

TEOTIHUACAN: City of Water, City of Fire at the de Young Museum, San Francisco

Quetzal sculpture; the quetzal, a bird native to Central America, was valued for its bright green feathers.

TEOTIHUACAN: City of Water, City of Fire at the de Young Museum, San Francisco

Fresco fragment of bird with shield and spear; the curved lines from the bird's mouth indicate speaking or singing

Teotihuacan was the largest and most important city in Mexico and Central America for more than 800 years. But around 750 C.E., the civilization at Teotihuacan disintegrated and the city fell to ruins. During centuries of disuse, what was left of the buildings gradually fell down and became overgrown with weeds. Only a small portion of what once was the great city of Teotihuacan has been excavated. Continuing research will reveal more about this first great city in the Americas.

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